Destiny of the Doctor: Night of the WhisperBookmark and Share

Thursday, 12 September 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Destiny of the Doctor: Night of the Whisper
Released by AudioGo
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
Directed by John Ainsworth
Released: September 2013
"Eh, Doctor lad, or something like that. Now, I haven't got long and before you have a go, yes, I know that this is breaking several laws of time, but this is extremely important..."

Such is the nature of the Ninth Doctor era in its brevity that we viewers can tend to reduce it to its most memorable tropes and lines of dialogue. For better or for worse, Christopher Eccleston’s incarnation of the character is generally recalled for his use of the phrase “Fantastic”, his darker portrayal after the increasingly more jovial and whimsical classic incarnations and ultimately the fact that we only spent thirteen forty-five minute instalments of time in his company. Not since 2005 have we received any fully-fledged new outings for the Ninth, a term of absence which inevitably places pressure on the latest entry in the Destiny of the Doctor series to deliver. Perhaps more so than in the case of any of the other releases in the range, the cast, writer and director of Night of the Whisper had an entourage of lofty expectations thrust upon them from the outset.

At the same time, though, from the outset it’s immensely reassuring to discover that the range’s writers have re-established an accurate interpretation of their designated era of Doctor Who. Whereas Alan Barnes’ take on the Eighth Doctor in Enemy Aliens last month was a little unsteady, this month’s representation of the Ninth by Cavan Scott, Mark Wright and reader Nicholas Briggs seems completely true to the televised version of that incarnation. Particularly, the representation of the Ninth Doctor’s post-Time War isolation and scarred psyche are handled with respect and dramatic power, as we get the sense once more of a tormented soul who has committed atrocities beyond depiction (until this November, at least). One instance where Police Chief McNeill confronts the Time Lord regarding his understanding of regret and the ramifications of omnipotence works magnificently, going far in terms of replicating the dark and raw emotion that Eccleston brought to the role eight years ago.

Another area in which Scott and Wright have managed to replicate past elements of Who is in the case of Night’s adversary, although this reviewer has to hope that this connection was unintentional. The scribes’ depiction of the antagonist menace, the cunning and manipulative Whisper, echoes beats of A Town Called Mercy's Gunslinger at times. Yet where Toby Whithouse produced a layered and emotionally complex villain in his Series Seven televised episode, the Whisper carries none of the same emotive gravitas or any memorable traits to allow for any enduring impact on the listener once the credits roll. This is one of the only arguable major setbacks in the piece, which is certainly a pleasing contrast to the legions of caveats to be found with its immediate predecessor.

Strangely enough for a release which does such a fine job of capturing the motifs and moral complexities of its era, one of Night's most memorable elements by far is its mandatory Eleventh Doctor cameo sequence. Though Nick Briggs (and arguably no other actor bar the man himself) can't quite fully capture the quick-witted and rapidly shifting portrayal that Matt Smith lends the Doctor, his attempt is valiant and both the soundtrack and the script work superbly in capturing the bold message the Time Lord's future self transmits in order to help avert a future crisis. Briggs can’t be faulted, however, in the midst of his other portrayals- replicating Chris’ Northern tones, Billie Piper’s grounded London accent and John Barrowman’s broad Scot-American quips all at once must have appeared a rather daunting challenge, yet the man behind the voices of the Daleks and Cybermen pulls off that feat with aplomb and this reviewer would be eager to see Briggs take up the roles of the TARDIS trio again in future audios.

On supporting duties this time around is John Schwab as the increasingly mysterious MacNeill, a figure whose relevance in the Doctor’s own future will only become clear in two months’ time come the final release of the range. Schwab isn’t given a wealth of content until the final sequences of the narrative, at which point the American voice actor comes into his own, presenting the listener with one of the most compelling and realistic portrayals of a secondary character yet in the Destiny series. Again, should Schwab be so inclined as to return beyond this isolated storyline, he’s sure to gain credits aplenty regardless of the role he is afforded by AudioGo and/or Big Finish in the future.

When all’s said and done, Night Of The Whisper isn’t completely devoid of blemishes. The momentum of Scott and Wright’s narrative falters at times during the action sequences, and in addition those characters Briggs is left to develop other than the TARDIS crew aren’t always as memorable as the main ensemble. This time, though, there’s such a plentiful amount of impressive content on offer for the listener that the experience can’t help but be a pleasure. The reprisal of the accuracy with which the production team are attempting to represent the various eras of Doctor Who is greatly refreshing, setting a high precedent for the final two Destiny Of The Doctor releases to match. With any luck, after the slight misstep of Enemy Aliens last month, Night Of The Whisper will have set us on a captivating path to be traversed in Death’s Deal and The Time Machine. Much as the Ninth Doctor era does tend to be reduced to its most memorable tropes and catchphrases, in this case it really is fair to say that the assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn’t stop this from being an utterly fantastic experience.

