Thursday, July 21, 2016

REVIEW: "Baker's End" Episode 1


Originally written for the (Re)Generation Who blog.

What do you get when you combine Tom Baker, a snowy village, twerking old ladies, a creaky dragon, a garden full of books, and a cat costume?

I'm not entire sure, but I really like it.

Baker's End is the latest audio production penned by Paul Magrs, writer of many Doctor Who books and audios and the creator of Iris Wildthyme. Conceived of between the writer and Tom Baker, it's the role of a lifetime for the latter: himself. Though 'lifetime' may be the wrong word, as the whole thing kicks off at his funeral in the tiny town of Happenstance.

(Re)Gen 3 guest Katy Manning plays Suzy Goshawk, one-time costar of Tom's and the narrator of our story. She comes to Happenstance at Christmastime to attend Tom's funeral, which is happening under strange circumstances. Firstly, there's the fact that he was acting a bit paranoid on the con circuit shortly before his demise. Secondly, there's the demise itself -- or, rather, the fact that no one can seem to agree on how it occurred. With no way to leave Happenstance in the midst of a heavy Christmas snowfall, Suzy stays at Baker's End to investigate. And her investigation leads to some downright supernatural discoveries, including goblins, doppelgangers, and the King of Cats.

The extraordinary King of Cats, as drawn by the writer.
The extraordinary King of Cats, as drawn by the writer.

I hesitate to give too much away, even though this is just the first episode, as there are many things that need to be heard for oneself. It probably goes without saying that not all is as it seems at Baker's End, or our title character wouldn't have nearly as much involvement as is being advertised. But what, how, and why should really be experienced first hand.

Writer Paul Magrs with Tom Baker
Writer Paul Magrs with Tom Baker
Magrs is at his most surreal with this script, and it suits Tom down to the ground. 50% of his dialogue is Wonderlandian babble, and one almost thinks this must be the way he actually talks because the calloohs and callays are delivered with such joy and sincerity. Manning as Suzy is our tenuous foothold in reality -- the companion, of course -- even as we feel her (and ourselves) more and more ready to just throw ourselves into the insanity of it. The rest of the cast, from the logical vicar to the laser-bosomed ladies of the town (yes, you read that right), are a colourful assortment of characters who give reassurance that Happenstance has plenty more stories to tell.

The end result is dangerously whimsical like an out-of-control merry-go-round, simultaneously fanciful and dark like a children's story revisited decades later. There are enough cheeky Who references in it to suit any fan, but this is not the story of Tom Baker the Fourth Doctor. It's the story of Tom Baker the person, the delighter in the macabre, playing a fictional version of himself who feels strikingly believable.

Will Baker's End be for everyone? Maybe not. It is a dive nose-first into weirdness, which can be quite divisive, and plays with some relatively dark (and occasionally adult) subject matter. But if you enjoy Magrs's other work, and if you're a fan of Baker's own independent work (such as The Boy Who Kicked Pigs), this is probably something you'll want in your life. The first episode was an hour long and worth every second of listening time. I've no idea where it's going to go from here, but I can't wait to find out.

The first episode of Baker's End, 'The King of Cats,' will be released on September 2, 2016. You can preorder it now from Bafflegab Productions.