Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Bernice Summerfield: Walking to Babylon

After ‘Beyond the Sun’ introduced Jason Kane and then gave him hardly anything to do, this adaptation of Walking to Babylon gives him exactly twice as much material, and a far better script to work with. Unfortunately there’s an almost exact repetition of the ‘Jason in trouble, gets mixed in with wrong people, kidnapped, Bernice must rescue’ story. However whereas the alien ‘Sunless’ were hardly explored in the previous novel, here his captors and their motives are essential.

I gather that there was some trepidation about ‘The People’ appearing in this audio, as it could be potentially confusing for new listeners. Fortunately this worry was unfounded, as it takes only two minutes to explain who and what they are, and there’s plenty of new material to explore. It neatly performs the required balancing act of setting up a situation of extreme peril without delving into unnecessary detail. Joining Bernice on this quest is Barnaby Edwards, now playing John Lafayette, a familiar voice that fits in very naturally as the new reserved companion character. Initially scared of Bernice, Barnaby Edward’s warm voice and natural performance quickly endear him as the heart of the story.

As seems to be a theme for this series there is a familiar voice from Doctor Who playing a key role, and Elisabeth Sladen seems to mesh perfectly with the role of the lady Ninan-ashtammu. She and Steven Wickham are probably the main characters of note in Babylon, giving the city, and the play, a strange, otherworldly, but extremely ambient atmosphere. This is partly from the good direction but also thanks to the music and sound design, it really feels like a living exotic city. The sense of fun and innovation from ‘Oh No It Isn’t!’ is back, and the exotic combination of this ancient world and the threat of destruction from the future gives a credible threat.

The story follows two paths, with Jason attempting to work his way free from the People who have brought him here. It’s unusual for a play to have such unthreatening villains, but it suits the mood of this piece perfectly, and the banter between them is excellent. Whilst Bernice and Lafayette attempt to mingle with Babylonian society in their search, the People show an inability to learn from their experiences. Slightly odd but more than welcome is the inclusion of their drone, who strangely is an almost exact clone of Joseph, who provides much wit and menace to the proceedings.

Walking to Babylon is a very strong release, with an equal measure of danger and great characterisation. Although it starts with a few, annoying moments of Bernice talking herself and once again remonstrating Jason Kane’s many failings, it very quickly matures into an excellent adventure set amongst one of the ancient wonders of the world.

Thoroughly recommended.

9 / 10

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