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All posts for the month January, 2013

I was asked today just how often updates to this blog could be expected.

This was amazing for two reasons. One, I didn’t think anyone was actually reading it yet, or, potentially, ever. And two, it turned out that somebody was, and not only that, actually seemed to want more. Thank god for crazy people.

Anyway, that started me thinking. Which is a process that tends to be both rare, and potentially dangerous. The end result of which was that I have now have a headache, a three legged cat, and an absolute belief that trilbies are cool. Oh, and I have also come up with the following schedule. One that I feel I should be able to meet. Probably. All things being mathematically comparative.

The plan, as it stands, is to do one new audio review per week, every week, from now through to the end of November.

Now I know that doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but worth it or not, these things take me longer than I care to admit, and this one per week schedule is something that I should be able to reliably maintain.

In truth, I actually hope to do more than that, however real life can get in the way, so rather than promise something that I later can’t deliver, I’ll simply say that you can fully expect a new Big Finish review every week, and hopefully, most weeks, some additional content in addition to that. But one review a week is the baseline here, anything else is just the watered down gravy on top. Or proof of my growing OCD. Or both.

Not much more to say, other than I hope to see you all (can one person be an all?) next week, when I try to explain that the dog really did eat my blog-work…

 

Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release The Marian Conspiracy

Starring
Colin Baker as The Doctor and Maggie Stables as Evelyn

Also featuring

Jo Castleton, Nicholas Pegg, Barnaby Edwards
Jez Fielder, Sean Jackson, Gary Russell
and Anah Ruddin

Written by Jacqueline Rayner
Directed by Gary Russell

 

Well, this ought to be interesting. The introduction of our first companion created exclusively for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. And she’s going to be an old lady. And played by the person who, for me, gave the absolute stand out worst performance in any of the audio releases prior to this one, to boot. That’s right, my Whovian friends, it appears that they really are determined on making the woman who was the cringe-inducing Ruthley in The Sirens of Time a regular companion to the Sixth Doctor. So, are they crazy? Read on to find out.

 

“A stitch in time.”

Episode 1: While searching out the source of a temporal nexus, the Sixth Doctor encounters one Evelyn Smythe, a historian whose own history seems to be rapidly disappearing. The only solution, travel into the past and ensure that history unfolds as it should, before Evelyn, too, is erased from time.

So, turns out they’re not crazy. Not even close. And while the idea of a pension aged companion travelling with The Doctor didn’t exactly hit me in my happy place when I first heard about it, turns out not only does it work, but it works damn well. And mostly it works damn well because of just how enjoyable Maggie Stables is in the role, and just how good the rapport is between her and Colin Baker. In truth, I’m less surprised that it works, and more surprised at just how well it works, and how quickly I was drawn into the whole thing.

Almost right from the get-go, this story just feels of a higher standard, and far more assured than any that have come before. It’s hard to put into words, but there is just a feeling of quality that oozes out of every corner of this release. The script, the performances, the pacing, everything just seems spot on here. To hear Colin Baker getting a chance at a story this good, well, the end result literally had me grinning from ear to ear. Yes, literally. And please, no jokes about my abnormally large mouth. I’m very sensitive.

If I had a complaint, as I listened to the first episode, it would be that I often found the music to be somewhat intrusive and overbearing, not to mention overly repetitive. It just had that ‘listen to me‘ quality about it, as if it was deliberately trying to draw attention to itself, rather than melding into the overall soundscape and becoming an organic feeling part of the whole. Something that I find the best supplemental music does. It was more distraction than benefit. Though in fairness it seemed to become less of an issue as the story progressed. Now, whether that was due to me just getting used to it, and blocking it out to a certain extent, or because it actually had been toned back somewhat, I’m not entirely sure, though for the most part it felt like the latter.

One final observation before we move into the next episode, Maggie Stables’ Evelyn must be the most clueless historian ever, given just how little thought she gives to what a walking anachronism that she is, without even the slightest effort made to lessen having such an impact. It is another clear indication of how good the writing and performances are then that not only does this behaviour not grate, even when it is conveniently used as plot device, but it is even a tiny bit endearing.

