This month is my first review of the eagerly awaited Specials of 2011 (or were they 2010, I get confused ?). With a reduction in output, greater care has been put into all of the technical aspects of the production, do we prove that less definitely is more ?
The previous season (whichever year it was) ended with a rather confused Lizzy (Sarah Miatt) discovering a gender confused Stephen Brown in the female form of Marie Ridley. This in itself is something that would have been very easy to go down the pantomime route and play to all the obvious jokes about the physical differences, and really construct a farce out of the situation. Thankfully this is not what Simon Doidge had included in his script. There was obviously the odd reference to the er.... chest differences, but the narrative focused on the other issues of the day.
Marie does a great job being thrown into a role that really would be quite tough to know how to play. This is made all the easier by Sarah's presentation of Lizzie's interpretation of events, and some very well set out camera work exploring the tension and confusion between the two.
Really, as I said earlier, this story does very well on the technical front, I can't see a boom in sight, and there's only one place where I think the transition cut in the edit was fluffed up a little (Marie's reference to chocolate milkshake), and where perhaps the sound needed to be better (John's audio matching image & lack of sound effect when Glenda & John disappeared from the antechamber).
Otherwise we can easily believe that buildings on other planets look like 1970s concrete high rises. We can certainly believe the use of sets (Vo's ship, the space fighters), and the CGI space battle scenes really have borrowed somewhat from Battlestar Galactica, but is a choice that works well. It's more than just watchable, it's believable.
The only area I would have to 'mark down' the story is in the story element itself. There's a lot of different things going on in these three episodes, and I struggled to follow at times what they all were, how they were interlinked and why they were important. I can't follow how or why we get Ryan back as Stephen. In previous Beacon work this would have been coupled with an assortment of technical issues that perhaps an audience would not be so forgiving of.
On this story, I think the enjoyability of the 'theatre' and drama of the images we are treated to, and the novelty of seeing Ryan in an RAF uniform (sorry mate, but John Barrowman still does it better) override or at least compensate for the confusions. For me it's the acting performances of Ridley & Miatt with the sets used and the CGI that saves this story. Knowing what happens in the next story doesn't stop me being interested in how this all pans out.... and if you're intrigued too then I suggest you fire up your web browser this minute and find out....