Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Audio Review 4: The Paradise of Death, written by Barry Letts (1993) - 8/10

Released/Broadcast: August-September 1993
The Doctor – Jon Pertwee
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart – Nicholas Courtney
Sarah Jane Smith – Elisabeth Sladen
Freeth – Harold Innocent
Tragen – Peter Miles
Jeremy Fitzoliver – Richard Pearce
President – Maurice Denham
Onya – Jane Slavin
Captain Waldo Rudley – Jonathan Tafler
Grebber/Reporter – Brian Hall
Clorinda/Sec Gen of the UN – Jillie Meers
Odun/Patrol Leader – John Fleming
Greckle – Emma Myant
Kaido/Ungar/Jenhegger – Trevor Martin
Rasco Heldal – Michael Onslow
Medan/Hunter – David Holt
Yallet/Officer of the day – Philip Anthony
Nobby/Kitson/Wilkins – Dominic Letts
Crestin – Andrew Wincott
Lexhan – Julian Rhind-Tutt

Main Production Credits

Writer – Barry Letts
Producer & Director – Phil Clarke
Incidental Music & Sound Design – Peter Howell
Title Music – Ron Grainer; Peter Howell
TARDIS Sounds – Brian Hodgson and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Story Summary (SPOILERS!):
An unusual death leads the Doctor and Brigadier into an investigation of a brand new theme park called ‘Space World’. With their new friend Sarah Jane Smith in tow, they discover it is being run by two bloodthirsty aliens from the planet of Parakon – the ruthless Chairman Freeth, and his vicious killer henchman Tragen. The Doctor’s suspicions about their true motives are raised by the technologically advanced entertainment that Freeth is trying to peddle, called ‘Experienced Reality’. E.R. is a collection of real-life recreational memories, recorded in every sensual detail, and can be re-lived by users as though they are really there. However, the E.R. transmissions can be used to control users as well as playback to them.
Investigating at the theme park alone one night, Sarah gets herself kidnapped by Tragen, who takes her to Parakon. Meanwhile, the Doctor, Brigadier and Jeremy (an assistant from Sarah’s magazine company) races off to Parakon in the TARDIS to rescue Sarah, and find an even worse truth waiting for them.
The planet’s interplanetary business, the Parakon Corporation has slowly been destroying its client planets in the pursuit of wealth and greed, through its ‘miracle’ crop, Rapine. Rapine is a crop that, once grown, (and sold back to the Parakon Corporation for wealth) can be used in any type of material manufacture, as well as food, but it takes all the nutrients in the soil without putting them back. The crop fields eventually turn into a desert, creating economic turmoil, unrest, and finally civil war on the planet that uses it. In order to replenish the soil, the Parakon Corporation takes the bodies of soldiers and refugees, and turns them into fertiliser to use on the barren deserts, from which they also make a profit. To perpetuate this process, they even sell arms to the warring planets.
Upon discovering this the Doctor and Brigadier, with help from some sympathetic Parakon natives stage a successful coup in order to enlighten the planet’s old president, who has been kept in the dark from Freeth, his son, who he has been left to manage the Corporation. Freeth is killed while attempting to kill the Doctor for his interventions and Tragen is arrested.

Story Placement
Between The Time Warrior (TV Serial) and Invasion of the Dinosaurs (TV Serial).

Favourite Lines
Freeth – “Don’t let them both be eaten. A corpse could be good publicity”.
(After Tragen has recaptured The Doctor and Sarah)
Freeth – “Congratulations. I must admit I had the utmost lack of confidence in you”.

