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'Eye of the Machine' is by Ben Aaronovitch and it's a well-written drama. Colin Salmon plays Kerr Avon, Keeley Hawes is Anna Grant, and I greatly enjoyed Geoffrey Palmer as Professor Ensor.
I liked this CD a lot better on the second pass than on the first, and I suspect that may be the case for many fans of the original series. When a series is rewritten, a lot of the back story inevitably changes with it. The same characters walk the stage, and their key relationships remain, but all the details do not. After all, if they remained identical, there would be no possibility of surprise or any real sense of dramatic tension. The real questions then are whether the new series captures the spirit of the old and whether the stories work as dramas in their own right.
On my second listening, I was no longer thrown off balance by discovering that Avon is a relatively naive student from a provincial planet who has come to Oxford to study artificial intelligence under Professor Ensor. Ensor, the leader in his field, is very dismissive of those below his own social level, but Avon, with the help of his new girlfriend, Anna Grant is eventually able to get Ensor to listen to his ideas.
Anna is a political activist for the Freedom Party and Avon falls in love with her during an entertaining argument on how the heath service could reasonably reduce its budget (this is the future, so Avon's suggestion is one that seems counter-intuitive to our ears until he explains it). Avon, a non-political animal, is persuaded by Anna to help out. In some ways, he's more cynical about the government than she is, but far less interested in getting involved. Anna starts to change that and infect him with her beliefs.
How does it all turn out?
Well, we know our Avon (in both series). He's totally cynical and thinks getting involved is a bad idea - this is one version of what gave him those beliefs.
Oh yes, what is Anna studying? Funny you should mention it. She's a post-graduate in psycho-dynamics... I wonder what the equivalent story to 'Rumours of Death' will be in this universe - I'm rather looking forward to that one!
The basic difficulty in reviewing this CD is that the plot revolves around whether Carl Varon is innocent or guilty of the charges against him, and I really don't want to give that away, yet the way Travis deals with that issue is central to the story.
Carl Varon is a leader of the Radical Party, more extreme in their views than Roj Blake's Freedom Party. There are extremists in the Radical who believe in terrorist methods to overthrow the government and the key question is whether Varon is one of them, or whether he has been skillfully framed. Varon has specifically asked for Stefan Travis to be his defence at the trial, on the grounds that although part of a system Varon sees as corrupt, Travis is idealistic enough to consider the possibility of his innocence, rather than condemning him outright on the evidence of some suspect tapes.
The good part of the writing is that the listener can see factors that suggest both innocence and guilt, although a big annoyance was that a key recording with a piece of distorted text had it so distorted that I couldn't work out what was actually being said - which was frustrating as it was apparantly related to a terrorist plot.
The terrorist plot is important as it is intended to raise questions of what it is ethically acceptable to do to get information from a terrorist in order to save lives. However, (and this is where I feel the story falls down), the bar at which a character might be expected to feel guilt over his actions has been set at the wrong level. Or maybe I'm wrong... Perhaps each listener has to decide that one for themselves.
Before you listen to it, ask yourself which of the following is true:
Would you feel deep regret for your actions if you tortured a man:
To discover if he was innocent or guilty?
To find out what he knows, if you're convinced he's guilty?
To find out if there's a bomb when you know he has terrorist connections and there's an event they want to disrupt?
To find the location of a bomb when you have good reason to believe there is one, even if you're not sure if he was involved in planting it?
To find the location of a bomb when you have good reason to believe there is one and that your prisoner knows where it is?
To fnd out who else was involved after a bomb has gone off and you know your prisoner was involved?
For any reason under any circumstances.
Craig Kelly was very convincing as Travis - I hear mental shades of Brian Croucher when I listen to him. It's just the script that, while excellent in many regards, fails to convince me of the idealism/cynicism divide that I feel it was aiming for. (If Travis had been portrayed as more naive, I might have gone for it, but he's written as intelligent and perfectly willing to be cynical - hence I don't quite buy the very end of the drama.)
Do the CDs capture the spirit of the original series? In some ways, yes. Craig Kelly totally works for me as Travis and Colin Salmon is starting to feel natural as Avon. One could argue that the style of drama is different from the original series, given that hese two dramas, at bottom, are about the importance of how we see ourselves, what makes us what we are. However, they are prequels - their stated intent is therefore to show us how the characters we will meet later on became who they are. Thus, an action/adventure plot isn't what is required.
I prefer both of these dramas to the Vila/Gan prequel.
I'd rate 'Point of No Return' as three out of five, wheres 'Eye of the Machine' is worth four or five out of five.
See also When Villa Met Gan
See also Blood & Earth / Flag & Flame
See also The Audio Adventures
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