Wildthyme Reloaded

Posted in Audio by - June 16, 2018
Wildthyme Reloaded

Released August 2015

Foregoing the sombre air of conviction that ended the fourth series of Iris Wildthyme as Iris and Panda realised the stakes and what had to be done to set history right, the famed transtemporal adventuress returns with a new theme song and new companion- Captain Turner played by Geoffrey Breton- in eight half-hour stories comprising the aptly-titled Wildthyme Reloaded.

James Goss opens the set with ‘Comeback of the Scorchies’ as 1980s one-hit wonder Brian Bonamy is back and wowing the crowds in Margate. As he remembers his brief fling with Iris so long ago, he also remembers that there is a terrible danger, and Turner opening a mysterious trunk with a voice inside is the herald for the return of the psychotic puppets looking to spread their influence throughout the cosmos. In short order, Iris reveals that she is still under contract with the Scorchies herself and thus must follow the small print when she tries to intervene to stop these beings who are growing so strong off of the disappointment of the audiences that Brian refuses to sing his big hit to as well as Brian’s own self-hatred. Surrounded by murderous lunacy that extends to even Brian’s bandmates, Iris helps to quite literally bring the house down when joining in a song infused with so much happiness, not quite proving her claim that she has a voice so beautiful that she is a vocal vampire who can suck the soul out of those listening in the process. The brief format perhaps doesn’t get to fully explore the nuances of the Scorchies, but this is a fun opening and reintroduction to the wild worlds of Iris’s travels.

Nick Campbell follows up with ‘Dark Side’ in which Iris decides to return to her former home, Pink Gables, for a well-earned break from adventuring where she soon discovers that unearthly forces have taken up residence. With an intriguing setting and making the most of a disembodied presence she once found, Iris boasts that her home comes with free chimney cleaning and soups, but Turner soon begins hearing strange voices that are something altogether different and more mysterious. With Turner’s investigations leading to an out-of-body experience that he proves remarkably adept at manipulating, Iris discovers that her home has become the target of astral projection in a tale that is surprisingly domestic and possessive as Earth remains squarely in focus. Again, there isn’t quite enough time to fully explore the nuances of these mysterious forces and their pasts in any great detail, but the story does provide some great moments for Turner to truly step up as a worthy companion amidst some very intriguing visuals.

Roy Gill pens the third story, ‘Oracle at the Supermarket,’ as Ferguson’s supermarket worker Cassie Burdock one day finds that she can predict the future with unnerving accuracy. Without really delving into just how much the power to look into others’ mind and tell their futures would change a person and his or her relationships, Gill instead expedites the story and quickly has Iris and Turner discover the truth behind the riding duck machine that has been cobbled together and the very unique spirit vessel residing within its frame. As the Oracle possesses Iris and speaks of the inherent lies and deceptions that fuel humanity that resulted in her entrapment, it’s up to the honour and honesty of Turner to provide a solution, one that is quite traditional but that nonetheless provides a greater degree of insight into the inner workings of this companion than the previous stories have really yet afforded. Despite Cassie’s claims of wanting to be someone special before she gets more than she could bargain for, this very much becomes Turner’s special moment to shine.

‘Murder at the Abbey’ by Mark B Oliver sees Iris and Turner witness the death of their friend Chloe and try to uncover the truth behind what they believe to be murder. Iris gathers those at the Fothergill residence to proclaim as much, but the others are sure that the tragedy was simply an unfortunate choking accident. Through extensive use of flashbacks to elucidate just how Iris has spent her day- as Lady Fothergill puts it- abusing her hospitality and eating cake, Iris reveals a surprisingly layered tale involving diplomatic letters, coded postcards, espionage with unknown Russian contacts, unrequited love, double bluffs, anaphylaxis, and poison. Oliver employs excellent use of misdirection and characterisation in his brief allotted time, and the key words Iris uses to draw out the murderer when all hope seems lost to put her plan in motion make the most of this particular setting and plot that put many longer murder mysteries to shame in their detail and depth.

The fifth story is Hamish Steele’s ‘The Slots at Giza,’ set in the Hawkhead Nebula’s premier casino hotel where Iris and Turner quickly learn that the phrase time is money has never been quite so literal. Stephen Fewell makes an instant impact as the famed magician Seth the Sensational, and Iris points out to Turner who just doesn’t understand why people pay to be duped that she is more fascinated by the reactions of the gullible audience members since she knows he is manipulating time to achieve his tricks. With Seth celebrating his one millionth show and patrons seemingly forgetting to eat and drink, Turner’s silence during the performance earns him a personal audience with the celebrity, and Seth reveals rather openly that he is extending his own life by draining time from people in his casino, artificially extending their lives and providing them with the holiday of a lifetime in the process as a sort of compensation. This is a fascinating concept, and the humour and innuendo involved certainly best capture the spirit of the earlier Iris Wildthyme sets, but while there is just the right amount of time dedicated to setting up Seth and the mysteries of the Giza, the competitive resolution is unfortunately horribly rushed and makes what should have been a fascinating game of one-upmanship a simple one-note scene that ends a strong story on a fairly flat note.

