Night of the Stormcrow (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 18 April 2013 - Reviewed by Andrew Batty

Night of the Stormcrow
Big Finish Productions
Written by Marc Platt
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Released as subscriber bonus December 2012, on sale December 2013
This review is based on the bonus subscriber release and contains mild spoilers

On a remote island a group of scientists have been observing the stars. But when the shadows start moving and people start dying, it seems that something might have been looking back at them. Something that has decided to pay them a visit...

“It’s teatime 1977 all over again” proclaimed the ubiquitous advertising for Big Finish’s first season of audios starring Tom Baker, clearly positioning nostalgia as one of their primary objectives.

Despite the fact that Tom Baker hadn’t appeared in Big Finish until last year, the Phillip Hinchcliffe produced series of Doctor Who have often tacitly positioned as the ‘golden era’ of the programme and have cast a long shadow across the company’s output. For example, when Big Finish first started releasing Doctor Who plays featuring Doctors five to seven they used the Hinchcliffe era version of the theme tune and when choosing villains for the high profile Eighth Doctor series it was Wirrn, Zygons and Krynoids who were brought out of retirement.

Yet, when the man himself returned, and this ‘golden era’ was finally unlocked to Big Finish, there was something missing. It was the Doctor himself. Tom Baker’s performance as the Doctor shifted incrementally during his seven years in the show and when he finally returned to the role, perhaps unsurprisingly he played the part differently. In the Hornet’s Nest series produced by the BBC, Baker perfected a bombastic, whimsical version of his Doctor, very different from what had gone before, and rather suited to the excessive campy tone of that series. It was a slightly muted version of this Doctor which Baker brought to his first series with Big Finish, meaning that in spite of what the scripts, producers and audiences wanted, the tone they were trying to recapture was just out of their grasp.

Night of the Stormcrow marks the return of the Hinchcliffe era Doctor. Baker has chosen to reign in his performance and give us the alien, moody and at times portentous Doctor familiar from fan favorites Pyramids of Mars and The Ark in Space. It feels like the first time all the elements have come together in a Fourth Doctor play, with the cast and writers and production all singing from the same hymn sheet. This is very much helped by the tense, claustrophobic feel of the story and the wonderfully evocative speeches Marc Platt gives the Doctor. A highlight comes when the Doctor declares to the scientists that “Something found you here, something from the darkest corner of the night”, invoking memories of similarly tense moments from his early years as the Doctor.

Louise Jameson is equally well served by the script, and delivers a superbly written monologue for Leela in Episode Two. Throughout her appearances in various Big Finish productions she has proved herself to be one of their most adaptable and hard working performers. She has given subtly different performances as Leela over the course of the character’s life in Gallifrey, The Companion Chronicles and The Fourth Doctor Adventures, and here she once again skilfully recreates the cadences of 1970s Leela’s voice. My appetite has been thoroughly whetted for what the second series of plays starring Baker and Jameson will bring.

The story is a spooky, scientific haunting in the style of Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape (or in Doctor Who terms, Image of the Fendahl), with many standout creepy moments. While some may feel that the hour running time may work against the nostalgic aims of the Fourth Doctor series, here it works in the play’s favour. It means that the emphasis can be on building atmosphere rather than the denouement, which is often where sci-fi haunting stories fall down, when they struggle to explain the events away in rational terms.

If there is a fault in the play it would be that Platt’s decision to introduce two monsters, the eponymous Stormcrow and the ‘no-thing’ creatures, make things a little harder to follow in the second half, and perhaps he should have stuck with one or the other.

For fans who may have felt slightly disappointed by the first series of Fourth Doctor Adventures this play will be a welcome nostalgic trip to one of the most enduring, influential and popular eras of Doctor Who. Night of the Stormcrow is currently only available as a Big Finish subscriber exclusive, but will be available to buy separately from December 2013, when it will hopefully gain the wider audience it deserves.