Trevor Baxendale didn’t endear himself to anyone with his rather dreary ‘New Adventure’ audio, “The Dark Flame,” but he’s certainly done wonders with Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor and company in this story. Like his last Big Finish script, Baxendale’s story is far being fresh or innovative, yet “Something Inside” succeeded where “The Dark Flame” failed – it thoroughly entertained me! A lot of this is down to what the regulars go though in this story – particularly the Doctor and C’rizz.
To readers of the BBC’s eighth Doctor adventures, the notion of the amnesiac Doctor is old hat. Even to Big Finish devotees, the ‘amnesia’ handle has recently been played in “Terror Firma” with the whole Samson / Gemma / forgotten companions angle. However, Baxendale just about gets away with putting the eighth Doctor’s brain through the meat grinder yet again because it shows the listeners a different side to the Doctor; in fact, it allows us to look at him from a completely new standpoint. In “Something Inside,” the Doctor is stripped of all his memories by the brain worm, and thus has no idea who he actually is. In his amnesiac state, the Doctor displays all his usual ‘Doctorish’ traits – for example, even though he doesn’t recognise C’rizz, he tries to stop him being tortured. Even though he doesn’t know the psike inmates of the Cube, he sympathises with their cause and wants to help them. Yet the amnesiac Doctor is much tougher and much less forgiving then his usual self. If anything, he’s more like the Doctor we see in the new TV series – brutal to his enemies; no second chances.
“Come on then, if you think you’re hard enough.”
Before regaining his memories, the Doctor’s sub-conscious thought that he wanted Mr. Twyst (who was holding a gun to Charley’s head at the time) to die allowed the brain worm to escape and kill him; a fact the Doctor doesn’t seem all that sorry about – “It wasn’t me, it was the brain worm.” Moreover, he actually threatens Rawden with the same. Way back when, William Hartnell’s Doctor had the same sort of ruthlessness, before his travels through time and space seasoned him slightly. It is interesting to see how the Doctor behaves without all his memories, especially as it shows us a glimpse of the sort of man he will become after the trauma he goes through in the Time War. On a side note, I found it amusing that this Doctor seems to be a Liverpool supporter! In “The Next Life,” he mentioned his knowledge of all the statistics from Liverpool / Everton derbies, and in this story he uses the story of how Steven Gerrard inspired his team to come back from 3-0 down against AC Milan to win the 2005 Champions’ League to spur on Charley and C’rizz! Paul McGann’s influence methinks…?
Once again Conrad Westmaas steals the show. The story arc about C’rizz’s dark past seems to have been going on for so long now that I’m just aching for some sort of payoff, but it looks like Big Finish are just going to keep slowly cranking up the tension until it reaches fever pitch. C’rizz’s story has all the marking of a tragedy – the Eutermesan who wants to be a good person, but has a tragic flaw that is just waiting to break him. Influenced by the behaviour of all those around him, C’rizz is chameleonic not only in appearance but in mind. In his old life he was a killer, ‘releasing’ hundreds, perhaps even thousands, from their lives. Now he is haunted by all their personalities living inside his head. Over the course of his adventures with the Doctor and Charley, he has taken on their characteristics and become the person that he wants to be, yet in stories like “Other Lives” when he is treated so brutally by others, you can see that he is just on the edge of snapping and becoming that murderer again. It’s the whole Anakin Skywalker / dark side story but in the world of Doctor Who. Circumstances keep conspiring to push C’rizz over the edge, and in “Something Inside”, after being taunted by Tessa and relentlessly and gruesomely tortured by Rawden and Mr. Twyst, C’rizz very nearly breaks…
The only real gripe I have with “Something Inside” is Joseph Fox’s quite appalling score! It’s not that it was awful as such, it’s just that it didn’t seem to fit the play - sometimes it was far too upbeat and spoiled scenes. Big Finish have experimented quite a bit lately with the music, and to be fair they’ve had great success with it. The beautifully celtic soundtracks to “Time Works” and “The Settling” were particularly memorable, but “Something Inside”’s score is just too techno for my liking. I can see why they’ve done it considering the sort of story that this is, but it just doesn’t work for me. Give me Murray Gold any day!
