The Big Bang Generation (Audio Book)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 20 December 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Big Bang Generation (Credit: BBC)
  Read by Lisa Bowerman,
Released October 2015, BBC AUDIO

Sydney Cove becomes something more than just another tourist spot when a time portal deposits a very large pyramid all of a sudden, causing inconvenience for those wanting to use Port Jackson harbor. But furthermore beings from other worlds and time arrive with designs on the incongruous pyramid, such as notorious mobster Cyrrus Globb, Professor Horace Jaanson, and deadly female assassin Kik.  Rival Professor Bernice Summerfield and some of her dearest friends throw one more spanner into the works, and likewise for a group of con-artists headed up by a most familiar gentleman who wants to be called 'Doc'.

Eventually time and space stands to get more than a fleeting makeover, when the Ancients of the Universe are abruptly brought out of slumber. The Doctor's moniker of Time Lord will never have been put under as much scrutiny as this scenario dictates..

Despite Peter Capaldi's well-worn and wise appearance taking up much of the cover, this is very much an ensemble piece and at least as much a Bernice Summerfield story as a 12th Doctor one. For those only really familiar with contemporary TV Doctor Who, Bernice may come across as something of an unknown quantity, despite narratorLisa Bowerman's profile being reasonably high over recent years.  And many other characters are returning from numerous other spin off stories as well.

 

Gary Russell originally wanted River Song to feature in this story. Her exploratory and independent nature meant that when the author was not allowed to feature her, he opted for Bernice; possessing similarities in archaeologist/professor and just an all-round smart cookie.

With so much (dis)continuity at work Russell chooses not to try and join the dots with every previous story featuring the main character, (e.g. the Eighth Doctor classic The Dying Days is glossed over).  But there are certainly fun supporting characters, even if somewhat limited in their depth and purpose.

Professor Summerfield gang include her very own son Peter - and definitely the most intriguing of the secondary characters -  along with engaged couple Ruth and Jack (the latter being a red-eyed Kadeptian humanoid) and Keri who is a long time friend for Bernice. We also have some 'loveable rogues' in the Doctor's own temporary cohort, that comprise Legs (as the comic relief), Dog Boy (for muscle and weapons handling), Shortie, (who can plan details to a fine art), and Da Trowel, (who knows more than a thing or two about excavation across the cosmos).

 

As stated, the Doctor himself is far from the dominant character, and takes a while to be utilised. It is worth paying heed to the fact that 'Big Bang' is one of a loose trilogy called The Glamour Chronicles. Hence the other stories have the tetchy Time Lord in a more traditionally focused role, and indeed can be read/listened to in any order.

The dynamics that involve a given character against another one or group is one reason to keep listening through a 5-CD release with just the one -admittedly conscientious - performer in Lisa Bowerman. But as much as the dialogue and characterisation are quite enjoyable, there is also something of a muddled story here. The sense of threat is somehow too abstract, and come the conclusion a lot of the prior events do end up feeling incosequential.

Also troublesome is that the story proper takes a real while to get going properly. Maybe Russell should have had some real incident happen first and then use characters' speeches (and flashbacks) to fill us in on the characters. He certainly has not broken his habit of referencing the past tales of Doctor Who, be they official televised ones or officially branded spin-off in nature. We even get a roll call of a good couple of dozen former companions, bringing to mind the retrospective nature of many a 1980s TV story, such as Resurrection of the Daleks.

Fortunately one original Eleventh Doctor book I know -The Glamour Chase -gave me some appreciation for the overall plot and its resolution. There just about is enough explanation for newcomers, but I do really recommend looking to get at least a summary on this unique form of shielding which has appeared in other original Doctor Who fiction and even Big Finish audio.

There is also a lack of any really good villain. Kik the Assassin and Globb are interestingly ruthless to an extent but ultimately a McGuffin is being sought and no dark scenario for the world/ universe feature directly in the antagonists' designs.

Bowerman is a stellar audio actress, and many old-school fans will remember her very good performance as Cheetah Person Karra in Survival. She does a fine job as the narrator, is even better as Bernice (who she has played so much over the years) and does a nice enough imitation of the incumbent TV Doctor, who is in a rather subdued mood for much of the story. Other voices though are variable, and one character ends up sounding like the Spitting Image mock-up of Queen Elizabeth I, which is funny but a little too distracting for those of us who saw that late satirical show in the past.

There is some good work in production terms with the sound effects matching the cataclysmic effects of the Ancients. Backing music is suitably subtle and non intrusive. As much as Murray Gold does a fine job on he TV it is good to have a very different style for audio books such as this.

Overall success of Big Bang comes down to how much a listener is prepared for a story lacking urgency; most likely deliberately so in favour of whimsy and 'screwball' humour. This certainly is along the lines of Gareth Roberts 'missing Season 17' stories and has more than a touch of Douglas Adams' own work from outside of Doctor Who. It passes the time tolerably enough but is quite likely to prove forgettable as well.