Hidden Persuaders Review
by James Applegate
"Plasma Bullets are still not tax deductible."
The Kaldor City series continues apace with the latest instalment, "Hidden Persuaders". And things are hotting up. Added to the mix of political scheming and intrigue witnessed in the two earlier stories, here we get a closer look at another of the city's unsavoury elements - the rebels. Whilst the earlier plays were largely about political machinations, "Hidden Persuaders" gives us a chance to see some of the darker and seedier parts of the society.
Assuming the moniker of The Church of Taren Capel, the rebels appear to be gaining in strength and power and, believing that their god is about to return, have adopted the tactic of hostage-taking (as well as blowing things up). Set against this background, the media are feasting on the disruption and chaos that ensues. In this respect, Jim Smith and Fiona Moore's great script cleverly reflects precisely the same kind of voyeuristic and constant attention that is given by our news organisations to any salacious and/or violent item of current affairs. In "Hidden Persuaders", the media is represented by Nicholas Courtney's newscaster Danl Packard and roving reporter Zala Vance, played by one-time Dalek servant Jasmine Breaks. Despite both appearing only briefly, the characters are interesting and deserve further exploration. Courtney plays a role quite different to the one that we usually associate him with, and hopefully we will get to find out more about this new character in future instalments.
The leader of the rebels is played by an actor familiar to fans of telefantasy - David Collings. It is marvellous to hear Collings back in the world of science fiction and he nicely underplays his part, providing a calming influence to rasher elements in the group. Other characters worthy of mention are Blayes (Tracy Russell) and the Tarenist Manzerak. Blayes made her debut in the last play, "Death's Head", and like many of the other characters present appears to have her own agenda. David Bickerstaff's Manzerak is a belligerent, aggressive person who is completely dedicated to the Tarenist cause. Manzerak intones the phrase "humanity be in him" whenever he hears Capel's name mentioned, showing that he takes the cause completely seriously, and also that the man is probably not very stable. We learn a lot more about the rebels in "Hidden Persuaders," but it is almost certain that there are things going on amongst them that we are still to find out about. Nobody can trust anybody else in Kaldor City.
Paul Darrow, Russell Hunter, Peter Miles, Brian Croucher, Trevor Cooper and Scott Fredericks all reappear too, with Darrow as Kaston Iago putting in a performance that is much grimmer than the ones he gave in the previous two plays. Iago cleverly manipulates the situation to make himself even more indispensable to his boss Uvanov, earning a promotion in the process. Hunter gives his usual excellent performance as the weary Uvanov, Miles is as sneaky as ever as Landerchild (who, it appears, also has his own agenda), and Croucher and Cooper again provide the comedy. Croucher is particularly good when his character, Cotton, is placed in charge of Uvanov's security in the absence of Iago, who has apparently gone to visit his sick mother!
One of the best things about the Kaldor City series of plays is the fact that the people behind them always assemble a great cast to play the large number of roles. Unlike some other audio dramas, there is no compromise made with casting: the plays have a full cast of characters rather than restricting writers to half a dozen. There is also a lack of doubling-up, with even the smallest parts being given a dedicated actor. This refreshing approach is very welcome and helps (along with Alistair Lock's sound design and fantastic and appropriate music) to cement the feeling that Kaldor City is a fully-functioning and diverse community. Smaller casts can work well in certain plays, but would be completely out of place in a complicated series such as this.
The third story in this complex and intriguing tale has seen the ante well and truly upped in Kaldor City. New elements have been added (something cryptically called the Larsen Project is alluded to, and sounds as if it will be explored further in coming instalments)... and tantalising hints are dropped for the future. And as for the Voc robots themselves, listen to the opening scene and you will hear them as they have never been heard before!