Monday, February 17, 2014

Minister of Chance Micropilot Review

"Is it good or bad
... That depends on the pilot."
-The Pointed Hand

Paul McGann (Durian) doomed to always wear an awesome waistcoat/collar combos instead of leather.
I just saw two movies tonight, the Lego Movie, which I won't blog about, and the micro-pilot for the Minister of Chance, which I will.

Minister of Chance is a rather strange beast. It is arguably a Doctor Who spinoff but in my opinion it is so much more and this production stands on its own legs - effectively not part of the Whoneverse. The Minister of Chance was a Time Lord from a non-canon BBC Doctor Who audio production - Death Comes To Time - starring Sylvester McCoy. The Minister was initially played by Stephen Fry and the author, Dan Freeman (all-round nice guy), spun the character off into a 6 part audio drama, which moved from being sold on iTunes to being a free download, paid for by crowdfunding. You can still download the audio series, for free, here and it is well worth doing so. Now Radio Static, the production company, are moving towards developing a Minister of Chance TV/movie adaption of the story.

Minister of Chance seems to have come at the right time for me, as science fiction franchises on TV and at the movies feel like they are dumbing down in terms of vision in the script department when ironically the technical limitations are being removed. Doctor Who, despite its larger budget, rarely seems to ever leave contemporary Earth and the Doctor can only pick up 21st Century girls in England as his companion, despite the fact the TARDIS can travel in space and time. The new Star Trek movies instead of exploring strange new worlds seem to always involve a big SFX fight over Earth so we can have a post-9/11 allegory. Even when we do leave Earth it is very rare in TV sci-fi one gets a nuanced 'alien' world (though to be fair this is probably easier to do in a book). Doctor Who tends to work with one issue homogeneous planets, like Planet of the Ood - where it seems the only thing of interest on the whole planet concerns production of Ood, or Varos where everyone watches TV, or the pirate planet where everyone's about getting richer.

One of the things I like about Minister of Chance is that it is set on what seems a living planet that is not Earth, but yet has its own distinct nations and a wide range of political and theological ideals. The micro-pilot shows this by introducing the quasi-medieval nation of Tanto that borders two more technologically powerful superpowers. The micro-pilot is an adaption of the first audio episode - The Pointed Hand. Essentially in both the audio prologue and micro-pilot Paul McGann's ambassador from Sezuan, Durian (who the authors based on super-slick King of Spin Tony Blair) pays the King of Tanto a visit and a battle of wills ensues.

A tactical map showing Tanto, or as
they call it in Sezuan "Piggy in the Middle".
However it is not a straight adaption of the audio series. Clare Eden, the producer, told me when they visited Leicester's Space Centre, audio and film are completely different mediums and to simply film the audio script would not necessarily do the material justice and would require a budget the current film production sadly lacks. For instance two main characters played by well known actresses exchange literally a handful of lines of dialog in the audio version but do not appear in the pilot. Instead of overseeing the bustling court in the audio the King of Tanto appears to be enjoying a private retreat in a sumptous looking manor house in the micro-pilot. Fair enough - I know which I'd prefer.

The whole micro-pilot has an almost ethereal quality to it, with pale lighting and an operatic classical score. It is a two-hander, with McGann squaring off against Tim McInnery (Percy/Darling from Blackadder) as Tanto's king. There are also some mute soldiers and an incredibly cute Princess Didi but in the largest departure from the audios McInnery's king is a much more sympathetic character than his psychotic counterpart played by Mark Lewis. If it goes to series I hope to find out what happens to the king, as in the audio version his character disappears without any real explanation.

The micro-pilot is good. I hope someone picks it up and finances instead of brainless fare like Sharknado III: The Lobotomy or Godzilla vs. Tetris.

I even managed to sell my missus on watching the micro-pilot. (When I said it cost £8 for ~8 minutes she said she was thankful the 100 minute Lego movie were not going to charge at a similar minute to pounds ratio). However she enjoyed it and asked to hear the audio prologue so she could compare and understand how initially I sided with Durian. Given I can't get her to listen to Big Finish this is high praise indeed fellows!

If you are interested in checking this out, I recommend listening to the free audios first - the titular Minister does not appear in the micro-pilot and there's over 3 hrs of story - and then dropping £8 to see the short film and support a future endeavour for the Minister (or if you're local and see me at a PC, ask me to show you it). You won't regret it.

Not someone you'd want over for dinner.

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