The plot of “Something Inside” in itself isn’t mind-bogglingly good, but it works. In my review of “The Dark Flame,” I said it was “…no more than a traditional / knockdown / runabout / space station / quarry four-parter.” To summarise the plot of this story, I’d have to say it’s a knockdown / runabout / dark corridor / mis-treated telepaths four-parter! The Cube – which was the story’s working title – is a prison for telepaths; and not just any telepaths. The inmates of the Cube are soldiers who have been genetically engineered to be telepathic – soldiers who are so powerful they can kill with a single thought. Of course, after the war when the dirty work was done, these soldiers who so bravely did their duty were left to rot in the prison, deemed a threat to society. It’s a familiar theme in science-fiction – I remember a very similar episode of The X-Files – but nevertheless Baxendale’s story holds the listeners’ attention because the characters have you from the word go – each and every one of them. John Killoran is particularly memorable as the super psike / telepathic killer, Gordon Latch. He reminded me a little bit of Maurice Colbourne’s Lytton in the old series, playing the ‘old rogue turned goodie’ role superbly.
In his author’s notes, Baxendale talks bout how the story had a long gestation period, and how when he was writing it he never really knew what was going to happen next. This uncertainly shows, but not in a negative way. The structure of the story is haphazard, with lots of flashbacks and similar devices in the first two episodes. However, from the third part onwards, when all the regulars are reunited, “Something Inside” really takes off and listening to it, I really believed that anything could happen. The ending is perhaps the strongest part of the story – it feels rushed, but again, not in a negative way. A resolution is found, and although it isn’t what one would necessarily consider a good ending for all the characters, it happens fast and is over quick, and leaves the listener with the same nasty sort of aftertaste that one gets from watching stories like “Warriors of the Deep,” “Resurrection of the Daleks” or particularly “Attack of the Cybermen.”
“Not my best day, Charley.”
It’s going to very interesting to see how the regulars deal with the aftermath of this story in October’s “Memory Lane.” I for one can’t wait.
It’s typical: no sooner does the 8th Doctor audio series seem to have climbed out of its rut with a run of entertaining adventures then along comes the very last thing we need – another mediocre uninspired runaround. Trevor Baxendale’s output has previously consisted largely of rather predictable generic pulp horror/SF tales, but the sudden vast improvement in the quality of his last 8th Doctor novel ‘The Deadstone Memorial’ had led me to hope that this might translate into the audio medium, but alas it was not to be.
‘Something Inside’ could perhaps most charitably be described as a variation on the ‘base under siege’ genre, only with the twist that being locked up with the monster all the protagonists are trying to escape. In reality however far too much of this audio feels overly familiar: we’ve had umpteen ‘ the Doctor in prison’ stories, and we’ve had just as many ‘the Doctor loses his memories’ tales, while the underlying story just seems to be composed of lifts from various genre films. The basic story consists of the Doctor and co trapped in a prison for psychics while attempting to ward off the attentions of a brain-devouring monster called a ‘brain worm’: the prison setting should be claustrophobic while it ends up being rather boring with characters running around in circles through the same corridors; the monster should be terrifying but by giving us an invisible and inarticulate creature the play is forced to make do with characters constantly telling us what they can – or rather cannot - see (“Aaah! It’s coming! The brain worm is coming!!!”). The play is also hamstrung by some appallingly unconvincing science: humans having their brains augmented to give them psychic powers I can just about accept, but giving them the power to disassemble their physical bodies and effect matter transportation is just a step too far.
The acting here is rather variable – Paul McGann turns in a fine central performance, clearly giving the role his all (though he gets saddled with a very out of character anecdote about Liverpool FC which seems to have been inserted to please McGann rather than sound like the Doctor), but the script brings out the worst in his co-stars, as everyone gets more hysterical and turns in increasingly melodramatic deliveries as the play goes on in order to try and ramp up the horror the script so sorely lacks. In the end ‘Something Inside’ achieves the rare distinction of being simultaneously very loud as all the characters shout at each other (if I had to describe this play in one word it would be ‘shouty’), yet also increasingly tedious as the characters run around in circles going nowhere. Somewhere in here is a half-decent action thriller, but it feels padded out by at least half-an-hour. Special mention must also be made of the incidental score, something I rarely mention as when done well the listener shouldn’t really notice it at all, but here Joseph Fox turns in a bizarrely inappropriate and distracting score, which sounds for all the world like some cheesy jazz pub turn prodding away the same few notes on a cheap and nasty 1980’s Casio keyboard – absolutely horrible.
