Having recently listened to The Syndeton Experiment again (following a period of a year and a half's mental recuperation from the last time), it was rather interesting to compare the contemporary reviews on Judith Proctor's website with my own impressions.
Having read the reviews, it seems that the general opinion on The Syndeton Experiment can be summed up as follows:
The generally positive tone of the reviews was interesting, given that most of the people with whom I have spoken seemed to be more positive about The Sevenfold Crown than about The Syndeton Experiment. This discrepancy can be explained by considering that most of the reviews were written at a time when a third audio was still a possibility; consequently, most of the reviewers seem to be trying to make positive noises in order to encourage the BBC to commission more stories, but also to be keenly aware of the flawed nature of the production. It is interesting that most of the reviews made some comment to the effect that they felt that some of the improvements made within the story were due to Letts having listened to fans, perhaps in the hope that he would do so again to better effect. Unfortunately, the reviewers were up against rather more than simply a writer unfamiliar with the series' conventions.
At the time, several factors conspired to hamper the chances of there being a third audio production. Firstly, both Syndeton Experiment and Sevenfold Crown were played on Radio 4, however, The Sevenfold Crown had more publicity surrounding it, and in addition did not go out opposite the Grand National. Secondly, while the reviews of The Sevenfold Crown in the non-B7 fan press were fairly positive, the reviews in the B7-fan press were scathing, a fact which did not go unnoticed either by the BBC or by the customers who might have given the second audio a chance had they not had their fingers burned by The Sevenfold Crown. Consequently, while in terms of sales figures The Sevenfold Crown was one of the most positively received BBC audios of all time, the sequel ranked somewhere alongside Colin Baker reading "Attack of the Cybermen" on tape, and it is this, coupled with the fact that the Radio 4 controller of the time was not very keen on science fiction, which caused the BBC to veto any further Lighthill/Letts audios.
In retrospect, however, this purely financial decision was probably the best one for fans' enjoyment of the series. There is no way one can turn Barry Letts into Chris Boucher, and the script of The Syndeton Experiment demonstrates this amply. Letts' difficulty with writing female characters as strong, intelligent adults, excusable in a Doctor Who script, shows up badly in a script written for a series well-known for its powerful female figures. The mix of frivolity and sadism which Letts brought to his Doctor Who audios is very much in evidence here, with the incineration of two million people suddenly hauled into a race-to-obtain-yet-another-piece-of-technology runaround. The plot contains all the ingredients of B7, and yet somehow lacks the vital spark to bind them all together; quite likely because Letts has neither seen Series 1-3 nor has the guidance of an editor with a keen eye for continuity and tone. The cast, furthermore, seem to pick up on this; in contrast to earlier reviewers, I felt that Paul Darrow was particularly lacklustre, sounding as though he was mailing his performance in by carrier pigeon, and the less said about poor Jacqueline Pearce the better. Only Michael Keating seems to come out of the story all right, possibly because Letts always seems to be at his best when writing for comical or childlike figures. However, B7, while full of wit and humour, has always relied upon strong plotting and characterisation to carry the day, and consequently it seems to have been a good thing that the Lighthil/Letts vision of the series was arrested before it could take any further turns for the comedic.
We all love Blakes' 7, but Blakes' 7 at any cost is not a price worth paying.
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