|Phantasmagoria by Mark Gatiss|
What a red herring "The Sirens of Time" was. Listening back to "Phantasmagoria" now, it's hard to believe it wasn't released last month. There are a few pointers to its age of course, a few signs of the time, a couple of indicators towards how the chaps and chappesses have improved down the years. It wears the old theme tune, a little of the dialogue is a bit naff and thematically it's all very naively 1999 - one senses they would try something a little more unpredictable and ambitious now than the old "young girl turns out to be powerful alien force while evil sadist from the future tortures locals" routine.
Or maybe not. "Master" borrows the former idea of the serving girl turning out to be a key part of the story, and compare the superbly voiced Nikolas Valentine (a very Big Finish name if ever there was one!) to Leslie Phillips' Robert Knox in the recent "Medicinal Purposes" - perhaps things haven't moved on that much after all. But it's only because "Phantasmagoria" is so resolute that it knows exactly what was wrong with the era it seeks to recreate, and effortless in its correction of these faults. It's no coincidence that the first Peter Davison audio was a big, unabashed historical, a genre they notoriously shied away from during his years on TV. Likewise, his companion count is contrived down to one by setting the story in an almost-non existent gap between old adventures. Everything about "Phantasmagoria" exploits the lost potential of his era on screen.
So it's ironic, then, that "Phantasmagoria" shuns the chance to make us imagine feature film visuals in favour of the kind of small, theatrically played piece we might have got during Season 19. Poltrot is a close cousin of Richard Mace from "The Visitation", all growly olde English, and it's easy to imagine those Ealing film sets from the same story being used to portray the noisy streets we hear on this CD. And a good job this all is too - it's all very well for a story like "Loups Garoux" taking us to Brazilian carnivals and the rain forests, but the settings on audio rely not on the limits of the imagination but the limit of our ability to imagine the characters we already know in potential surroundings. There's not problem in conjuring up "Phantasmagoria" in the mind, because it's so confidently played and realised.
It's no wonder it's aged so well - by the standard of the blueprint, a plan of many years to come began right here.