, , , , , ,

Thirteen Hallows

“Why have you got a horse in your office!?!”
“I couldn’t find anywhere else to put the bally thing…apparently the service doesn’t own any stables.  Bit of an oversight, if you ask me…”

In honor of the season, this eerie month of October, the sinister shades of Samhain and the fine fellows over at Bafflegab Productions have joined forces to provide us with some retroactive reviewables we’d managed to miss out on in the ongoing adventures of the men of MI-13, the Scarifyers.

“The thirteen hallows of the island of Britain…what are they?”
“Various early medieval artifacts.  Not of great worth or import in themselves…a right old magical mishmash.”

Working in reverse from this month’s highly amusing King of Winter, we move back in time a year or so to the time Professor Dunning and Harry “Thumper” Crow took an unforseen dip into the murky waters of Arthurian legend, when they took on the investigation of The Thirteen Hallows.

“I don’t blame you personally.  In many ways, you’ve done a lot of good since you’ve been here.  But the fact remains, MI-13 is a shambles…Caulfield-Brown is a decadent loafer, Dunning’s a wet blanket, and from what I gather, Lionheart was half cut more often than not.”
“With all due respect, sir, you’ve only been here five minutes!”

With a new MBA gibberish-spouting bean counter taking charge in place of the now shall we say height challenged Colonel Black as ostensible head of MI-13 and demanding thrice daily progress reports in exchange for not only case evidence, but the department snooker table (!), our heroes lives couldn’t seem any more difficult.  But then they’re forced to head out to Wales…and what does Sir Thomas Malory have to do with all this?

“Look here, I’ve seen some funny things in my time, but I draw the line at talking eggs!”

While Dunning awakens a national symbol and gets locked in the loo, Crow gets to rough up a recalcitrant auctioneer, gets mistaken for a delivery boy from the Department of Milk, and meets up with a basket of talking eggs.  We won’t even get into the loquacious cow, or a more personal horror from Crow’s home life…

“Oh, my God, it’s my wife!”

By this point, the team of Dunning and Crow had certainly progressed from their first tentative meeting in The Magic Circle, with David Warner taking an assured centrality at stage right to Terry Molloy’s excitable if overly sheltered academician’s doddering dilletantism on stage left. 

Playing up an appropriate gruffness for the man who out-toughed Nick Courtney’s Lionheart, by this time you can even pick up undertones of warmth beneath the bullish roughneck exterior, softening the hard edges subtly but noticeably.  It’s a nice change from the earlier story, and gives the character just a hint of sympathetic likeability. 

Molloy, as always, is a sheer comic delight, imbuing the bookish professor cum trash author with the overdone glee of the understimulated at the simplest of events and the sorriest of jokes, while leaving him very much at the mercy of his own utter naivete, particularly with regards to social situations and the motivations of others.  Nearly walking into walls in public, his world is one of the imagination, history and the occult, subjects of which he is all too well familiar…just don’t ask the man to tie his shoes straight!

Davids Benson and Bickerstaff are on hand once again, albeit in much smaller roles than usual, the former as both MI-13’s Alexander Caulfield-Brown and Welsh farmer Merriman and the latter in the even smaller part of recalcitrant auctioneer Vernon Preddy (whose brief appearance nonetheless provides one of the better laughs of this installment).  Gareth David-Lloyd delivers an approopriately clueless fish out of water as “Professor” Glewlwyd, and Margaret Calbourn-Smith and Ewan Bailey provide suitably snooty menace in their respective roles.

“Let me get this straight.  You’re guarding, with the assistance of a giant tortoise, some talking eggs and my wife, thirteen magical objects.  And who do these magical objects belong to?  Harry Houdini?”

While hardly as delirious as the Innsmouth meets Summerisle-ness of Denge Marsh or the hilarious sendup of uppercrust pomposity that took place out in Thornton Gibbet, listeners are still treated to the same base standard of wry digs, amusing absurdism and all out belly laughs Barnard & Morris have made the stock in trade of The Scarifyers. 

Tapping into more of a Moon Stallion milieu than the more fin de siecle through early pulp fiction base the series tends to mine with welcome regularity, The Thirteen Hallows feels more like a collection of amusing skits and brief Monty Pythonesque sequences barely held together by an overarching thematic anchor. 

“I visited Mr. Merriman, who turned out to be Merlin, then we stole the thirteen hallows and were chased by the army, as a result of which MI-13 was shut down.  But then we hotfooted it back here in a magic chariot.  How about you?”
“Well, I met an Arthurian knight, and we went for a nice walk.  Then we visited an opticians…oh, and then I found the spear of destiny, and gave it to a Nazi.”

Bearing more than a bit in common with Python’s Holy Grail, The Thirteen Hallows utilizes a similar approach (and tangenitally speaking, subject matter), achieving a diverting jocularity while still feeling slightly incohesive.  In point of fact, Dunning and Crow barely interact with each other throughout the course of the adventure, leaving this one both worthy (in the sense of bearing a regular measure of laughs per minute) and a bit lacking by comparison with other, perhaps stronger chapters in the Scarifyers lexicon. 

While you really can’t go wrong with a series this delightful, newcomers are advised to go with the all out mania of Denge Marsh or the snide if saucy witticisms of King of Winter first, before mining the remaining riches of the run among which The Thirteen Hallows represents something of an off-center variant as opposed to a true median.