So, episode one was a bit of a cracker then. Can it sustain this level of quality, though?

 

“If they can not step from the path of sin, then they will be purified in the flames.”

Episode 2: The Doctor has ingratiated himself into Queen Mary’s court, as elsewhere, Evelyn has uncovered a conspiracy that would seek to remove The Queen from power.

Yes, it can. Very much so. In fact, if anything, this is where things start to get really good, and it soon becomes very clear indeed that this story is setting the new benchmark for quality as far as Doctor Who audio adventures go.

With that said, there is one manner in which the story is ever-so-slightly let down. Barnaby Edwards’ French accent. Which, it must be said, is less believable French accent, and more refugee from a Monty Python sketch that has somehow invaded the Doctor Who set. So much so that I half expected him, when confronted by The Doctor, to proclaim him to be the son of a silly person, and tell him to go and boil his bottom. To be fair, his actual performance is perfectly fine, but that accent is still just a little bit silly. Plus, it turned me into a newt! (I got better)

So, perfection it may not be, but perfection is boring, and some would say, unattainable. What we have here instead is a story blistering with life and energy, style and intelligence. A story not afraid to take risks in terms of content and subject matter, especially in regard to differing religious views, and the dubious morals and fanaticisms that can so easily taint such beliefs. And that it does not present such matters in a clear ‘black and white’ good versus evil fashion is, again, a great credit to all concerned. As are the performances that bring it all so vividly to life.

I must say, it is all going rather well then. But things have suddenly fallen over in episode three before…

 

“The TARDIS is an exceptionally fine craft.”

Episode 3: As the plot against Queen Mary turns deadly, The Doctor finds himself being granted a particularly unwanted gift.

But this time, in this story, there is no such drop in quality. If anything, again, it actually raises the bar. In fact there is a scene in this episode between The Doctor, and Queen Mary’s Lady in Waiting, Sarah, that is nothing short of amazing. A scene that I will not spoil, but which manages to debate religion and intent, while simultaneously delving into The Doctor’s own character in an unexpectedly powerful and poignant way, and the performances of Jo Castleton, and especially Colin Baker, could not be better. It is truly a moment of absolutely riveting drama, and in fact I’d go so far as to call it amongst Colin Baker’s best ever work as The Doctor. Yes, I was that blown away.

Not only that, but the scene in question also worked as a perfect validation of why The Doctor presented here has softened a bit, and isn’t quite so prickly around the edges. And while I am actually someone who loves the prickly and more belligerent side of The Sixth Doctor’s personality, it is a character progression that not only works and makes sense, but which was always intended to take place as time wore on, in much the same way that William Hartnell’s Doctor also changed and softened somewhat over time. This is an older version of The Sixth Doctor, he carries with him the burden of his past, and it has changed him. But believably so. And probably for the better.

Speaking of the performances, they really are great, right across the board (dodgy French accent not withstanding). As already mentioned, Colin Baker is truly superb, and Maggie Stables helps give Evelyn a very enjoyable audio debut. Of the guest cast, the afore mentioned Jo Castleton is a standout, particularly in her scenes opposite Baker. But one cast member that I have thus far failed to mention, but who is absolutely stellar, and every bit Baker’s equal here, is Anah Ruddin as Queen Mary, who delivers a performance of true grace and complexity. It is a character that would be so easy to turn into a stock standard villain, however Ruddin’s performance, combined with Jacqueline Rayner’s superb script, truly turns Queen Mary into a believable and compelling character. And it is a character and performance that looms large over the story being told here, and does so very much to it’s benefit.

As the third episode winds up, I know already that this is easily my favourite Big Finish Doctor Who audio thus far. And all I really want now is for it to stick the landing, and have a satisfying conclusion…

 

“Violence is never the answer.”

Episode 4: The Doctor and Evelyn must race against time to uncover the conspirators, and ensure that history unfolds as it should. But at what cost?

And it does, mostly.

