19 September 2016

Audio Review: Bernice Summerfield - The Poison Seas

Continuing the trend of the fourth series of Bernice Summerfield's audio adventures, David Bailey's third outing for her, The Poison Seas, features the return of a villain that originated in 1970s televised Doctor Who. The Earth Reptiles, as they are known here appeared in The Sea Devils and Warriors of the Deep opposite the Doctor, but refreshingly here they aren't the villains at all. The two previous appearances left some shade about whether they were in the right or not, but here the stance taken by the script is that they are entirely innocent.

Bernice is sent back to Chosan, the planet she visited in Bailey's second series story The Secret of Cassandra, in order to investigate intelligence received about a potential terrorist threat. This ties in nicely with my current watch-through of Spooks, which naturally regularly deals with plots of this nature. Adding the Sea Devils - sorry, Earth Reptiles - to the mix only complicates things and to compound that there are carnivorous sharks and a sentient sea to deal with. 

Needless to say then this is quite a complicated story, but that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. The various plots do overlap and contribute to each other nicely and make the seventy minutes pass much faster than some of the more sedate offerings the range has produced - even stories such as The Draconian Rage feel quite slow. Ed Salt directs here with great skill, managing to keep everything that's going on cleanly cut and approachable. There's an energy to this piece that could be said to be missing from other releases, but it's also true that several of the guest cast tip over into melodrama a bit too often for my liking. Thanks to Simon Guerrier's The Inside Story, I see this was at Salt's suggestion, and Ifan Huw Dafydd is a particularly guilty culprit.

The plot does require a few contrivances in order to work, but they're excusable really. For example, how convenient that the bomb plot unfolds just as Benny gets there - her submarine transport is even driven by the bomber! And revelations about the potential dangers of the content of the sea handily come about at just the right time too, as Principal Lurnix is overrun by the ocean. But these are just conveniences to make things fit and create a good, entertaining story, so I'll let Bailey off.

It's an... interesting decision to bring the Sea Devils - oh shut up - to audio. According to the CD liner notes, it was Gary Russell's idea and in a way I can see the thinking. The creatures kind of live on their voices on one hand, but on the other surely once you think what the voice is like you'd immediately discount them? Obviously not though. It's interesting to have them as the ones who've arrived in a culture that already exists, building a new civilisation at the bottom of the ocean. From what I can tell, they're not particularly bothering the Chosans, but that's not going to dissuade the aggressors. Indeed, it's the Sea Devils' incursion that forces the hand of both the ocean and Carver in this story - both parties want them gone.

Carver is a strange villain. She's probably quite well written, with a full backstory and motive but unfortunately I found Jenny Livsey's portrayal completely off-putting. She seems to completely mis-deliver a huge number of lines, putting the emphasis in completely the wrong place and thus taking the line entirely away from the emotion it was written with. She undermines the character, making her sulky and brattish rather than bitter and determined as the script would seem to imply. Aside from issues already mentioned, the rest of the guest cast do perfectly well, with Nicky Goldie being particularly likeable as Benny's old friend Nedda. 

David Darlington deserves some sort of award - yes, another one - for making the Sea Devils audible. Their thin hiss marks them out as being terrible for audio but listening with headphones the vast majority of the dialogue is fine. The immense amount of work Darlington must have completed to polish this release up is much appreciated by me, down to the excellent score he provides. It evokes The Sea Devils very clearly for me, with spangly synth wobblings all over the shop. But somehow it works as an actual soundtrack too, only serving to enhance the story as a whole. He really can work miracles, that man.

This isn't quite as good as The Draconian Rage, but it's very close, and I think I enjoyed it more anyway. Stories set on or under the sea are immediately intriguing to me. The isolated style of storytelling seems to hold so much potential to me plus being trapped on a collapsing sea base with hungry sharks swarming is pretty much my worst nightmare. I'm not sure what it is but open water fascinates and terrifies me. David Bailey admittedly doesn't get much of that across in his script but it's good nonetheless. I'm not sure quite why this gets such a bad rap. Sure, it ain't perfect, but it's pretty damn enjoyable.


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