Let me get this right: cultists? A subspecies of water dwellers complete with webbed toes and fingers? Mysterious resurrections? Gold coffins? Otherworldly paintings? A Sinking City? “Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn?” Ok, maybe that last one isn’t mentioned, but from the outset, The Stones of Venice was proving to have all the ingredients of a Lovecraftian horror that I was going to love. Sadly, it doesn’t last. I mean, like, at all.
The story opened with an adventure wrapping up where the Doctor and Charley are being shot at as they race back to the TARDIS. This threw me off! I was convinced I had put CD 2 in the 1st slot and missed an important thing, which jarred me. The only clue that I hadn’t done this was the lack of any worry from our two protagonists. There was no anxiety in their voices whatsoever. They were responding to being shot at like they were talking over tea, so I just waited and sure enough, the story itself began. And then we get an entire story of horrendous dialogue. Honestly, my favorite line I can barely remember already but it was like that great line from Ghost Light about mammoths! (This time about Cultists being tricky things too. It’s one of those throw-away lines that work wonderfully, as if anyone would need to be told about the uncouth nature of cultists!) Meanwhile some members of the cast sound so caricature it’s embarrassing. Ms. Lavish sounds like an over-the-top 50’s actress bemoaning her glory days with every word she says. She appears like a random passerby at first, and I thought she was there for comedic effect, but it deteriorates once we realize she’s a main character! The Doctor, while making claims of not being any good at name dropping, still manages to squeeze in Liza Minelli and Judy Garland. (This gets worse in my review for next week’s Minuet in Hell where the Doctor claims he tried to prevent Lincoln going to the theater where he was killed. Considering what a massive no-no that is trying to alter a “fixed point” in history, I guess rules are there to be broken in audio!) And Charley constantly sounds like some posh aristocratic 20’s girl on a yacht over-pronouncing her words to try to sound even slightly important. Ra-thehhh! (That’s a gross mispronunciation of “rather”!) Oh, and there’s a Duke Orcino who I just picture as the Duke from Masque of the Mandragora. Go figure. Hard to get past the image one has in ones head!
One of the most annoying things was in episode one, when the Doctor realizes Charley has wandered off. I knew they were together, until she started flirting with Merman. At this point, the Doctor talks to the museum curator, but out of the blue, the Doctor realizes his companion is not with him. Good job, Sherlock. Way to go with those observation skills. This may work for the listener because we can’t see the characters, but did the writers forget that the Doctor is based on Sherlock Holmes? Maybe this is when he is in drug-induced stupor? How did he miss her vanishing? Yes, you pulled the wool over the listeners ears, but so what, this is audio. But the brain of the series might have noticed her absence!
Ramsey, by the way, is still in the TARDIS doing whatever a flying dinosaur can do in the TARDIS. He seems to be OK flying around minding his own business, but Charley can’t understand that he’s a dangerous animal. Look, even if I had a pet pterodactyl, I think I’d steer clear of it, rather than try to get all cozy with it. I guess the 8th Doctor’s TARDIS interior makes it more acceptable because Ramsey can fly around like the one in Torchwood but no one was trying to get all snuggly with that one either. And I don’t really grasp what having him adds to the series currently. Maybe it’s a build up (note: it isn’t) but how do you have a pterodactyl flying around the ship and not have a purpose?
Bottom line: I would have preferred Lovecraft to get a better homage in a Doctor Who story, but the truth is, many of those stories are also weak. Lovecraft is largely about atmosphere; a quality this story fails to capture. Overall, this sounded like a good idea when it started but devolved into an overly … ahem… lavish piece that never amounts to much. ML