To be perfectly honest, the final episode is all a bit routine. Everything story-wise is tied up, there’s a decent twist in the tale, the performances are still great, and the ending is suitable. There’s the odd clunky attempt at humour that doesn’t really play, but nothing too bothersome. And despite lacking the depth or power of previous episodes, it is still a largely satisfying experience. But, much as a final episode has to be, it is all in service to the basic function of ending the story and tying everything together neatly, so there is little room for anything grander. As such it just tends to lack a certain impact. I also found part of the ending to be ever so slightly a cop out, and I think it would have been more powerful and better suited to an even more downbeat finale than the one we are ultimately given. Though at the same time, I understand why that wasn’t done, especially for the first adventure of a brand new companion.

But honestly, this is all nitpicking. The final episode is solidly enjoyable, everything else prior is pretty damn great, and much of it even better than that, thanks in no small part to Jacqueline Rayner’s truly superb scripting, which is easily the best that the Big Finish Doctor Who line has yet seen. Which makes it a great shame that she has done so few Doctor Who audio plays, and sadly it would be another three years or so until her next release in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. After her stellar work here with The Marian Conspiracy I definitely look forward to eventually getting to that next one, however, and the fact that it is yet another Sixth Doctor adventure is just the icing on the cake.

So, on reflection, if this had been part of the TV show I believe that I would likely rank it as a classic, and as a personal favourite. And as an audio adventure, I still rank it as a classic. And definitely as my new favourite. I want more like this, please. In fact, when fans rave about Big Finish, I now imagine that it is this level of quality that they are talking about. And as much as I have enjoyed previous audio releases, to varying degrees, this one, right here, is the first one I’d rate as uniformly excellent. Both as a piece of storytelling drama, and as a slice of Doctor Who. So kudos to all concerned.

It also makes me keener than ever for my next Big Finish Doctor Who fix.

 

Next up: Sylvester McCoy returns in The Genocide Machine

Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release The Fearmonger.

Starring
Sylvester McCoy as The Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace

Also featuring

Mark McDonnell, Jack Galagher, Mark Wright
Jonathan Clarkson, Vince Henderson
with Hugh Walters and Jacqueline Pearce

Written by Jonathan Blum
Directed by Gary Russell

 

Well, here we are then. Sylvester McCoy is back for his first solo Big Finish Doctor Who audio outing, and this time he has brought Sophie Aldred’s Ace along for the ride. How will they fare against the soundscape adventure of The Fearmonger? Read on to find out.

 

“You see all that hate out there and it burns you up…”

Episode 1: The ultra right-wing New Britannia party has been stirring up more than it’s fair share of fear in the community. But is there something even more frightening lurking silently and unseen behind the face and voice of the party’s leader, Sherilyn Harper? Something that only a would-be assassin can hear?

First thing’s first, this is Ace and The Doctor very much where we last left them, after the final classic era Doctor Who episode Survival, and that comes through strongly in both their characters and performances. Is this a good thing? A bad things? Well, to me it’s just a thing. I accept it, and I’m fine with it, but I am neither thrilled nor disappointed. It simply is what it is. Other’s mileage may vary.

The production team have actually taken a rather bold direction with this particular adventure. By breaking up the traditional, and perhaps expected, narrative structure, and having us, the listeners, join them at a story point where events are already well in motion, it risks confusing, or even alienating the audience. Luckily for them, any initial disorientation one might feel upon starting the first episode quickly dissipates, only to be replaced by a genuine interest and curiosity in just what is happening. And that initial show of patience was soon rewarded, as the pieces began to fall into place. Or, at least, such was the case for me.

Another thing that this approach did was to allow McCoy’s Doctor to make one hell of an entrance, very much capturing the essence of his Doctor on audio to almost immediate effect. The only downside of this being that he would have very few scenes anywhere near as good in the rest of this particular adventure, or at least until the ending eventually rolled around anyhow.

 

“Yes Doctor, we’ve been expecting you.”

Episode 2: As The Doctor and Ace delve further into the mystery of the fear-inducing voice behind the voice, and work on finding a way to neutralise it, they find themselves in the path of the United Front. A group of anti-New Britannia terrorists, who have plans of their own. 

