This review is based on the MP3 download from Big Finish, and contains minor spoilers.“You must change the channel – even if it’s Space: 1999! Just this once, it’s worth it! The Scorchies are evil!”Jo Grant
I first met Katy Manning
at a convention over a decade ago in my (and back then her) native Australia. The first thing that struck me about her is how extroverted and mischievous she is in comparison to her softly spoken alter ego Josephine Grant. The second thing that struck me was what a talented voice artist she is. She kept her audience thoroughly entertained for an hour by breaking into an assortment of voices belonging to characters she had portrayed in animation and children’s programmes at the time.The Scorchies
, her latest contribution to Big Finish’s Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
, is right up Katy’s alley. It gives her the chance to not just reprise her role as Jo but to also voice some of the wacky characters that infest this oddball tale.
In the context of the story, the Scorchies are a bunch of madcap, homicidal extraterrestrials masquerading as children’s TV show puppets! Author James Goss
, director Ken Bentley
and sound designers Richard Fox
and Lauren Yason
bring to life a narrative in the guise of a fictional 1970s TV programme that can only be best described as The Muppets
, The Teletubbies
, Play School
, Romper Room
and Basil Brush
on acid, complete with crazy, juvenile songs – and Jo Grant as a hostage on live TV! Jo is at one point trying to make a psychic anti-Scorchies gun out of cardboard tubes, sticky backed plastic, a pipe cleaner and a mind control crystal. Then there’s the Scorchie (TV) scanner, the sort of thing you might have seen on Play School
or Romper Room
in your tweens! The story also has a very pantomime feel which is, of course, very deliberate, especially when Jo herself ends up breaking into rhyme with some of the characters!
Like most Companion Chronicles
, The Scorchies
is a two-person affair. However, unlike previous titles, in which the story is told from the perspective of a narrator, assisted by some additional dialogue from a guest performer, the story is very much carried by the interplay between Manning and guest star Melvyn Hayes
who clearly relishes the opportunity to play the villainous Scorchies, led by their leader Grizz Fizzle. Hayes, of course, is the ex-husband of former Who companion Wendy Padbury
and father to their daughter Charlie Hayes (who has also appeared in other Who audios). Like Manning, Hayes has also done his fair share of voice work in children’s programmes, including Pongwiffy
(in which he also voiced a character called Grizz), a TV adaptation of Jack & The Beanstalk
and Super Ted
(which, of course, starred the late, great Jon Pertwee
). Clearly, Hayes is also in his element, playing other off the wall characters like Cool Cat
and Professor Baffle
I haven’t listened to too many Companion Chronicles
so this is the first time I’ve heard Katy Manning as Jo on audio. Although you can sometimes detect the more seasoned tone to her voice, for the most part Katy captures Jo’s naïveté and youth perfectly – impressive when you consider that (her recent appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures
aside) she hasn’t played the part for the best part of 40 years. Even the token Jo piece of dialogue – “But the Doctor can’t be dead! He just can’t be! You’re lying!”
– is delivered with the same teary inflection and emotion that Katy was so famous for delivering on-screen all those decades ago.
Indeed, this style of storytelling literally pivots on the back of emotion. In an interview with Big Finish’s Vortex newsletter (which is available as a downloadable PDF file on this release), Katy discusses her approach to mixing her own portrayal of Jo with her other character voices (including the Magic Mice – “Would it help if we ate her a little bit?”
- and Amble the ugly doll) on The Scorchies. She says the key to getting all the characters right is by “being in the moment ... with all the emotions that are happening at that time”
. With the exception of the songs, which were recorded separately, Katy and Melvyn Hayes effectively performed the story “live”, effortlessly jumping between voices rather than recording the dialogue of each of the different characters separately. As a result, you as the listener get carried along rather convincingly, just as Jo, the hostage to this bizarre collection of aliens, is also powerless to influence the events of the story-cum-children’s programme.
The extras at the end of this release feature an interview with sound designers Richard Fox and Lauren Yason. They discuss the songs they had to compose for the story – Jo is Making a Thing
and We killed the Doctor Dead
– along with untreated performances of the songs before they were delivered to Katy Manning and Melvyn Hayes and treated electronically. This is actually quite refreshing, as we don’t often hear enough about the actual sound design work on a Big Finish audio, as opposed to the usual interviews with some members of the cast and production crew. What it does underline, though, is how important an aural experience The Scorchies
is and how much it exploits the medium.The Scorchies
is an entertaining hour of childish mayhem, almost as if you really were watching a puppets’ TV show – and not listening to a Doctor Who
audio. From that perspective, the story succeeds in parodying 1970s children’s programmes. If you’re not a regular listener of The Companion Chronicles
, I urge you to try a few of the more conventional plays first. You won’t pick up on the nuances and emotion that Katy Manning refers to if you come to this cold.