Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Stones of Venice by: Paul Magrs directed by: Gary Russell: The Most Excellent Tragedy of the Duke Orsino and the Lady Estella

The Stones of Venice stars Paul McaGann as the Doctor.  It was written by Paul Magrs, directed by Gary Russell and released in March 2001.


The Eighth Doctor is always described as the breathless romantic and from its premise alone The Stones of Venice takes full advantage of the romanticism, in the traditional sense as a piece full of emotions.  The story combines the breathless romanticism of the city of Venice with dialogue in the style of a Shakespeare play with a plot involving love, betrayal and a mythical curse causing the city to sink.  Cults are causing trouble, an underdog and there is even a dotty old woman to serve as our comic relief for the evening.  The entire thing feels like a stage play even so the tracks are much longer than normal and act like their own little scene and a cast on the small side with plenty of monologues to boot.  The thick atmosphere draws you in and you find yourself lost within your own little world.  What could the plot be for something so lilting as this story?  Well, much like the works of Shakespeare it is the weakest aspect of the story.  We start with the Doctor and Charley escaping a rebellion and taking a vacation to a future Venice which is getting ready to sink into the lagoon as per the curse laid on the city by the local duchess who committed suicide a century before after her husband gambled her away.  The Duke is in mourning, his advisor who only wishes to save the city’s art, the cultists are trying to fulfill the prophecy of the return of the duchess whilst the gondoliers are silently revolting, the people are having a ball and Charley is trying to enjoy herself.  This is a plot that really isn’t for everyone and really is the only flaw in the story.  Everything feels traditional, but is definitely one to keep you drawn into the story with some brilliant characters.


Starting as always with the Doctor who is the breathless romantic.  He gets himself lost in the art and architecture of the city and completely ignores Charley.  Paul McGann is at his most invested here as he allows you to picture in your head the city and the water and all the imagery of the story.  India Fisher’s Charley also gets some substantial development as she gets herself wrapped up within the cult.  As a girl from the 1930s she is very progressive as she hates the discrimination of the gondoliers and wants to see it end.  She still wants them to be free even though they drug her and force her to act like the duchess to trick the duke into thinking the prophecy has been fulfilled.  I love her performance and she quickly goes up the rankings in my companion list.  Next up is Duke Orsino who is every bit the Shakespeare character as he has become lazy and just wants to revel in self-pity as the city sinks.  He has the fatal flaw of hubris that causes his own downfall and even gets his own redemption arc.  He is played by Doctor Who veteran Michael Sheard who gives his best performance in a role he was born to play.  Orsino’s advisor is Churchwell played by Nick Scovell who is one of those beautifully one note characters as that’s all needed to complete his purpose in the story.  Next we have the antagonists Pietro and Vincenzo played by Barnaby Edwards and Mark Gatiss respectively who both follow Churchwell’s lead in being delightfully one note.


Now no play would be complete without its comic relief which is served by the enigmatic Miss Lavish played by the wonderful Elaine Ives-Cameron.  Lavish is every bit the romantic as the Doctor and refuses to leave the city because it is all she’s got.   She hates the decadence of those there to see the destruction of the city.  Her plot twist is a bit predictable but theatrical as everything is revealed with such flourish.  The music and direction add to it as Big Finish bring in an orchestra to score the music which comes out brilliantly in every scene.


To summarize, The Stones of Venice is one of Big Finish’s underrated gems and the highlight of the first season of the Eighth Doctor Monthly Range Audios.  Its plot is its weakest aspect as it is way too traditional as the entire thing plays like a play and draws you in.  The acting is what really sells you with everyone involved keeping the energy and intrigue at the highest points dramatically.  The music and sound design knows just when to come in to make the play ramp up the tension.  While the play not be for everyone I urge you to give this one another look.  95/100

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see that someone else loves this one!

    I must say, I didn't recognize Mr. Gatiss in this one. It wasn't until later that I realized he was in it!