As we start to get into the real meat of the story now, it is worth pointing out just how well this audio has captured the feel of McCoy era Doctor Who. This is evident not only in so far as the returning main characters, and their characterisations, go, but also in the type of story being told, and in the way that scripter Jonathan Blum has it all unfold. Once again Big Finish has managed to capture the feel of a particular era on audio, for both better and worse, and it truly does help add a sense of legitimacy to these early audio adventures, and makes one want to be more lenient towards some of their initial shortcomings.

Knowing fandom as I do, I’m sure that much has likely been made about Ace trying to do The Doctor’s “look me in the eye” bit from The Happiness Patrol, probably to much derision. But to me, it works, and for a number of reasons. Not the least of which being that it helps to add a nice layer of complexity on top of where the character of Ace was previously, and shows just how much she has been influenced, some would say manipulated, by The Doctor, and how that has affected her perception of her own abilities, as well as her continuing growth as a character. Plus they put a nice twist on it, to boot. Which is always nice. And twisty. And to boot-worthy.

Now, my love of a good, old fashioned Doctor Who cliff-hanger has been well noted previously. And as we reach the end of the episode, I feel it is my duty to give The Fearmonger it’s due in this regard. Granted, the cliff-hanger to the first episode was quite good, but the second episode cliff-hanger I’d actually count as being pretty damn great. Makes me really rather pumped to get right into that next episode, just as any good cliff-hanger should do.

 

“Pay no attention, it’s just your worst nightmare.”

Episode 3With Ace out of action, The Doctor must bide his time, waiting for an opportunity to proceed with his plan to separate the Fearmonger from it’s human host. But everything is not as it first appears.   

And then the wheels fell off.

If you are wondering why I have thus far failed to mention the performances in this audio, it is because I have been deliberately waiting to reach this episode before doing so. Something very strange happened with episode three, everything just suddenly went flat. McCoy is truly awful in parts of this episode. Flat, emotionless, and with an sudden monotone dullness that seemed decidedly out of place. Even stranger, this happens right at a point that should be a prime opportunity for his character to emote a little more than usual. Or, you know, at all. And the words are there for it, too, or at least some of them. But sadly, strangely, inexplicably, the performance isn’t. Not even remotely. It is very odd, and decidedly off-putting, and put me in a very weird head-space as a listener.

At first I thought that maybe there was a story based reason behind it, but after hearing the whole audio, I can’t place any reason on why this happened at all. And though he is the most obvious, it’s not just McCoy either, Sophie Aldred’s performance level also drops in episode three, and everything about this episode just seemed suddenly flatter and more amateurish than the episodes before or after, or indeed in any other Big Finish production I have heard thus far. It was the weirdest thing, and I don’t know if it’s just me, or if there was some production reason that I’m not privy to, but after the story finished I actually went back and checked parts of the first two episodes, against parts of the third, and I could still hear a definite decline in overall quality.

It really did throw me for a loop, and the story lost me to a certain degree at that point. And even as things got markedly better again in episode four, I was never as invested in the story again as I had been right up until the end of episode two. Which is a bit of a shame really. Now admittedly, it may not be quite as jarring should I listen to this story again in the future, being prepared for it in advance as I then would be, but as a first time listener the sudden drop in quality this episode really did derail the story significantly for me. And a truly ham-fisted non cliff-hanger ending, where things basically just seemed to suddenly stop, didn’t exactly help matters any, either.

 

“Better turn on the fan, I think something’s about to hit.”

Episode 4: As the city erupts into a full scale riot, Ace makes a startling discovery of her own.

So here I was, rolling into episode four, wondering what the hell had just happened, when things started to get better again almost as quickly as they had deteriorated. Not as good as they had been to start with, mind you, but we were clearly over that weird hump of episode three. If something so terribly flat can even truly be classified as a hump. A flat hump? Pretty sure I’ve experienced a few over the years. Hmmm, a debate for another day perhaps…

Things pick up again, the story kicks back in, the performances largely return to their previous normal level of competence, and then something almost as strange as the episode three non-hump hump happens. We get an ending that blows the doors off. I mean, sure, it may not be a particularly surprising twist in the tale, but it is great audio drama, and it is delivered superbly by McCoy and Aldred, who both very much bring their A-game to bear. At this point, my brain is so confused by the shifting qualities and tonal and performance variations that I’m kind of glad it’s all over, really, lest I risk a Scanners moment.

