Death's Head Review
by James Applegate
After the explosive opening chapter of the series, Kaldor City returns with "Death's Head": another complex and intriguing tale where the listener can never be quite sure what is going to happen next and to whom! Lots of scheming and plotting takes place in the city and from what we have heard so far, Kaldor doesn't appear to be a particularly nice place to live. One thing is certain though - life is never dull there.
Boasting an excellent and striking cover from Andy Hopkinson, "Death's Head" has a more measured pace than "Occam's Razor", but this is no bad thing. The let-up in the action allows scriptwriter Chris Boucher to tell a very clever story, while at the same time deepening characters and setting up themes and threads for events which will no doubt emerge in future instalments. It is also interesting to note that both Kaldor City plays have been refreshingly free of padding, which is to the credit of all of the writers concerned. Boucher, of course, is the brains behind the original Kaldor City story - "The Robots of Death" - and a famous element from this is resurrected in "Death's Head". To reveal it here would spoil a very crafty surprise for the listener, but the skull on the cover is a clue. As in "Occam's Razor", the writer has resisted the temptation to go back and redo "The Robots of Death", choosing instead to tell quite a different tale in a markedly different style.
The main characters from "Occam's Razor" return, with psychostrategist Carnell again playing a key role. He is the one coordinating the events that unfold during the course of the story and his seemingly all-knowing narration is a clever idea to use. Scott Fredericks is clearly having a ball playing Carnell, and it is great that such a good character is getting the chance to shine. The idea of a psychostrategist is one to grip the imagination and after Carnell's all too brief appearance in Boucher's Doctor Who novel Corpse Marker it is fantastic that the character has been brought back to play such a major role in the Kaldor City series.
Iago, Uvanov, Cotton, Rull and Justina are also on form, with Trevor Cooper's Stenton Rull again getting some of the best lines while playing a character that seems to fit him like a glove. Peter Miles as Landerchild makes the character sound oilier than ever, while his colleague Strecker - played by veteran actor Peter Tuddenham - is a delight. Of particular note also is a newcomer to the Kaldor City universe, Security Operative Blayes, played with wit and confidence by Tracy Russell. Russell will be known to fans of "The Logic of Empire" for creating the role of the powerful yet vulnerable Elise, and her equally complex performance as Blayes makes it all the more amazing that she has not appeared in more audio productions.
As in "Occam's Razor", the sound design cannot be faulted. Alistair Lock's work is massively impressive. Aside from co-directing and doing all the post-production duties Alistair also, like Dick Mills on Doctor Who before him, provides all of the footsteps, gunshots and other special sounds that are an essential part of any well produced audio drama. If you want to know how to make it sound as if you are realistically kicking a corpse then Alistair Lock's the man to ask! Also of particular note are the scenes set in the gentlemen's oasis featuring Landerchild and Strecker, complete with steam, watery drips and a noisy kitchen! Alistair even manages to find the time to play Hume, a downgraded member of a Founding Family who approaches Uvanov with a very strange offer. Hume's gradual erosion of confidence throughout the scene is very well conveyed by Alistair, and shows that he is a very good actor too.
A lot of thought and a great deal of hard work has clearly gone into this series and you can't really go wrong with it. The stories can be listened to as self-contained plays, but as events are moving along and being set up for later stories, the listener will undoubtedly benefit from hearing the lot. Well-written and directed, with fine performances from all concerned and a sensible running time make this excellent series really something to look out for.