Tuesday 10 July 2012

REVIEW: Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully

It's not often that some new broadcast sci-fi comedy comes along, so we skiffy fans tend to get a bit excited and jump on it. Yet, for every Red Dwarf there's a Hyperdrive, so we try not to get our hopes up too much. Nonetheless, I expected something pretty good from Eddie Robson's new radio pilot: Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully. Robson has previously written for radio comedies including That Mitchell and Webb Sound and Newsjack, and has also written some particularly good Doctor Who audio plays, so he's got form. Still, balancing the two sides of the comedy-sci-fi equation isn't easy, especially if you don't want to alienate the casual Radio 2 listener.

Village (I'm not writing that whole title out every time) is a flawed show, but not a bad one. It's hardly riproaringly hilarious, but very few things are. There's a steady rate of jokes, more hits than misses, and a couple of good, laugh-out-loud moments. The concept is a winner: aliens have invaded a small village, erected a force field around it, and have set themselves up as very polite overlords. Seeing that trying to conquer the entire world is always doomed to failure in the films, they've decided to start small. It's all pretty slight, science fiction-wise, focusing more on the middle England village life of Cresden Green. As with any such production, the cast sell it. The always brilliant Katherine Parkinson plays Katrina, who's been stranded in the village having visited to blag some cash off her parents. Katrina attempts to form a resistance against the aliens, but is up against some typically English attitudes. After all, the aliens are just so polite.

Julian Rhind-Tutt is the leader of the alien Geonin, a slick, smooth-talking extraterrestrial presenting himself as a well-bred upper-class Englishman, whose diabolical plans for domination are swallowed by his new human constituency due to his class and good manners. Apparently, this was written before David Cameron came to power, but it's a nicely satirical approach anyway. It's the small-mindedness and pettiness of the villagers that let the Geonin get away with their plans; people are far too worried about being branded as racist for discriminating against the aliens to contemplate joining the Resistance. This is nicely inverted when Katrina points out another place that collaborated with foreign invaders: France. Extraterrestrials are one thing, but to be compared to the French...

Peter Davison is the third big name, and he provides some of the funniest moments, as Katrina's dad, an apparently mild-mannered village council-type hiding a surprisingly bloodthirsty temper. It's not all middle-class knobbery; there are a couple of great moments involving the Geonin's sentient computer, which skirt the more sci-fi side of things. It's not without it's problems, though. It's radio sitcom format is unlikely to set the world alight, and gives the impression that it's less original that it really is, so familiar is the style and tone. Some gags, inevitably, fall flat, and there's a very intrusive laughter track that should really be scrapped from any future installments. Still, Hitchhikers and Red Dwarf started off pretty shakily too, and developed into the standards by which sci-fi comedy is now judged. Village deserves the opportunity of a series; it definitely has potential.

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