Am I being too hard on ‘Something Inside’? Well, subsequent re-listens transform the play from a total slumber-fest into the merely mediocre, so if mediocrity is your thing you’ll enjoy this, but don’t expect much. As I write this review change is in the air for the 8th Doctor at Big Finish, and on the evidence of this a shake up could well be in order…
I didn't go into "Something Inside" with very high expectations. In fact, they were drilling a hole well below the crust of the Earth, deep into the mantle, on their way to the inner core, all because of the name on the writer's credit, Trevor Baxendale, whose previous regular Who-range audio "The Dark Flame" and it's Benny follow-up occupy space on my "worst audios of all-time" list. I was therefore very, very pleasantly surprised to find myself getting to the end of the first CD and really wanting to put in the second one and hear the rest of the story all in one sitting... something I haven't had time to do lately but which I found time to do this time.
So what's the difference this time? As I start to write this review, I'm not sure really. Both the Dark Flame stories and this one have similar foundations on tried-and-true s.f. ideas that we've heard hundreds of times before, but somehow in the earlier story, that was all painfully obvious, while this time around it all seems to be mixed in such a way that it's pleasantly obvious. We've got an s.f. prison, torture, psychic prisoners, the Eighth Doctor losing his marbles again, and some running around corridors. It should all be cringe-worthy, yet it wasn't. What's the difference to me this time? Hm.
Perhaps some of the difference is that the characters all speak and sound like believable people this time, not nutters enthralled to a cult. Latch, Tessa, and Jane are all people who've been very hard done by by their society and masters, and perhaps it's that rooting interest they bring with them that's got me onside with this set of victims this time. Rawden and Twist are very believable villains, since they got their starts doing something that was thought to be a necessary evil for their society to survive a terrible war. And though the Doctor is in a similar situation to the one he found himself back in "Minuet in Hell," he is at least lucid this time, and still has his cunning and ingenuity to call on, so he can still be the pro-active Doctor who can investigate and solve the problems in a way he wasn't in "Minuet in Hell."
The plot itself, though again based on very traditional things, kept me interested most of the way this time, probably because the nature of the Brain Worm was kept secret for so long by that clever trick of it being something everyone saw but not really, and since this is an audio play, we the listener don't realize no one's actually physically seen it until the Doctor asks Charley about it 2/3 into part three. Once it's established that it is purely a mental force, it became easy to spot who it had been living in, but they tell us that outright very shortly after that anyway. I think this is what kept me interested mainly because I wasn't as interested once we got into Part Four... I could feel my eyes starting to roll as they started to go around and around over the same old "it could be any one of us!" points five times more than they needed to. I think Part Four overruns in any case, so a bit of a nip and tuck to the script here would've helped a great deal. As it is, this feels like a great story for 3 episodes, and then merely average in the last one.
Certainly the direction and acting have a lot to do with this tale being a good one. Nick Briggs is back in the director's chair on the main range for the first time in too long a time, and the little tricks and experience he can bring really added to that mystery of the Brain Worm. The way the scenes where the thing killed people were played almost entirely with reaction rather than action really helped with the "huh?" factor... you knew whatever it was was really awful, but no one's ever sure what exactly it was that just happened... and as I mentioned earlier, that was exactly the point. I particularly like that Nick went back to his "well" of established actors he's used before and brought back Steven Elder from the later "Dalek Empire" audios, and Ian Brooker's good in anything as well. Elder even got to do some more of his patented "stuttering" acting when the Doctor uses his psychic force field on him. Louise Collins, Liz Crowther, and John Killoran were all well-cast newcomers as well, especially Crowther, who has a little smiley edge to her delivery that makes it clear there's more going on in Tessa than meets the eye. Our regulars were on top form as well, with McGann managing to keep the Doctor charming while he's having his brains pureed, and with Conrad Westmaas and India Fisher both managing the same with their characters which was difficult given that this script has both of them as reactive victims throughout.
