Monday, May 9, 2016

Zagreus by: Alan Barnes and Gary Russell directed by: Gary Russell: Charley's Adventure's in Wonderland

Zagreus stars Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor as Reverend Matthew Townsend, Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor as Lord Tarpov, Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor as Walton Winkle, and Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor as Zagreus with India Fisher as Charley Pollard, Lalla Ward as Romana, Louise Jameson as Leela, Don Warrington as Rassilon and Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart as the TARDIS.  It features cameos from Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, Anneke Wills as Polly Wright as Lady Louisa Pollard, Stephen Perring as the Kro’ka as the Receptionist, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith as Miss Lime, Conrad Westmass as C’rizz as The Cat, Mark Strickson as Vislor Turlough as Captain McDonnell, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa as Miss Foster, Nicola Bryant as Peri Brown as Dr. Stone and Ouida, Caroline Morris as Erimem as Mary Elson, Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe as The Great Mother, Bonnie Langford as Mel Bush a Cassandra and Goldilocks, Robert Jezek as Frobisher as the Recorder, Stephen Fewell as Jason Kane as Corporal Heron, Sophie Aldred as Ace McShane as Captain Duck and Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield as Sergeant Gazelle with Miles Richardson as Cardinal Irving Braxiatel and John Leeson as K9.  It was written by Alan Barnes and Gary Russell, directed by Gary Russell and released in November 2003 by Big Finish Productions.


I am writing this story in a secret underground bunker beneath my home which I will be destroying so I cannot be found after I make my next statement as it is going to be an extremely controversial one.  It may even have ramifications on my credibility as a critic, but seeing as I had little credibility to begin with and I write reviews as expressions of my own personal opinion.  Any review should be taken as such.  If everyone is in a calm place I will continue, Zagreus is not only a good story, but also a great example of how to do an anniversary special without being traditional.  Yes the story is extremely flawed and is at least one hour too long, but a good story can still be badly paced if it does one single thing.  A badly paced story has to be full of again not only good ideas, but interesting ideas and I think I can safely say Zagreus has good ideas in spades.  It continues to push the relationship of the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard into new territory that until that point had never been done with a Doctor and companion team.  It is a pivotal story that shakes everything up and sends the Doctor out of our universe into the Divergent Universe where the concept of time doesn’t actually exist.  This is however not what an anniversary special should be doing.  An anniversary special should be a time to look back on the history of whatever is having the anniversary and celebrating its triumphs and poking fun at its flaws.  Zagreus is able to do this in an extremely clever way by integrating it into the actual plot of the special.


Zagreus is presented as three seventy minute long parts spread across three discs which is where we do get a glaring pacing problem.  The story is obviously meant to be a six part story with clear areas where a cliffhanger would be placed, similar to the way Season 22 was formatted coming with those flaws of that structure.  That said the plot has distinct tones across each disc that conveys a mood.  The first disc is Zagreus: Wonderland and other than being an opportunity for Doctor Who to be inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the basic plot synopsis.  The story picks up where Neverland left off with the Eighth Doctor has been taken over by the Zagreus entity rampaging against Charley, who hides in the back of the TARDIS.  The first half of the disc focuses on the Eighth Doctor and Charley exploring the holograms the TARDIS has put up as what seems to be a safety measure.  Beginning with the Eighth Doctor, after Paul McGann has a chance to overact stomping around he becomes immediately more subdued as he explores a forest where he meets a vision of the Third Doctor taken from fan film Devious and later a Cat, based on the future image of companion C’rizz played by Conrad Westmass, which goes through a demonstration of the Schrodinger’s Cat experiment that allows Paul McGann a chance to play the vulnerable Doctor which is great here before he disappears until the third part of the story.  India Fisher as Charley Pollard is our main character as she is escorted through a wonderland style London by her mother in the image of Polly Wright.  Lady Pollard is played brilliantly by Anneke Wills who hasn’t lost any form in playing the character.  Through this section of the story we get a more detailed explanation of how Charley ran away on the R101 as told by her former teacher Miss Lime in the image of Sarah Jane Smith which is an all too short cameo from Elisabeth Sladen.  This is all before Charley gets her own white rabbit in the TARDIS taking the form of the Doctor’s oldest human friend, Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart played again by Nicholas Courtney.  Courtney’s performance in this first part is mainly his performance from the television series but there is hints of darkness sprinkled throughout.  The second half of the disc takes the form of a flashback of a military base in the early 1930s where the crew takes the form of various companions of the Fifth Doctor in what is the least interesting segment of the story.  Dr. Stone (Peri Brown) played by Nicola Bryant is creating a portal to another universe with the help of Reverend Townsend (the Fifth Doctor) who is a normal priest who has had his faith shaken by the war.  There is also a spy which could be any of the base’s personnel from the Reverend’s niece (Erimem) played by Caroline Morris, the secretary Miss Foster (Nyssa) played by Sarah Sutton or Captain McDonnell (Turlough) played by Mark Strickson.  This is the only real intrigue in this part of the plot as the story as it is a Red Scare style witch hunt which I honestly love, but it isn’t long before the traitor is revealed, the machine blows up and we are on to the second part.


