Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: Arrangements for War

(Originally posted on the Doctor Who Ratings Guide in April 2006. And, um...well, remember how I said I'd try to be positive? I said I'd try. I didn't say how hard...)

Well, I didn't think it was possible, but it's finally happened. Big Finish has finally produced an audio that could contend with Minuet In Hell for their coveted title of "Worst Doctor Who Audio Ever". This is a work of staggering stupidity, breathtaking inanity, and such complete idiocy that the author has to simply stop at points and fill in the plot gaps with narrative, as I'm sure the actors took one look at the script and said, "I'm not reading that crap." (And when you believe that a man who performed in Timelash said, "I'm not reading that crap," you're talking about some seriously dim-witted stuff.)

The plot revolves around the two kingdoms of Sillyname and Stupidname, which are about to end centuries of tension with an arranged marriage between Prince Hi-I'm-Not-Actually-In-This and Princess Kristina, who's all worried that she won't be able to be with her love, Marcus, once she's in a loveless marriage. (Those of you bringing up all of European history to counter this assertion are already way ahead of the plot.) The marriage is opposed by transparently evil villain Suskind, played by Philip Bretherton with all the subtlety of Snidely Whiplash, who's the leader of Prince Doesn't-Have-Any-Dialogue's country. Suskind is planting bombs, sneaking in assassins, arranging demonstrations, and generally trying to sow chaos and discord... in Princess Kristina's capital. Amazingly, nobody seems to ever think of restricting the foreign leader's movements or communications in any way.

The Doctor and Evelyn get involved, each in their own way because they're not talking to each other because Evelyn's turned unspeakably whiny, and manage to turn the situation into an outright war. The Doctor tries to help Kristina and Marcus by passing along letters, but Suskind's thug, Pokol (played by Lewis Rae, who appears to be trying to outdo Bretherton in the Snidely Whiplash-a-thon), steals the letters from Kristina's bedroom, which he is allowed access to because of his status as bodyguard of the leader of another country, and uses them to dissolve the alliance and start a war.

The Doctor gets locked up, for no sane and sensible reason, and is visited in prison by Suskind, who appears to not only have not been deported from the country he's just declared war on, but is allowed freedom of movement within the capital, the right to wander in and talk to political prisoners, and to continue to have his private staff of bodyguards to wander around fully armed. This isn't just a plot hole, it's a plot singularity -- Suskind's actions drive the entire second half of the audio, and at every moment, you wonder if the writer wasn't just a bit confused about what nations at war traditionally do. It'd be like setting a play during World War II, and having Hitler live in London for the duration with his SS in tow. Anyhow, Suskind twirls his moustache a bit, Pokol gets threatening, the Doctor escapes, and, oh yes, Evelyn is off somewhere falling in love with the leader of a third nation in a subplot that never actually threatens to become important.

Then aliens invade, Suskind has an instant change of heart and becomes a good guy, the two nations ally and defeat the aliens, various people die, and the Doctor gets all mopey, which gives Evelyn the opportunity to have a painfully poorly-written chat with him about grief, which ends the audio on the classic line of dialogue, "Your boots need cleaning." A work of thorough incompetence on every possible level.

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