Sunday, 1 January 2017

Big Finish Reviews+ Bang-Bang-A-Boom by Tony J Fyler


Bang-Bang-A-Boom

Tony takes the stage. Plays the trumpet voluntary. Gets coat.

There’s something to hold very clearly in your mind when you listen to Bang-Bang-A-Boom. It’s written by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman. I’m putting that front and centre in this review because I only found it out once I’d listened to it, at which point, you kind of get the feeling that perhaps, every now and again, Big Finish just wakes up in the morning and says to itself “Screw it, let’s go mental!”

Realising that the script is by Roberts and Hickman makes a kind of sense out of this sensation.

Let me go further and put my cards firmly on the table – I love Gareth Roberts scripts most of the time. I loved his reworking of Douglas Adams’ Shada, too. And deep in the sniggering, chortling heart of myself, I love Bang-Bang-A-Boom. It’s so staggeringly evident that the whole thing is just two big parodies in explosive collision, and it’s paced in such a way it makes you want to hug it to death.

Basically, for those bothered about plotlines and themes and the like, imagine if you will Star Trek: Deep Space Nine run by a gang of incompetents who speak in a needlessly portentous way. That is Dark Space 8, a space station long past its invasion-stopping best, its staff now envious of all the other, newer cooler stations that still get the high priority missions while they get – The Intergalactic Song Contest.

This clear-as-rainbow-coloured crystal parody of the Eurovision Song Contest is –
Ah. Wait. It’s just possible that you’re not from Europe, and so will never have encountered the Eurovision Song Contest. How to describe the Eurovision Song Contest…

OK, in American terms, it’s like a combination of a pageant and America’s Got Talent sprinkled with a thousand Pride festivals. Imagine that, but with every state having to select their best own entry. And then imagine that each state had a different actual language, and a different interpretation of what music is. That’s the Eurovision Song Contest. Responsible for bringing you Abba, and for breaking Celine Dion out to the wider world despite her being Canadian, rather than actually Swiss, under whose flag she competed and won. That makes no difference any more – plenty of non-European countries are in Eurovision. Russia’s in Eurovision. So’s Iceland. So’s freakin’ Israel, come to that (and Israel once used its entry to launch a song called Push The Button, essentially advocating nuclear war against ‘fanatical regimes.’ I really wish I was making this up. That said, Austria recently won it with a performance by transgender singer Conchita Wurst, so it’s not just a national venting of frustrations. Mostly, but not just. Britain, incidentally, has a habit of tearing girls’ skirts off or flashing their panties at the judges. Ireland has a habit of winning. Oh that reminds me: Riverdance, the thing that made Michael Flatley an international celebrity? Started as the half-time show at Eurovision. You’re welcome.

Even a group of German evangelist Christian Klingons have won Eurovision before now. Don’t believe me? Google ‘Lordi Hard Rock Hallelujah.’

Gift writers like Roberts and Hickman a tradition as diverse and frankly bonkers as this, and the sometime po-facedness of the Federation’s finest in later instalments, and you’re going to have yourself some proper Peladon-style fun. With two enormous galactic powerhouses who’ve been at war for centuries competing – and staying – next to each other, while across the quadrant their representatives apparently meet to potentially put an end to hostilities, and you’ve got a game. Add in a Justin Bieber clone as the Earth entrant, and a squeaky giant hamster as the arbiter and you’ve got at least one Alpha Centauri to contend with, possibly two. Then throw the early Seventh Doctor and Mel into the mix annnnd start the murders. How can you possibly fail?

The answer is with Roberts and Hickman at the wheel, you really can’t, but it can be relentlessly, almost exhaustively satirical. To give them their due, they pitch the Seventh Doctor very squarely at the start of his incarnation, with plenty of rrrrrrrrrrrolling intonations, plenty of scrambled sayings (Mel even tells him at one point ‘Can you stop that, please – it’s getting really annoying’) and, inevitably when you have this Seventh Doctor and an empty stage, the spoons. You also have the Seventh Doctor playing a very conscious Poirot, pretending to be the station’s new commander so as untangle what’s really going on before Goloss (separated chunk of a gestalt entity, looks like cotton candy, crackles and so needs a human translator) and the Angvians (Think Ride of the Valkyries, watch out for the amorous armpits) blow each other off the face of the cosmos. Oh, and the Doctor nearly scores, and then has to explain it to Mel (‘Well, after several hundred years of celibacy, that’s a hell of a way to get back into it!’). Oh, and if this doesn’t keep you up at night, Mel nearly scores too, but can’t go through with it in case her would-be partner literally explodes.

As a story, it does rather glory in its positively barking madness – including a Drahvin girl group performing a song called Cloned Love, and a false ending and record-scratch-interrupted end credits. There’s a guard at one point who comes in, speaks two lines in the voice of Michael Caine, and then goes out again, never to be heard again or remarked on. Yes, there are Ice Warriors, as are required in any attempt to recreate the Peladonian vibe. There’s a Columbo-style ‘Dum Dum Duuuuuuuuuum!’ music sting anyone dies or even nearly dies. And practically everyone, again in the true Peladonian tradition, has at least one secret to hide. And then there’s the cast, which combines world-beating class and a tradition of surreal madness – Graeme Garden, Patricia Quinn, Nickolas Grace. There’s even a cameo from someone going by the name of Gareth Jenkins, which is either a staggering coincidence or a fantastic gracenote (Google ‘A Fix With Sontarans,’ people).

Overall, for those who found the later, darker, more broody gameplayer that the Seventh Doctor became a bit intense and hard work, Bang-Bang-A-Boom is a joy. Utterly mad from start to finish, satirizing the bejesus out of Star Trek, strangely celebrating the Eurovision Song Contest but most of all, paying a surprisingly complete homage to the Peladon stories, without a mining consortium or a snaggle-toothed royal monster anywhere to be found. Get it in your player today – it’s one of those stories that divides your life into ‘Before’ and ‘After’ portions, while giving you a lot of good laughs in the process. 

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