The Shadow In The Glass (Audio Book)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 16 July 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Shadow in the Glass (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written By: Stephen Cole + Justin Richards
Read By: India Fisher

(Original Novel published in 2001, and Republished in 2015)

Approximate Length: 9 Hours


RELEASED: MARCH 2016 - BBC DIGITAL AUDIO

In the dying days of the Second World War, a UFO crash-lands in Turelhampton; a village in the English county of Dorset. The Royal Air Force has dealt with a possible threat at such a fraught time with seemingly no fuss. But then the village itself is soon evacuated.

Fast forward to the year 2001, and Turelhampton is still under the control of military troops. A sinister mystery is being shrouded from wider society. However a determined TV documentary crew are able to break through and record images of a malevolent ceremony, that crosses into the paranormal. And three-dimensional danger soon reaches the rather headstrong media professionals. Nearby in picturesque Cornwall, journalist Claire Aldwych is determined to uncover just what is going on after witnessing images of the bizarre and disturbing ceremony.

Meanwhile the Doctor, currently without his usual female companion - or 'penguin' Frobisher that can resemble anything and anyone - is drawn to the odd chain of mysterious events. But a beacon of reassuring familiarity resurfaces in the shape of Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. Alistair is now rather wizened and past his prime days of blood and thunder, but still more than able to match the verbal wits of his many-lived friend and associate.

And their partnership must work at its best in the face of a grave test. The infamous F├╝hrer of the Third Reich is set to rise again; threatening the interests of all peace loving and decent natives of the blue-green planet that the Doctor cares so much for...

**

Shadow is a very enjoyable yarn, and combines a touch of 'old-school' Who with some of the more intense interpersonal drama from the Virgin and BBC book lines. These often experimental tomes paved the way for the more all-round drama of the modern TV show. At times things could easily verge into parody. I do find the end game with more than the one Adolf Hitler thrown into the fray threatens to unravel the core of the storyline. Yet it all manages to work as a whole.

I am a little unsure also if the villains behind the scenes, who are 'imp like' beings, could not have been executed rather better. They function well enough in that they enable the human villains to go about their dastardly schemes. But the best Doctor Who makes use of its monsters in a memorable fashion. These foes are simply fair-to-middling. The titular glass/medium concept is elaborated on very well, however, and ties in some clever minor character stories fluidly. The book is justifiably much longer than the novelisations that TV Doctor Who in written form, and similarly the length of this audio release is never a stumbling block.

Music is used sparingly but effectively, and helps punctuate the mood, as the story keeps moving along to one heart-racing moment of shock and awe, then to another of rather more introspective respite. India Fisher is a respected and well-loved contributor to the Doctor Who audio universe, which has helped the franchise endure. She does remarkably well with the inimitable portrayals of the Sixth Doctor and Brigadier that we have come to know and love so much. Sixie's bluster and buoyancy was a great counterpoint to the very dark Third and 'Fourth' Reich material in the original text by Cole and Richards. Our sole audio performer grasps the need to delicately balance both humour and 'world in peril' high-stakes thriller.

There is a lot of exposition and scene-setting prose for Fisher to convey to the listener, and convey it she does with aplomb. The plot is relatively straightforward, even with all the time travelling and subplots that feature, but in the hands of a less capable narrator there could be room for the audience to be disengaged.

**

This story could have easily worked, were it made originally as an audio drama spin off by Big Finish with Colin Baker and Nicholas Courtney. The enjoyable The Spectre of Lanyon Moor proved the chemistry between the two was up there with all the other leading men of the classic era. Today all of us miss the wonderful Courtney, but he left a terrific legacy as an actor and a person. Today still, his alter-ego soldier commands our attention and emotional investment.

One can quite easily listen to this set of eight CDs over a week or two, interspersing with the best TV material of the Sixth Doctor and the UNIT era to build up the visual cues needed. In any case, the prose, atmosphere and pacing all work well, and this story stands tall on its own.

There are plenty of nods to past UNIT characters, and to the family-like nature of the military organisation when it featured in the main show on a regular basis. My favourite returning solider is Tom Osgood. Though rather bumbling - at least in comparison to the eccentric genius protagonist - he is still determined and technically proficient. Some additional UNIT and military personal of course are added by the authors into proceedings, and are given suitable character development and back-story.

There is also a portion of the story that features the legendary real-life wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who has featured repeatedly in the Moffat era, and also now in ongoing Big Finish audios. What little this redoubtable politician and leader does here works well, but he is still more of a plot device than a proper supporting player. There is no actual meeting of Churchill, with either Hitler or his 'double', which perhaps is a missed opportunity.

There are a number of characters that have their own agenda and are neither wholly altruistic or malicious. This helps remind us that very few who fought in the War - win or lose - were completely without qualities at either end of the spectrum. Ultimately the biggest success of this book/audio is that it provokes some sober reflection on the defence of freedom and equality for all, in the face of cruel and distorted ideologies. And a good ending is always key for a satisfying adventure. Shadow closes in bittersweet fashion, but avoids this vibe from being telegraphed or coming off as just another twist. The finale instead arises organically out of the key themes.

Combining real life history, additional material for the 'short-lived' Sixth Doctor, and revisits to past friends from UNIT, this story has a bit of something for everyone. It never quite hits the heights of the very best of the original novels that feature in Doctor Who's extended universe, but is still a confident form of entertainment.