repost: review of “Doctor Who and the Pirates” from Big Finish

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Title: Doctor Who and the Pirates

Produced by: Big Finish

Series: Sixth Doctor and Dr. Evelyn Smythe

Summary: Evelyn arrives unexpectedly at the quarters of one of her former students, Sally, and proceeds, with the Doctor’s help, to tell a story of piratical adventure to the protesting Sally.  With each episode, this story takes another unexpected turn.

Unexpected Thing: Since it includes Gilbert and Sullivan music, I was under the impression that the story would be silly and lightweight.  I should have known better, given Big Finish’s other productions.  I can’t blow this for you, but just have some tissues nearby, ok?

Now, this my first Big Finish download, and I’m glad that I started here.  (Don’t worry if the sixth doc wasn’t your cup of tea on tv; he wasn’t mine, either.  He’s good here, and they make fun of his silly coat.)  I’ve been in love with Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas for many years, and the pastiches of their songs are what attacted me to this story in the first place; so, let’s begin with the music…

The compositions here are very, very strong.  Gilbert was a brilliant lyricist, and many writers since have been baffled by trying to update his lyrics.  The production team here did a lovely job within the second and third episodes, with the highlight being Colin Baker’s solo “I am the very model of a Gallafrayian Buccaneer.”  [That one’s getting separated and going with my Chameleon Circuit playlist. 🙂 ]Very clever work, chaps.  The overture (which is actually played at the end) combines the Who theme baseline with several themes and harmonies from a variety of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, including Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado.  It’s beautiful and worth the price of the download alone.

Another particular bit of loveliness, given my love for words, is the nature of the meta-narrative (these elements are strongest in the first episode, but resonate throughout).  Evelyn is telling the story, but she keeps getting confused and having to go back and change bits.  In addition, we soon learn that she also is hiding something.

If you don’t wish to know any more, go to the Big Finish site and download it now.  http://www.bigfinish.com/43-Doctor-Who-and-The-Pirates

**** Here there be spoilers****

Soon, the story spirls out of control, as Evelyn gets in too far before realising that she can’t escape the story without finishing it, including the parts she doesn’t want to remember.  Only after listening to the entire story does the subtitle (common in G & S works) carry its meaning and impact : The Lass That Lost a Sailor.

Speaking of Young Jem, Doctor Who as a program is rather known for its high body counts, especially of nameless soldiers, guards, and townsfolk.  Just look at Resurrection of the Daleks, for heaven’s sake!  After a while, as viewers, we come to regard these deaths of nameless guys as blasé.  In this story, though, the author writes a very powerful argument against our callous attitude towards the death of extras and minor characters.  The name games that Evelyn plays with the sailors first establish them as fairly interchangable, but this comes to an unexpected fruition in the deaths as the story continues.  Each murder builds in power, until Jem’s death becomes unbearable.  We don’t even hear/ see it, but Jem’s murder forms the crux of the story and lends it heart-breaking strength.  In fact, the tone change as we approach it provides such glaring contrast to earlier episodes that it reveals them to be Evelyn’s attempts to whistle in the dark.  It also gives us a glimpse, perhaps, why the Doctor gallavants with such jocularity around the universe, even though he carries with him the weight of constant death and evil.

Following up on the lessons we and Sally learn as we hear the story, the Doctor’s final scene alone with Sally provides a capstone to the adventure.  It could very easily have descended to preachiness, but it rather neatly side-steps this.  Instead, it just reinforces what we are all thinking, as we muse with Sally.

Overall– a strong story that unexpectedly stayed with me.  I’d definately recommend it for anyone who likes radio drama, G & S, or the Doctor.

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