Speaking of the performances, perhaps unsurprisingly, it truly is a mixed bag. When McCoy and Aldred are on the mark, they are great, and they still work really well together. Which only makes it even more evident when they slide off that mark, most notably during episode three, but there is also the odd other slip here and there as well. Sophie Aldred seems to have occasional moments where her performance misses the mark throughout, as if she couldn’t quite find a stable point onto which to anchor her performance, and without that baseline to work out from, the dramatic extremes of her performance suffer from a slight sense of imbalance.

Sylvester McCoy, meanwhile, falls far more noticeably during parts of the now infamous episode three, but that episode is really the only one where his performance stutters to a truly significant extent, and some of his other work, particularly his entrance in episode one, and his final scene in episode four, truly shine. I don’t know if it’s first solo audio jitters, or a lack of performance focus in the direction, but the inconsistency of the two lead performers is hard to miss, and can tend to become a little distancing at times. But at the same time, when they get it right they get it so right that you become even more confused as to why some bits feel so wrong.

As to the guest cast, the addition of Jacqueline Pearce and Hugh Walters adds a real sense of class and style to the proceedings. They do their best to inject some life into what are ultimately rather one dimensional characters, with Walters, especially, managing to bring a real spark to the audio whenever he pops up for a bit. The rest of the guest cast all fill out their roles solidly enough, though I imagine that Herderson’s DJ character may grate on some listeners. However, to be fair, I’d say that is more due to the nature of the character itself, rather than any particular shortfall in the performance given.

So, that’s The Fearmonger then. And for the first time with the range I’m at a bit of a loss, really. This really does seem to be a release of two halves. The first half is quite good indeed. The second half is one part terrible, one part solid, with a small slice of superb as a chaser. So, not exactly the most satisfying journey into Who audio then, and certainly not the most consistent, not by a damn long way. There is enough good here to make it worth a listen, particularly for Seventh Doctor and/or Ace fans, but that lack of consistency really hurt it a lot for me, even with the benefit of a top notch ending in it’s favour.

And so, this particulat Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure now falls to last on my list. Though with some small regret given the things that it did get right along the way.

 

Next up: Colin Baker returns in The Marian Conspiracy

Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release The Land of the Dead.

Starring
Peter Davison as The Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa

Also featuring

Christopher Scott, Neil Roberts, Andrew Fettes
and Lucy Campbell

Written by Stephen Cole
Directed by Gary Russell

 

Now this is a slightly odd thing. After getting our first Peter Davison and Colin Baker solo adventures from the Big Finish Doctor Who range, I would have rather naturally expected that a Sylvester McCoy adventure would follow next. However, it seems that the Seventh Doctor will just have to wait until next time, because Peter Davison’s Doctor is back again instead. And this time he has brought Nyssa along for the ride. But is it a ride worth taking? Read on to find out.

 

“There is no heart in this place, only shadows.”

Episode 1: Arriving in Alaska, the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa detect a strange energy pattern, and view plumes of smoke rising just over the horizon. Before they can investigate, they are forced to dematerialise in order to avoid a collision. Thirty years later the TARDIS sets down in the same place, apparently having locked on to the re-emergence of the unknown energy pattern. The Doctor and Nyssa set off into the icy wastes, heading towards a strange building that has been constructed right into the surrounding Alaskan terrain. What is the purpose of this ominous structure? And why does Nyssa have an uneasy feeling that they are being watched?

There is something rather strange going on here. Of the initial batch of Big Finish Doctor Who audio releases, The Land of the Dead sits just behind Davison’s Phantasmagoria as my favourite outing so far. Okay, admittedly, we’re only four audio adventures in, but Peter Davison is my least favourite of the three Doctors initially granted an audio reprieve, and I also found his performance the least impressive in the initial outing The Sirens of Time. But while I still prefer Colin Baker’s performances overall, I find that Davison has not only found his voice remarkably well in his two stories since, but both the stories have been very enjoyable to listen to indeed.