‘High Spirits’ by Cavan Scott sees Iris and Turner land at what she claims to be the most peaceful place in the universe, the infamous Garden in the Clouds. Meeting them is a world plagued by hauntings, however, and the ghosts wish to lay them to rest. Scott does well to describe this overgrown and cold world in which the protective force field maintaining light and weather is shorting out and on the verge of failing completely, and it makes a certain sort of morbid sense that this type of location and its dangerous reputation would attract certain types of thrill-seekers willing to put their lives at risk. Coming upon Shelley and her assistant who seem to be video logging their own stay, Iris and Turner soon find themselves the subjects of ghostly pursuit, and what appears to initially be echoes of possible futures takes on a much more personal meaning for Iris as the greatest ghost of them all, the Grey Lady, becomes known. Traversing increasing danger and attempts at vengeful sabotage to put right the situation quite quickly given the running time, Iris is actually somewhat heartened at what she perceives to be her own future, and this temporal tale is the first mention of the time loops and time destroyer business that apparently caused so much strife between Panda and Iris.

Scott Handcock’s ‘An Extraterrestrial Werewolf in Belgium’ opens with Iris and Turner slaloming through the vortex to avoid the manifestation of Bloody Nora that they inadvertently evoked in a hall of mirrors, arriving in Flanders and hoping to gain a brief period of rest. Turner quickly finds himself at a cathedral in which he discovers the legend of the demonic Beast of Flanders with burning red eyes that could take on the form of man or wolf and who was captured and skinned so long ago after causing so much carnage and destruction. Shown an empty crypt that was reported to hold the famed skin, Turner believes this is all a local tale catering to tourists until Iris begins speaking of something that matches the same description. Back at the cathedral, the guide who had spoken to Turner claims that the fur Iris found at a nondescript charity shop is anything but a random fur, revealing his true identity with the fur in his grasp. The resolution is again quite rushed but nonetheless filled with tense action, and Turner seemingly getting a happy ending with Chloe in a new time and place provides a fitting send-off for the character if this truly marks the end of his travels with Iris.

Paul Magrs finishes this set with the reflective ‘Looking for a Friend’ that scales back the bombastic settings and plots to focus on Iris who has taken to appearing at Stella’s pub in Soho night after night, drowning her sorrows and searching for a friend she left behind. Again making use of extensive flashback sequences, Iris tells a stranger that she apparently helped find love so long ago in this same location of how her search for Panda created a fixation on a man named Arthur Bayer who forcibly proclaimed not to be the stuffed animal she so incessantly claimed to have traveled with before. Trying to jolt his memories with pictures, writings, and stories, Bayer continues to rebuke her claims and pestering, and Iris finally accedes to his own assertions as she goes off to continue in her fruitless search. Strangely, though, her persistence seems to pay off, and Bayer claims that there are stirrings of memories and that he once wrote fictional tales that seem to somehow align with what she is saying. Despite the undoubted similarities between the two figures, Iris believes that Bayer is simply leading her along as part of a joke and refuses to believe that he is telling the truth as she claims that her own tales were fabrications, a somewhat offputting sentiment given the immense bond Iris and Panda shared but one that nonetheless leaves her giving Bayer the conviction he needs to continue with his own writing and adventures alone. This fractious relationship is handled quite well between Katy Manning and David Benson, and the flashback opens the door for another sympathetic and adventurous companion in the form of Andy.

The approach taken for Wildthyme Reloaded is interesting because, while it does allow a sort of jumping-on point for new listeners unfamiliar with what has come before, it never really allows thorough exploration of Iris or Captain Turner despite the expected strong performances from Katy Manning and Geoffrey Breton. Eight short stories, as proven here, allows a wide range of storytelling styles and tones to be shown, but several run into the inherent problem of the format in that there is often simply not enough time to develop the characters, conflict, and resolution in equal measure, meaning that one or more aspects are often sacrificed. Still, this is an intriguing hint at what Iris Wildthyme can continue to be going forward and features strong acting and directing throughout, but the absence of Panda is a gaping hole that still merits further exploration.

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