Thursday, 3 March 2011

Audio Review 3: The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance, written by Moris Farhi (2010) - 5/10

Released: November 2010


Susan Foreman – Carole Ann Ford
Ian Chesterton – William Russell
Melody/Harmony – Helen Goldwyn
Rhythm – John Dorney

Story Narration and other characters voiced by William Russell and Carole Ann Ford

Main Production Credits

Producer and Script Editor – David Richardson
Writer – Moris Farhi (adapted by Nigel Robinson)
Director – John Ainsworth
Incidental Music,
Sound Design and Recording – Toby Hrycek-Robinson at Moat Studios
Title Music – Ron Grainer, Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
TARDIS Sounds – Brian Hodgson and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Executive Producers – Nicholas Briggs and Jason Haigh-Ellery

Story Summary (SPOILERS!):
The TARDIS team have been relaxing on the planet Fragrance, where a utopian civilisation resides. However, upon leaving, Rhythm, an adult male from the planet, confesses his love to Barbara. After turning him down so she can return home, Barbara discovers to her horror that adults on Fragrance are only allowed to love once, and if that love is broken, then they have to die. Before Barbara can act, the Doctor makes up the decision for her by setting the TARDIS in motion. Barbara grieves while her recent friend Rhythm sacrifices himself to the Sapphire Sun.

Story Placement

Between Farewell, Great Macedon (BIG Finish Audio) and The Witch Hunters (BBC Book).

After the magnificent historical epic of Farewell, Great Macedon, this adventure seems to be something of an anti-climax. Nothing is at fault with the audio itself, boasting the same polished and stylish production as the previous story in the First Doctor Boxset, and the cast excel once more with grand performances all round. William Russell continues to delight with his superlative William Hartnell impression, and even the narration feels a lot better presented too.

However, there’s no getting round the fact that The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is a short experimental one-off, a demonstration of Moris Farhi’s clear writing talents, and was never really intended for production. I’m not saying that BIG Finish shouldn’t have tried to produce it, in fact the whole production is a fascinating listen, and gives a great insight into the way outside writers thought about Doctor Who and its imaginative possibilities in those early years. However, because of its intended means as a single test script to pitch Moris Farhi’s suitability for Doctor Who, The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is as a result, among the most basic of Doctor Who stories, and lacks the level of depth possible in most other stories (regardless of format).

There’s still a lot to enjoy though. I was very impressed by how well Moris Farhi understood how to write for the regulars so early on (this was written before Farewell, Great Macedon), their words sounding as truthful to their TV counterparts as conceivably possible. The prose description, written into the narration, is also gorgeously
poetic, particularly the powerful tragic description of how Rhythm died as he floated up towards the Sun, which evoked memories of reading about the Greek myth of Icarus at school (so long ago now). I suspect we have Nigel Robinson and Dave Richardson to thank for these great moments, privileging the audience with imaginative images that wouldn’t have even been conceived in the original script.

Sadly though, there is one element that undermines the story – its major plot point. Despite seeming to be the ultimate civilisation, I find it hard to believe that a society which has eliminated crime, tyranny and fear from the planet, does not allow adults to have the freedom to choose who, or rather who not to love without fatal consequences. It’s an interesting idea, I grant you, but it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, and in fact only serves as an arbitrary gimmick to give the story its function. In an advanced society like Fragrance’s I would’ve expected it to understand and accept the idea of rejection in relationships.

It’s hard to determine exactly what Moris Farhi is trying to say by writing this. He could be preaching the need for society to uphold the sacred vow of love and marriage, or maybe even representing the pain of bad
rejections metaphorically (dying inside). Or on the other hand, perhaps Farhi could really be saying that you can’t create a perfect (utopian) society without destroying individual freedoms (or even individuality itself). All are interesting ideas, but they’re not really developed well enough to give proper meaning to its audience, such is the nature of a basic short story.
The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is a nice little experiment that is very interesting to follow. With expert production values courtesy of BIG Finish, the adventure shines both in performance and prose. However,
because of the seemingly stupid and contrived culture for people in broken relationships to commit suicide and sacrifice themselves, it’s hard to see the point of what takes place in the story, and that’s ultimately what heavily
undermines its good work in the end.

Score: 5/10