|Running Time||60 mins|
|Produced by||Magic Bullet|
|Written by Daniel O'Mahoney|
|Synopsis: Eighteen months after her final confrontation with Iago, Blayes awakes to find Kaldor City in quarantine and herself on a Storm Mine in the Blind Heart Desert. Her companions are three strangely familiar figures, a vengeful spirit - and a robot with a dangerous secret. Trapped in a claustrophobic, dreamlike environment, the former terrorist must now undertake a journey which may end in the destruction of her world - or its beginning.|
A Review by Luca Signorelli 7/4/06
Daniel O’Mahony is the most interesting writer to have emerged from 15 years of DW fiction and Storm Mine is perhaps his most mature accomplishment so far. As an admirer of Daniel’s past work (especially his MA The Man In The Velvet Mask) I’ve always been curious to see how he could have fared writing a script (the closest thing we can have so far to full-fledged, O’Mahony-penned episode for the new DW series). Storm Mine is the answer.
Daniel brings the Kaldor City series to a full circle, and thus we’re back into a Storm Mine, an enormous but claustrophobic vehicle who roams the desert of Kaldor City’s planet, extracting ores from the storm-blown sands. Elska Blayes, the double agent turned terrorist last seen (at the end of Checkmate) locked in a deadly showdown with hired killer Iago, wakes up without any memory of what happened after the duel, and definitely in a strange company. There are the three remaining members of the Storm Mine crew (Commander, Chief Mover and the reclusive Chief Fixer), all strangely familiar and all apparently hiding something. There’s V23, an enigmatic Voc-class robot assigned to the personal service of Blayes. And there’s Iago itself, apparently reduced to a disincarnate, vengeful, bitter voice inside Blayes' head, incapable of interacting with the external world – or is it?
With Kaldor City quarantined for good (for unspecified reasons), the Storm Mine is pointlessly roaming in circles through the desert, a situation that the crewmembers (sole survivors of an unspecified accident that wiped out all the rest of the Storm Mine crew) seem not to resent particularly. All sort of questions start to pop into Blayes' (and the audience’s) head. What’s happened to Kaldor City? Why was Blayes found unconscious in the desert? What’s going on with Iago? Who really is the mysterious Chief Fixer, hiding into the Storm Mine's deepest levels? What’s happening to V23? And what is the real meaning of the last message received from Kaldor City?
There’s a lot of stuff going on here, and the risk was that Daniel had bitten off more than he could chew. But it all works surprisingly well, mainly because Storm Mine is, more often than not, very creepy. I’m a big fan of radio drama, but I’m also quite picky as far as the “fear factor” goes – very seldom something manages to give me even a little goose bump. Few previous DW-related releases have worked for me on this regard, the best being probably Rob Sherman’s Holy Terror (Spare Parts, for all the hype, was in this respect a disappointment). Storm Mine does the trick without even trying too hard. There are few straight “horror” moments, but the writing (and the soundscape) are so good that you can’t help being drained into an atmosphere of oppressive fear, and (just to make and example) V23’s memorable central monologue is the kind of stuff it’s better not heard alone in the dark. Even relatively mundane moments (Blayes' discussions with the Commander) have an uneasy, ominous quality that speaks volumes of O’Mahony subtlety.
The best quality of Storm Mine is its intensity. I like puzzles, and these days it’s quite difficult to find something genuinely working on more than one level. In many instances, there’s just complication for complication’s sake, often under a cloak of post-modernism, a cringe-worthy, free-for-all nonsense that in the last 30 years has been (at best) an excuse for laziness, and at worst a passport to fame for untalented hacks who, in a real literary meritocracy, should just write menus for their local McDonald.
Daniel has attacked the problem bottom up (and not top down, as almost everyone else does). He has a natural, wonderful talent for nuances, so he doesn’t really need to complicate things more than what is necessary. He has carved these strong, well-defined characters out of chaos – and not added complexity to flat characters to make them look interesting. This way, even Blayes (one of the most underdeveloped characters of the Kaldor City series) and Iago (who at the end of Checkmate was, literally, stuck in a dead end), are more or less reborn to a different level of complexity. I found Blayes particularly interesting: a battle-hardened Alice on the other side a gloomy looking-glass, still wide-eyed enough to ask herself questions not directly related to her survival, but world-weary enough to not be much bothered even when, in the second part of the play, things gets definitely strange and scary.
The new characters are also worth some discussion, even more because they sound definitely not so new. It’s not a coincidence, if you’re wondering, that this story’s set is the same of Robots of Death, the splendid DW TV serial written by Chris Boucher in 1977 who kick-started the Kaldor City arc. I wouldn’t frankly speak of an “hallucinatory remake” (as, for instance, David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” is an hallucinatory remake of Philip K. Dick “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”, or John Carpenter’s “The Thing” may be read as HP Lovecraft “At The Mountain of Madness” done on drugs). But I can’t help perceive the Commander and the Prime Mover as memories of the characters introduced in Robots of Death, filtered through a bad or long forgotten dream. The Commander (a fantastic, top-form Phil Madoc) is particularly intriguing – half-charming, half-menacing, a collision between the original Uvanov (the commander of Robot of Death) and a captain Ahab who has discovered Moby Dick won their duel, and he’s just enjoying the ride.
The most interesting of the “new” characters is V23. Again not coincidentally, Gregory De Polnay, who was so memorable as the innocent D84 in Robots of Death, provides his voice. For those who remember the original TV serial, the effect is absolutely eerie, but I feel the universal charming quality of De Polnay’s voice can work even for those who have not seen that particular episode. If Blayes is a futuristic Alice, V23 is a cross between Hal 9000 and the White Knight, with De Polnay doing a masterful balancing act between remote menace and guiltless charm.
The production values are very high, and (as already mentioned) the soundscape does a lot to convey the sense of claustrophobia and menace of a sandminer interior. I liked the sparse incidental music too. On the other hand, I can’t deny that Storm Mine is (or at least, feels) a bit too short. I would have liked to see this world explored more comprehensively, or just the scenario being explored to a further stage (because, and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here, the end leaves a lot of room for further evolution). As it is, it feels like the first part of something, but I can’t imagine anyone else but Daniel writing it.
Also, it’s debatable if Storm Mine can be enjoyed and understood by those who are new to the Kaldor City audios. Initially I thought so, but on a later stage I felt that some basic knowledge at least of Taren Capel and Checkmate are required to avoid confusion and understand some of the plot’s twists. And why not? Both audios – actually, the whole series – are worth buying and listening to.
Kaldor City as already established itself as the best DW audio spinoff ever, as the Faction Paradox audios have, so far, just partially lived up to its promises. But Storm Mine takes this series through a qualitative quantum leap. I can’t wait to see more from Daniel O’Mahony being released. And I still think he’s one of the primes choices for a new talent to be included in the DW TV series creative rooster. Well, can’t someone just dream?