Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Minuet in Hell by: Alan W. Lear and Gary Russell directed by: Nicholas Briggs: Adventures of an Edwardian Adventuress Part Two

Minuet in Hell stars Paul McGann as the Doctor and Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart.  It was written by Alan W. Lear and Gary Russell, directed by Nicholas Briggs and released in April 2001 by Big Finish Productions.


This is the third and final Audio Visuals play to be adapted to the Big Finish Monthly Range and the only play for Big Finish to be written by writer Alan W Lear who fell ill and passed away in 2008.  The history behind this is that Alan W. Lear rewrote his original scripts and purposefully moved the setting to America to add social commentary on televangelists of the 90s and early 2000s and to boot add in an homage to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Now you would think that this would clutter the story, but it really only starts to clutter in Part Four.  This is due to the fact that Alan W. Lear wasn’t able to finish his scripts after Part Three for the deadline so Gary Russell had to take over writing for Part Four and rewrote the scripts.  This is very evident for Part Four as the pacing just becomes really choppy and the episode starts to drag.  This wouldn’t be a problem except for the audio is already at a long running time of 2 hours and 30 minutes which with the odd pacing accounting for about ten minutes of nothing really happening.  The change in writing style is enormous that I found myself asking where Russell could go as everything had pretty much wrapped up.


That plot is honestly one of the highlights of the story.  Taking a page out of the Virgin New Adventures, we find ourselves in the newly formed 51st state of the United States of America Malebolgia home of the newly inaugurated Dashwood Institute, a mental asylum.  In the institute there are two very strange patients, both found on the same night and both mad as hatters.  One is the enigma Zebadiah Doe who claims to be in his own personal hell and journalist Gideon Crane who both claim to be the Time Lord known as the Doctor.  That is only one arm of the plot as the Dashwood Institute is a front for Reverend Brigham Eliza Dashwood III and Dr. Dale Pargeter to run the Hell Fire Club a den of iniquity where they have summoned the demon Marchosias to get Dashwood to become the state’s governor and eventually to the White House.  They also have built a machine to make brain surgery which is being investigated by Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart on a mission for the United Nations.


So yeah the plot is pretty full and that isn’t even including Charley’s subplot which I will get to later.  For now let’s move on to the Doctor and Gideon Crane played by Paul McGann and Nicholas Briggs respectively.  Now the Eighth Doctor getting amnesia is nothing new as throughout the BBC Books run and during the TV Movie he has amnesia.  Here, even though it is obvious from the start that the mysterious Zebadiah Doe is the Doctor you still have intrigue as to how everything is going to play out as Doe’s insanity ramps up leading to the revelation that he is going to have to be lobotomized.  Paul McGann, while still giving a good performance has the show stolen from him for the first three parts of the story by Nicholas Briggs.  Gideon Crane is such an interesting character as even though he is a human he still feels like he could be the Doctor and if this is how he played the part in the Audio Visuals it immediately increased their quality.  His argument as to why he is the Doctor is nearly perfect as what he does is something the Doctor would do to blend into the situation.  McGann however shines in Part Four when he gets his memory back and gets to work off the Brigadier.  Courtney and McGann have some great chemistry here, which is even better than the chemistry between Courtney and Colin Baker in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor.


Moving on to India Fisher’s Charley Pollard has one of the more adult subplots.  She is captured by the club and forced into being a prostitute and meets up with Buffy Summers homage Becky Lee who is a demon hunter from the Order of Saint Peter.  They both are the leads for most of the story as we follow them which is for the best as Charley doesn’t understand modern technology and Becky Lee doesn’t believe in time travel.  They eventually team up with her grandfather who has the worst American accent of the performers.  It’s stereotypically Southern, but I love him as a character.  He is played by Morgan Deare who also plays the demon in this story, Marchosias.  That performance is much better suited as he gets to be sarcastic and a trickster which is great.  The two human villains of this story are Dashwood and Pargeter who are both great together and Pargeter’s eventual fate is chilling.


To summarize, Minuet in Hell is an underrated gem as it sees an oddly atmospheric and very adult story reflecting the Virgin New Adventures full of demons, sex and some pretty interesting characters.  The pacing in Part Four and some bad American accents are really what bring it down, but much like The Stones of Venice it isn’t for everyone.  80/100

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