Joining him this time around is the return of Sarah Sutton as a pre-plague Nyssa, who it must be said is probably my favourite of the Fifth Doctor’s companions. There are moments where Sutton’s performance wavers a bit, and she does sound noticeably older, which can’t really be helped, but on the whole she does a good job for her first time out. And much like Strickson’s Turlough in Phantasmagoria, it is nice that she has been given an active part to play in the adventure, rather than just being stuck in sidekicksville most of the time, as can so easily happen to the companions in Doctor Who stories.

Which brings us to the story’s supporting players. The good news is that there are no distractingly bad or crazily over-the-top performances here. In fact everyone is quite solid, if a touch unremarkable. If you want to get picky, our native characters do appear to have escaped from the good ship stereotype, Andrew Fettes’ Gaborik especially. And I can certainly see an argument being made that Lucy Campbell’s Monica tends to have taken up full time residence on the pricklier side of Annoying Lane.

However, to be perfectly honest, while I certainly recognised these factors along the way, they didn’t actually bother me or detract at all from my enjoyment of the story being told, nor were their efforts in any way grating. So while you could argue that the characters and performances on display here are all a bit cookie-cutter in nature, they still get the job done, and they do so without ever getting in the way of the narrative. To that end, they manage to accomplish all that is ever actually required of them. Which, as it turns out, was plenty good enough for me.

As the first episode unfolds, it is soon rather evident that this one is going to be a bit of a slower burn, and some may even find it a bit overly talky and exposition heavy. But for me, it is all in service of setting up a rather intriguing mystery, and it also doesn’t hurt matters any that Davison’s Doctor gets some great lines along the way, as well.

 

“Unsettling, isn’t it?”

Episode 2: After taking refuge inside the structure, The Doctor and Nyssa have acquainted themselves with the building’s few human residents, each of whom seems to be there for their own distinct purposes. One by one people seem to be falling prey to paranoias born out of their distant past, while within the stone walls something is stirring, aching to get free…

As things start to get into full swing, can I just take the time to remark once again how nice it is to have Nyssa back. A genuine smart companion for The Doctor, in every sense of the word.

And yes, I am struggling for much more to say. Such are the hazards of the entirely competent story that does everything entirely competently. Have I mentioned that I quite liked it yet? Ah, yes, I thought so. Moving on then.

 

“There can be no rest for us now.”

Episode 3: While The Doctor struggles to fight off the creatures that have been set loose within the building, Nyssa finds herself trapped at a nearby survey camp. And her companion is starting to act very strangely.

The story progresses along on it’s not-so-merry way, and suddenly something strikes me. I’m not sure exactly why, perhaps it is in part due to my love of horror fiction by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker, but the realisation dawns that I am also quite taken by the idea of the Permian creatures as they lumber their way through this particular story. And while they are perhaps not the most startlingly original of monster ideas, they still manage to be one which has been brought to audio life here quite effectively. Besides which, Who’s best monsters were always riffs on existing myths and familiar tropes, only slightly twisted to fit into the specific needs and style of the show in a creative and entertaining way. And for my money, the Permians fit into that mould rather nicely.

Or maybe I just like the idea of big bone beasties in the dark. Yes Sigmund, sometimes a Permian is just a Permian.

 

“Your words mean nothing to me.”

Episode 4: As the truth of what really happened thirty years ago finally comes to light, The Doctor and Nyssa must find a way to destroy these ancient creatures once and for all.

And so it ends, with a bang, and not a whimper. Or maybe two bangs if the completely out of left field, and disturbingly skeevy, final line is any indication. Still, putting that to one side, I had a rather good time with this one. And while I suppose you could accuse the story of of being a touch routine, all in all I think scripter Stephen Cole has done a fine job here.

