Without the need of special apparatus, I can gauge the moment when I parted company with The Skull of Sobek. The first few bars of the title music. The teaser with all its blood oaths and fire and sub-Conan dialogue suggested parody, that before long it would be revealed as a cut scene from a video game or a scene from a Filmation cartoon being watched by a child sitting with a Prince Sobek action figure in one hand and a carton of Vimto in the other. When it became apparent that writer was deadly serious about this being the back story to the adventure, I knew that despite some of the usual chemistry between McGann and Smith and some neat sound design that by about minute twenty-eight I’d have categorised it as rubbish and wished it wasn’t quite so. That actually happened in minute thirty-two, though for the life of me I can’t remember what in particular put me off. It was probably the Doctor being hurled out of the window only to have his fall broken by a market stall.
Without the need of special apparatus, I can gauge the moment when I parted company with The Skull of Sobek. The first few bars of the title music.
Which is part of the problem. Platt can’t decide what tone he wants or who he’s supposed to be pastiching. The Skull of Sobek, with its monastic setting, family feud and possessed cranium claws desperately towards the Hinchcliffe era; Nick Briggs in Beyond The Vortex even compares Platt’s writing to Robert Holmes and like Holmes, there’s certainly a vein of humour running through it, as the monks and sisters treat their calling rather ironically and their giant crocodile guests with a health cynicism even as they’re having their limbs bitten off. But Platt also seems to want to remind us of Paul Magys in The Scarlett Empress mode, Russell T Davies when he’s knocking together one of those shopping list dramas he apparently doesn’t do and the Monty Python films. Art Malik’s Abbot Absolute sounds like Graham Chapman’s King Arthur during the armaments scene from The Holy Grail.
Art Malik’s Abbot Absolute sounds like Graham Chapman’s King Arthur during the armaments scene from The Holy Grail.
Since he spends most of the time suggesting the crocs are a bit of a joke, when they’re really supposed to be menacing, we’re probably visualising the rubber Argonds from The Adventure Game rather than the sleek serpents painted by Clyde Caldwell. The possession of Lucie which should be a tragic Amok Time style moment in which the Doctor forced to fight his friend, is rushed and despite an amazing bit of work from Sheriden in which she proves once and for all that as Miss Miller she's not just playing herself, has the ring of Rick Moranis’s Keymaster in Ghostbusters, old fashioned phrases spilling from a contemporary mouth. Plus there’s the aforementioned window falling scene which is the kind of visual slapstick that Harold Lloyd might have been pleased with but really doesn’t really work in audio. When Briggsy says that he knows in the schedule that Platt will be writing something weird, it might have been an idea to also request ‘something coherent’. Perhaps if the monks had enjoyed a good brawl, things might have been different.
we’re probably visualising the rubber Argonds from The Adventure Game rather than the sleek serpents painted by Clyde Caldwell
It’s all the more frustrating because there are some promising ideas in here. The Blue Desert of Indigo 3 with its identical dunes and raining season which comes every eighties years is a lovely idea and the way its revealed to Lucie by the Doctor happens in much the same way as I expect Ninth introduced Women Wept to Rose. The idea that this sanctuary exists to create imperfection in a symmetrical world is also impressive, like Chris Bidmead, but in a good way. There’s also a rather nice moment were Lucie becomes realistically vulnerable and goes through the same process as many recent companions in realising that they’re becoming desensitised to death. But that's all cocooned in a rather bizarre collection of scenes which sound like someone’s ripped a cd of Gregorian Chants, The Lord of the Rings radio series and one of the Divergent Universe stories like Kreed of the Kromon into their iPod and selected random.
The idea that this sanctuary exists to create imperfection in a symmetrical world is also impressive, like Chris Bidmead, but in a good way.
Regular readers will know that I tend to glory in the truly bonkers, the kind of Doctor Who in which you’re forced to admit “I can’t quite believe I saw/heard/read that” or my version of it, loud swearing. If even I wasn’t provoked to do something like that, by something like this, something must be wrong.