Monday, February 6, 2012

Minuet in Hell

“God can’t see us here.” [1]--The Brigadier

Like Sirens in Time, what a mess. I don’t wish to speak ill of Alan W. Lear, who it appears had many problems going on while he was re-writing this from Audiovisuals form, but the plot is full of more holes than Emmental and just as cheesy. It’s supposed to be cheese, but we only find this out in the last 15 minutes. It’s the kind of story that should work for Doctor Who. I’m trying to pinpoint what exactly went wrong. Normally I like stories whose parts equal more than the whole, but this one just dribbles along. It’s too long, it wants to take itself seriously and yet because it can’t, we can’t either. The Brigadier is mostly wasted, and it’s full of unconvincing characters. Even the most interesting ones, Becky Lee Kowalczyck, for example, are obvious derivatives. I imagine the fact it takes place in Malebogia, an imaginary U.S. state, is to allow us to forgive any liberties that may have been taken with American history and culture. Why not just get an American to write it?

The sound landscape is garbled, which makes a play that’s confusing at times—I found myself having difficulty distinguishing Dale from Becky Lee—more so. Gideon Crane is an annoying character made worse by being played by Nick Briggs, who seems to want to be the Doctor at all costs and in any medium. Although it hasn’t stopped Doctor Who before, the main characters are just unbelievable and as such, they render a wobbly but serviceable plot just that much more tottering. We can believe that men (presumably southern Baptists[2]) can pretend to be righteous during the day and devil-worshippers at night; stranger things than that happen in the Bible Belt, I’m sure. But that they can maintain this façade while simultaneously running for governor of a new state without raising some eyebrows, and somehow keep the lid on the Dashwood Institute begins to run away with credulity. Furthermore, the state secession needs a lot more thought and background to ring true. For what reason did it secede from Virginia (?) or Georgia (?) and what is the legality of all this? This makes the Brig’s cover story look flimsier than ever. Though we find out that the Hellfire Club is as silly as it sounds, the notion of Dale Pargeter (I’m sorry, Dr Dale Pargeter) supervising the kidnapping of female transients and making them into “pretty little satin bottoms” cannot be believed wholesale, even in our era of human trafficking. I won’t be pedantic on some of the mistakes a non-native American writership makes.

Former Senator Waldo Pickering [3] isn’t much of a hero; his conduct in the “loony bin” is embarrassing and he seems to be there just for shock value. Becky Lee appears to be the only laudable American in the whole story, and one suspects that when Dashwood describes his hoodwinked audience as subnormal hypocrites, that might be the writers’ opinions of Americans in general. Perhaps that’s being a bit harsh, but when Invaders from Mars gives us larger-than-life America, it gets away with it because of the time period and Gatiss’ trenchant wit and understanding of that era. It treads the fine line of pastiche, but that’s because it doesn’t take itself seriously. Minuet in Hell does an about-face too late.

But it’s certainly not without its bright spots. The part the Brigadier plays in the climax is wonderful and almost justifies his presence (similar to what he did at the end of Spectre of Lanyon Moor, which is appropriate!). Marchosias the demon has some great lines and brightens up the second half of part three. Once the Doctor gets on his feet, like the fightin’ Doctor of the end of “Christmas Invasion,” he’s pretty impressive. And, if I’m honest, I kind of enjoyed the notion of Charley playing Queen of Hell à la Margarita in The Master and Margarita.

Oh yeah, and Boccherini’s spinning in his grave.

[1] Okay, the Brigadier did not actually say this. He said, “The guard can’t see us here.” But it sounded like the above, and that’s much funnier anyway.
[2] Though Dashwood’s first names of Brigham and Elisha suggest Mormonism.
[3] Do all Americans have weird names? Although I’m one to talk!

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