One other weakness in this release is the incidental music by Joseph Fox. Actually, it's not so much the music itself, but rather the synthesizer he's using to make it, which sounds incredibly cheap and nasty, particularly on the brass sounds. I was having bad flashbacks to "Colditz" every time he went to the trumpets to make a musical point. Fortunately, much of the score is very low-key and kept to almost an ambient noise level, so it's not nearly as bad as "Colditz" was... but still, it's not very good either.
Overall then, this is mostly a very strong and suspenseful story, which loses its way somewhat in Part Four, and has some musical misfires, but neither of these is enough to hurt it too much. I think I'll say 8 out of 10.
I confess: I've been introduced to Doctor Who via the new TV series. But the Big Finish audios have been what's made me into a rabid fan. Specifically, the Eighth Doctor audios. All because of the quality of the actors (specially Paul McGann) and some real jewels of stories like "The Chimes of Midnight", "Neverland", "Caerdroia", and "The Natural History of Fear".
"Something Inside" is the latest installment of the Eighth Doctor adventures. I'm very grateful to Big Finish for keeping up with this particular team of Doctor and companions, but I couldn't help fearing that both the new TV series and the end of the very irregular Divergence arc would put the scripts a bit out of their stride. Fortunately, we've been treated to mostly good, solid, fun stories like "Time Works" and the charming "Other Lives", and it seemed that the Doctor and C'rizz were finding their place back in our Universe, with Charley lagging a bit behind; her character seems to have lost focus since her paradox was resolved. It is to be hoped that she'd find her place again.
In this context there came "Something Inside": a claustrophobic, "Alien"-like story of a few characters trapped in a prision called the Cube (echoes of the movie of the same title here), narrated partly in flashbacks that work quite well, with a plot that seems somewhat lacking.
We begin by finding the Doctor is in trouble. Again. Separated from TARDIS and companions. Again. And amnesiac. Again.
There must be something about Paul McGann. I mean, the man could read the phone book and I'd listen for hours; and he portrays sarcasm, deadpan humor, pain and anguish wonderfully. But this recurrent idea of taking away his memories, though it works very well in this case, is a bit old for all us fans who have seen the movie, listened to the audios, or read some of the books. This criticism is clearly anticipated by Trevor Baxendale, who has the grace to have the Doctor apologize for it right at the beginning in a charming wink to the fans. Still, it annoyed me slightly.
We learn shortly afterwards that the Doctor and his companions had been looking forward to a harmless bit of fun, but the TARDIS seems to have other ideas and drops them in a dark room. They promptly find a crazed man screaming nonsense, the man is equally promptly killed in a horrific way, and when the mysterious attacker turns on our heroes and they try to escape to the TARDIS, the Doctor vanishes. He has somehow been attacked by that creature and taken to a place where he is imprisoned, tortured, and interrogated by the utterly evil Eryk Rawden. During the course of this interrogation we learn a lot of what's been transpiring inside the prison called the Cube.
Fortunately, in this case being an amnesiac doesn't stop the Doctor from being his powerful, charismatic self, out-talking and out-thinking his foes. His scenes with the excellent, if slightly cliched, Steven Elder, who plays the villain Eryk Rawden, are a treat to listen to. Elder is at his best here, at times suave and sly, at times completely evil, while he tortures the Doctor, who for his part has some good lines to deliver; amnesiac he may be, but he is still the Doctor, and you just know he's up to something, even though things look grim indeed.
Meanwhile, Charley and C'rizz are doomed to the corridor-walking part of the adventure, where they find the rest of the cast and (in the case of Charley) not much to do. India Fisher is her usual bubbly, energetic self, and her acting is as always superb, but unfortunately the script uses her as a plot device more than anything else, so that the rest of the characters can introduce themselves and explain things a bit. Everything's shaping up to a standard "locked up in a building with a bad thing stalking us" adventure, when C'rizz disappears too, and things turn more interesting.