Something else that should be noted before I wind this up is that they have done a really nice job of setting the atmosphere in this story, with both the soundscape and the music really coming together nicely, and helping to give added depth to the story as it unfolds, injecting it with that much needed extra spark of life. A sense of atmosphere is something that sadly seems to be all too often overlooked these days, but when done right adds immeasurably to the impact and effectiveness of a story, and as such should never be undervalued. As such the work here, as it has been in most of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio that I have heard so far, really is to be commended.

There is, however, one caveat that must be made. The paint throwing sound effect during episode four is so bad that my ears have threatened to file an injunction against me for separation due to irreconcilable differences should I ever dare submit them to such torture again. Seriously, whoever listened to that effect and said “yeah, that sounds like paint being thrown“, please buy a new set of ears, before I have to.

Other than that, Peter Davison’s Doctor has delivered another winner. Will his, or my, luck continue?

 

Next up: Sylvester McCoy returns in The Fearmonger

Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release Whispers of Terror.

Starring
Colin Baker as The Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri

Also featuring

Lisa Bowerman, Matthew Brenher, Rebecca Jenkins, Nick Scovell
Steffan Boje, Mark Trotman, Hylton Collins
and Peter Miles

Written by Justin Richards
Directed by Gary Russell

 

Back into Colin Baker land we go, who, as I’ve mentioned previously, I am quite the fan of. And who has already excelled himself in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. Plus, this time there is the added bonus of the return of Nicola Bryant as one Perpugilliam Brown. What could possibly go wrong? Please join me to find out.

 

“You don’t know where we are.”

Episode 1: The Sixth Doctor and Peri arrive at the Museum of Aural Antiquities, only to find themselves confronted with a fleeing woman and a dead body. And just what are those mysterious otherworldly voices that echo throughout the halls?

And I was so looking forward to this one, too. Alas, it turned out that Whispers of Terror would soon prove itself to be my least favourite journey into Big Finish Doctor Who audio so far, and by a pretty significant margin, to boot.

Now that isn’t to say that this release is a total write off, and there is nothing in it that is anywhere near as grating as parts of the first episode of The Sirens of Time, for example. But disappointing, very much so. At least to this listener’s ears.

The main problem, and one that soon becomes very evident indeed, is just how drawn out the entire thing is. There just isn’t enough story here to convincingly or entertainingly sustain a four episode audio adventure, and as a result there is a lot of padding. This comes not only in terms of lengthening scenes far beyond need, and just generally drawing out the story to near breaking point, but also in the addition of an excess of audio cues. Many of these have a tendency to overstay their welcome, and some even seem to be there for little reason beyond the simple filling of time, particularly during the initial pair of episodes.

The basic premise, while rather simple, is actually quite a good one. It is unfortunate then that it just feels like it has all been stretched way too thin, with the end result being that much of it comes across as a bit of a chore, despite the best efforts of the majority of the cast involved.

Speaking of the cast, Colin Baker is as good as ever, given what he has to work with, while Nicola Bryant very successfully slips back into character as Peri, and manages to do so without the teething problems we have heard other returning cast members going through. It’s just a shame that she hasn’t been given some stronger material to work with. Her character here has been granted little more than a series of verbal sparrings with The Doctor for much of the story’s runtime. These are enjoyable up to a point, but I can’t help but wish there was a bit more there, both in terms of wit and substance.

As for the guest cast, it’s a mostly dependable mixed bag of performances. Peter Miles is very good indeed, as the museum’s blind curator, while there is also notably strong support from Lisa Bowerman and Matthew Brenher. Unfortunately, as so far often seems to be the case, there is again here a performance that stands out as distractingly poorer than all the others, and this time that dubious credit must go to Steffan Boje, who is more wooden than a plank covered by another plank, locked in a pine box, and surrounded by trees. Tut tut tut.

The first episode does the usual job of setting the scene, starting the story rolling, and getting the main players in place. However, despite that, one can’t help but feel like not all that much actually happens. A feeling that is set to continue.

 

“You have to protect me from the voices.”

Episode 2: It appears that somebody has been changing select audio records of the late actor, and aspiring politician, Visteen Krane, from within the museum archives. Krane’s former agent, Beth Pernell, has arrived in advance of a special broadcast dedicated to her client and friend, but is she also hiding ambitions of her own? And what exactly is the true purpose of this creature that appears to be composed entirely of sound?

