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