The first two chapters tell the story using flashbacks to bring us up to speed about the current situation. The use of flashbacks in audio is something I rather dread for fear of leaving the listener hopelessly lost, and even though "Something Inside" doesn't use heavy sound editing to tell apart which bits are in the present and which are in the past, the story unfolds itself very clearly and it's very easy to follow. A good thing too, because the corridor stalking part of the adventure is over very quickly, and in comes the Something Inside that was promised. In this case, it's a horrifying creature called the Brain Worm: a by-product of the creation of psychic soldiers for a very sketchily described war.
It turns out that the Doctor was attacked by this Brain Worm, who took a large chunk out of his memories and knowledge, including his memories of the TARDIS, Charley and C'rizz (though not the sonic screwdriver). This makes for a very interesting Doctor: he doesn't recognize C'rizz when he sees him, he doesn't remember Charley, he even allows C'rizz to be tortured for a while. But when it comes to C'rizz being in mortal danger, in steps the Doctor to save his life, no matter the cost. McGann's matter-of-fact portrayal of the Doctor's sacrifice is wonderful to listen to, and the outcome of that scene tickled me particularly, since this Doctor has sacrificed himself a whole lot of times, but, in this case, he's also showing the strength of the steel under the velvet, out-manoeuvering his enemies in a very effective way that sets up the rest of the story.
The plot now takes an abrupt turn and goes from a chase-the-creature romp to a more claustrophobic and scary idea, with the Brain Worm being tossed from mind to mind in an increasingly careless way. The Doctor takes center stage for most of the rest of the story, and does it very well; the amnesia serves to strengthen him, not weaken him, as he goes all over the place putting clues together, manipulating the bad guys, and searching for the Brain Worm and his lost memories in a very intense and self-assured way that's a joy to behold.
With Charley reduced to a plot-exposition device, C'rizz has a little more meat to work with here. Most of the time he's badly hurt and being quite oblivious about it, submitting himself to all the running and crawling with no more than a good-natured grumble, but in "Something Inside" we get yet another glimpse of the "other" C'rizz, the killer that carries all those dead people inside his head; there's a little chilling dialogue between him and another character in which C'rizz appears to show a very sinister side indeed, and Conrad Westmass injects just the right amount of ambiguity in his delivery to make us wonder about him. It will be interesting to see how they develop his character in the future. Let's hope they can fit Charley into it too.
The second half of "Something Inside" hops along very nicely, with scary moments, exciting moments, stereotype villains, good dialogue, and a few more horrible deaths along the way. All the actors are in good form and the story is absorbing enough that you don't mind some pace and plot bumps.
That's probably why the ending feels so unsatisfying. It shifts focus abruptly from the Doctor and companions to Latch, a secondary character (irregularly but competently voiced by John Killoran,) and the Doctor, shockingly, suddenly stops trying to save people at this point (not that he's been all that successful at this point, mind you), and leaves Latch to face his destiny. It feels forced and out of character for both the Doctor and Latch (a red herring if I ever saw one), even though the explanation for the Doctor's actions is reasonable enough. Even then, Killoran's character seems to have been created to be kept in the sidelines, ready to do his final part and then be discarded. It's awkward and clunky, and rather breaks the stride of a nice story.
I think, though, that this happened so that this little jewel of a dialogue can take place between Charley and the Doctor:
"He just walked away from everyone and everything. Just because he had that evil thing trapped in his mind."
"Are you all right, Doctor?"
Charley's concern and McGann's "Yes" take us very forcefully back to "Zagreus", when he did exactly the same thing. The fact that he couldn't save Latch now from the fate he chose for himself then gives his following line "Not my best day, Charley" an extraordinary poignancy. I loved that, even though I didn't like the ending at all.
"Something Inside" is, in sum, an easy-to-listen, effective audio, well acted and decently scripted. The music didn't really work for me; it felt too repetitive and it didn't seem to hit the right mood, but the soundscapes were as excellent as we have come to expect from Big Finish. All in all, very enjoyable and definitely worth a second listening.