The second part of the story is Zagreus: Wasteland, which does what the second half of Zagreus: Wonderland did but instead of doing it with the Fifth Doctor’s era it is with the Sixth and Seventh Doctor’s era.  The title also is in reference to the overall plot that the main universe has been wasting away and it is the actions of the Doctor saving Charley that allowed the deterioration to begin.  It is also in reference to the TARDIS which has gone slightly insane from containing the anti-time in Neverland and has sinister plans for Charley and the Doctor.  The plots with the characters begin with Charley and the TARDIS going to a hologram of Gallifrey where vampire Lord Tarpov (the Sixth Doctor) played by Colin Baker in one of his best performances and his underling (Peri) played by Nicola Bryant are meeting with the Great Mother of the Sisterhood of Karn (Evelyn) and one of the sisters (Mel) played by Maggie Stables and Bonnie Langford respectively, about the actions of Rassilon.  This is where we get some of the dirty details on the Time Lords and how Rassilon has been tampering with the genetic makeup of the universe’s species so many civilizations will look humanoid.  This is the high point of the overall story with the acting being on top form and the story being completely dark in a way that I just love.  The second half of the disc is a Disney World Parody with sentient robots at the end of the universe are at war over the Animator, Walton Winkle (the Seventh Doctor) played by Sylvester McCoy who wakes up from suspended animation just in time for the universe to be destroyed.  The war between the humanoid robots led by Goldilocks (Mel Bush) played by Bonnie Langford in a role meant for this actress which I just love are attacking the animal robots (Ace, Benny and Jason Kane) played by Sophie Aldred, Lisa Bowerman and Stephen Fewell who are also on top form here in what I can describe as an LSD trip gone wrong in a glorious way.  The big problem with this portion is that it is a very short portion of the story that ends very abruptly to bring us into the third disc.


The third disc is Zagreus: Heartland which takes place mainly on Gallifrey and has the honor of wrapping up the story.  Instead of picking up with Charley who has been thrown out of the TARDIS by Rassilon played by Don Warrington (I’ll get to him later), and Zagreus, we start with Romana played by Lalla Ward who is telling K9 played by John Leeson to write down a bedtime story and is interrupted by the noble savage, Leela played by Louise Jameson.  This gives Alan Barnes and Gary Russell a chance to establish their characters’ chemistry as they try to fix what it wrong in the Doctor’s mind from the outside.  The two actresses have some of their best performances as this serves as a pilot for Big Finish’s spin-off Gallifrey which is often cited as some of the best in their catalogue.  This is the weakest disc in terms of plot as the main plot is just a confusing excuse to defeat the villain and kill off the Eighth Doctor who has a scene with his three previous former selves which does what every anniversary special should do and pokes fun at the worst times of Doctor who with much made of the 1980s era of the show.  The end of the story is also a very emotional ride as Charley and the Doctor gets to have closure to their relationship and the profession of love in Neverland with the acknowledgment that the Doctor cannot love.  This is the Doctor and Rose relationship done right as we get closure and the companion while still is in love respects that the Doctor isn’t human.  It is Charley’s respect that leads her to sneaking back on the TARDIS at the end of the story to go help the Doctor get through the Divergent Universe.


Thus ends the story of Zagreus which means, I think, a summary is in order.  The story is definitely a flawed one, but being flawed doesn’t mean something isn’t good.  Heck The Caves of Androzani has some flaws, but is considered a great piece of Doctor Who history.  Zagreus has a great story that has its writer’s feeling the spirit of Doctor Who in every second even if the story is too long and is in desperate need of an edit.  The acting is all on top form as the cast is made up of either Doctor Who veterans or future Doctor Who staples in the case of Conrad Westmass and Stephen Perring.  The direction is a feat to be held with some excellent music that feels like it can be from any era of Doctor Who history.  The ending does let the story down which is the biggest sin this story commits.  All in all I give Zagreus a justified 80/100.

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