In many ways The Paradise of Death seems to be a ‘greatest hits compilation’ of the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who. It has the mysterious unnatural death that starts off the Doctor’s involvement (The Green Death); ruthless and murderous villains (any Master episode); the Doctor coming back from the brink of death (The Daemons, Planet of the Daleks); a race against time across the stars (Frontier in Space); a short flying car chase (Planet of the Spiders); Venusian Lullabies (The Curse of Peladon); an ecological moral, and predilection on the nature of greed (The Green Death, Colony in Space, Invasion of the Dinosaurs); a heroic raid (any UNIT episode); and a gladiatorial fight to-the-death that ends with the Doctor saving his opponent’s life (The Curse of Peladon).
The result is a highly enjoyable, but fairly traditional Doctor Who adventure that finds it hard to rise above the sum of its parts. At times, particularly in the first two episodes, there are dull moments that feel shoehorned in to please the fans like the Brigadier again being outranked, not once, but twice by the UN (The Green Death); and the Doctor once again showing off that he knows the scientist’s work (The Green Death, Invasion of the Dinosaurs). However, there are some really good ideas here. ‘Experienced Reality’, for instance is a great concept, a logical extension of the fast evolution of computer games that dominate the entertainment industry today. It’s an idea that would have been rather odd back in the 1970s, but is very relevant in the 21st century, and in the 1990s it was another fantastic and prescient piece of fiction that was very much a trademark of some of Barry Letts’ best Doctor Who script work (he co-wrote The Daemons, The Time Monster, The Green Death and Planet of the Spiders).
Another good trademark of Barry Letts’ work, the humanitarian political message, is also present. The predilection on the dangers of capitalism gone mad through the Parakon Corporation and its operatives also gives the story some welcome political weight, even if its message is a simple one (give as well as take, the sanctity of life, and the exploitation of the third world). Another fascinating political message is the impact of ‘experienced reality’ on the society of Parakon itself – a warning about how a complete lack of censorship on extreme violence and death in public and commercial entertainment leads to a breakdown in moral values.
However, the edge of this near-perfect recreation of Jon Pertwee-era Doctor Who is taken away, partly by some excessive padding, but mostly by simplistic characterisation and dialogue. The regulars trot out all their popular phrases and clichéd character traits, and the villains are very typical Bond-like and Pertwee-esque villains, who are far from original, although, like a soft living room sofa cushion, their familiarity is cosily satisfying in itself. The characterisation of Sarah in The Paradise of Death though feels rather erroneous, in the sense that it feels more akin to Jo Grant’s portrayal than Sarah Jane Smith. Instead of the brave, independent young adult we saw throughout The Time Warrior and the rest of Season Eleven’s television serials, Sarah seems to be at times, weaker and more emotional than we usually expect, particularly considering how early this audio story takes place in the character’s personal continuity. Then of course we come to the audio’s supporting characters, who although try to break new ground, ultimately fail. The biggest of these failures is Clorinda, Sarah’s boss on the Metropolitan magazine. It’s clear she was supposed to bring some welcome depth and development to the character of Sarah Jane Smith, but because the dialogue is so redundant, tedious and lifeless, the opportunity is completely wasted. The other unsuccessful original character is the new pseudo-companion, Jeremy Fitzoliver. An assistant to Sarah from the Metropolitan magazine, Jeremy is perhaps the most annoying companion ever created. Squeamish, rude, snooty, whiny, cowardly and very simple, the character makes Dodo and Adric seem like good companions. As other commentators have noted, I can see that Barry Letts was trying to reverse the traditional male stereotype, but the character has so many negative qualities that it’s quite hard to like him. Added to the fact that Sarah has gone against character to oddly revert closer to the usual female stereotype, means that Jeremy just ends up being a hanger-on for the entire adventure. Goodness knows why they decided to keep him on for The Ghosts of N-Space.
There’s also a frequent amount of dialogue which can only be described as functional, and even some that is downright bizarre and ludicrous. One example of this being when the Brigadier shouts upon taking off on a giant Parakon bat for the first time, “If only the Quorn could see me now!” (Quorn as in the old traditional fox-hunting pack of Leicestershire). However, the most stupid line has to be: “Right Brigadier, how good are you at throwing grenades?” Seriously, did they really not see something wrong with that line? (The Doctor and the Brigadier have been friends for several years by this point, and fought more alien invasions than eaten hot dinners).
Fortunately though, however inconsistent or simple the dialogue and characterisation are, all the actors raise their game brilliantly to help bring this story to life. Jon Pertwee, Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen are on top form, so much so, that it feels like they never went away. While for some Jon Pertwee’s age may show greatly given the length of time since his era on television (1970-1974. This audio was produced in 1993), because I saw The Five Doctors before most of Jon Pertwee’s other Doctor Who serials, he doesn’t seem that much older to me at all. In fact, Pertwee’s enthusiastic performance at such a late age, just confirms how great an actor, and Doctor he always was; helping to make the audio a great entertaining listen throughout. Harold Innocent also puts in a star turn, giving Freeth a marvellously unhinged performance that helps him to stand out from other Doctor Who villains, which is a success in itself, given that the character is very basic on paper. The performances are also backed up by some outstanding sound production, courtesy of Peter Howell, one of Doctor Who’s former resident composers from the 1980s. Considering how long this is before BIG Finish started working their audio magic, the attention to detail here is outstanding, even down to the sounds of the TARDIS, specific to the Jon Pertwee-era.
Despite its clichés, padding and occasional character faults, The Paradise of Death is a fun nostalgic return trip through Jon Pertwee-era style Doctor Who. Full of great ideas and a magnificent cast who deliver in spades, it is without doubt, one of the better Doctor Who audios ever produced. Not all the ideas may work, Jeremy Fitzoliver in particular, but the high level of Barry Letts’ imagination, is more than matched by the quality of the production. In fact in many ways, The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space set down the template for successful Doctor Who on audio that BIG Finish later took up and improved upon. More poignantly though, is the fact that this was one of the last ever official Doctor Who productions that featured Jon Pertwee, Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen, who were always at the top of the game, delighting us with their brilliant work, right till the end. We shall never forget them.

Score: 8/10