Okay, first up, can I just say that the audio in this release can be truly grating at times. Particularly during the first two episodes, where, as previously mentioned, it too often serves the purpose of simply padding out the run time.

Now I do get what they are trying to do here, and I think the core idea of a creature made of sound is, while a touch obvious, still quite a good concept for an audio based adventure. However, the execution of it within the audio mix often leaves a little to be desired.

To my ears, they have tried to make the sound design too complex, too multi-layered, with the idea that more automatically equals better. But the end result is that it actually detracts from both the idea itself, and it’s overall impact, and it all becomes aurally overcrowded and repetitive. Even, as already stated, somewhat grating at times. For me it just served to unbalance the story even further.

Though to be fair, as the mystery of the creature became clearer in the last two episodes, and such mixing methods weren’t as heavily relied upon, or applied in quite such heavy-handed a manner, it also became far less of a problem as the story progressed. Admittedly, it is also one of those things that will likely bother some people more than it will others.

Speaking of the sound mix, I felt that the music was often a little too bombastic and overbearing for my personal tastes as well. Once again, that may actually be more to do with its frequent overuse in being so often brought to the forefront as yet another time filler, rather than any lack of quality in the actual score. In other words, it’s more to do with how the music was used, rather than the music itself. Though honestly, given the way in which it was often used, I found it a bit hard to differentiate the two.

The story continues to lumber along, while most of the cast do their level best to inject some life and energy into the proceedings. That they manage to do so to any significant degree is probably as fine a testament to their abilities as anything, frankly. And thankfully, the final two episodes do at least pick up a little, at least in pacing and general entertainment terms, if not exactly depth or unexpectedness of story.

 

“I’ll keep it close to my hearts.”

Episode 3: The Doctor has uncovered the truth behind the origin of the sound creature, but it’s motives are decidedly less clear. Meanwhile Peri makes a startling discovery of her own.

With the third episode, at least the plot seems to be moving along at a slightly better pace, and though there is little here to surprise, what we do get does seem a touch less obtrusive in it’s padding and sound design. And more entertaining it is for it too.

One thing I have thus far failed to mention is that all the cliff-hangers in this story are actually rather naff, as well, with the third episode not only continuing the tradition, but even managing to up the stakes. To which I momentarily put on my Mighty Hat of Dramatic Clichés (tm.) and scream “Noooooooooooooooooooo!

 

“It’s what you say that’s important, not how loudly you say it.”

Episode 4: As a result of his efforts to stop the rampaging sound creature, The Doctor gains an unexpected ally. And the true extent of the conspiracy is finally revealed.

And so it ends. And in a decidedly paint-by-numbers manner, at that.

One of the biggest problems with this story for me, other than those I have already outlined, is the sheer fact that Justin Richards’ script lacks even the smallest of surprises. Even the one twist that it actively tries to pull, which would be largely impossible to try to do in a more visual format, is so entirely predictable (and oddly inconsequential) that you are literally waiting for it to finally happen. Being so far ahead of the story and characters is just another curse that this audio must endure, and is yet another thing that makes the excessive padding of the earlier episodes a bit of a chore to get through.

It also doesn’t help matters that the ending, featuring the final fate of one of the lead characters, seems so violently shoehorned in at the last moment that you can almost smell its giant, misshapen foot pushing extra hard in an effort to make it all work. And it even seemed to have a bit of a tin ear to boot.

However, despite all I have said above, this isn’t a bad story, per se, and I didn’t outright dislike it either, much less hate it. It is simply a decidedly mediocre tale that has been stretched way too thin, and not at all to it’s benefit. And in many ways, that in itself is disappointment enough. The odd thing is, at the same time it feels very much like an early Colin Baker TV story, though more for it’s lesser attributes, rather than it’s fewer positive ones.

Still, it is not as if every Big Finish Doctor Who audio release was going to be a winner, and hopefully better things are soon to come.

 

Next up: Peter Davison returns in The Land of the Dead