Destiny of the Doctor: Enemy AliensBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 August 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Destiny of the Doctor: Enemy Aliens
Released by AudioGo
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Alan Barnes
Directed by John Ainsworth
Released: August 2013
“Hello there, Doctor- this is the Doctor speaking! Now the fact of the matter is, you’ve caught me in a bit of a jam, a fix, you might say, a tight spot, quite frankly...”

In every chain, it seems, there must be a weak link. For seven months, across a variety of accomplished instalments, the Destiny franchise has succeeded in engaging this reviewer’s interest thoroughly thanks to strong characterisation, defined and unique performances from each cast member involved and above all the faithfulness of the restorations of Doctor Who’s various eras. However, Enemy Aliens struggles to retain these contributory aspects in any great measure, resulting in the weakest instalment of the series so far.

Perhaps the most notable shortcoming of this lacklustre Eighth Doctor adventure becomes present as early as the premise set-up in its opening moments. Much as in the Sixth Doctor entry Trouble In Paradise, the Doctor and Charley are called upon by the Eleventh Doctor to unravel a mystery in 1930s London. Whether it’s the familiarity of the scene in which the inter-Doctor discussion first takes place, or indeed of a pre-war setting such as this, either way there’s a sense instantly that the narrative material being covered here isn’t particularly fresh.

Paul Cornell once proved with aplomb that science-fiction storylines taking place before a World War can be suitably compelling, his Series Three two-parter Human Nature/The Family of Blood a particular shining reminder of this. It’s truly a shame, then, that writer Alan Barnes’ script doesn’t appear intent on recapturing any of the same emotional resonance, foreboding tension or effective satire of that beloved televised story, instead electing to provide listeners with an ill-paced romp that features predictable plot twists and generally ineffective action-driven setpieces.

Not all of the blame can simply be placed on Barnes, though- it seems safe to assume that this veteran writer in the Who audio range was commissioned with a specific narrative structure and tonal direction in mind by Big Finish for this release. What comes as a surprise this time around is that neither regular star India Fisher nor her supporting performer Michael Maloney seem particularly enthused in their portrayals. While naturally it becomes difficult to assess whether India held a blasé attitude towards her return as Charley Pollard when we don’t have access to behind-the-scenes footage, that’s certainly the impression given by her performance here, a factor of the release which stands in direct contrast to its predecessors.

In fact, that concerning contemplation of a blasé attitude held by a performer in this release seems to extend further than India in the grand scheme of things. No doubt honing a structure for an eleven-part series such as Destiny must have been a challenging prospect for those involved with producing this range, yet more than any of the past seven releases, Enemy Aliens merely comes off as a stop-gap entry intended only to further minor elements of the overall narrative arc ahead of presumably major developments in the final three instalments. This is not unheard of in the realms of televised or audio-based Who, yet rarely has such a trait proven so notable as it does here, with tedium setting in rather rapidly over the course of the sixty minute running time.

While this reviewer cannot confess himself as a regular follower of Big Finish’s Eighth Doctor adventures, even hardened fans of the range are unlikely to find much in the way of incentives to pick up this instalment. Neither the dialogue Barnes affords Paul McGann’s incarnation nor India’s lacklustre portrayal of the character seem to do this one-off Doctor justice, an aspect of the Destiny range which its other writers have seemed to pride themselves with in past entries. Certainly, fans who come to this particular chapter having only seen the TV Movie won’t be offered much in terms of defining how far this incarnation has developed since his first and last televised outing in 1996.

If Barnes had managed to create a suitably grand climax for this tonally diverse outing, then arguably all would not have been for nought. Sadly, referencing this release’s conclusion only serves to highlight further flaws within, seeing as Enemy Aliens ends with such startling brevity that the listener may barely realise the credits have rolled. There’s a near-total lack of closure to be found as Barnes rushes to explain various loose plot threads before the finish line, and that virtually no further contribution to the future of the series is offered in the tale’s final scenes does it no help, either. Those fans who claimed that Asylum of the Daleks and The Power of Three were constrained by their forty-five minute running times may think twice after experiencing this adventure, where proceedings come to an end at an alarmingly abrupt rate that’s difficult to commend in any way, shape or form.

Reassurance can at least come here in the knowledge that rarely have disappointing entries in Big Finish audio franchises resulted in a negative impact on a series’ momentum- quite the opposite, generally. Indeed, the Destiny range has hit one or two speed bumps and hitches over the course of its run so far with Vengeance of the Stones and Trouble In Paradise, yet has bounced back without fail in successive months after those mediocre outings. There’s little doubt that the production team will manage the same feat after this misstep, it’s simply disheartening that such a notable descent into quality had to occur when the franchise began to enter truly innovative territory with last month’s Shockwave.

The positive message that can at least be fathomed from Enemy Aliens is that at least if every chain must have a singular weak link, then in the words of a crazed inmate in Victorian London, “it is discovered” and has been dealt with. Newcomers to the Eighth Doctor audio range should rightly be underwhelmed by a below-average introductory adventure such as this, but there’s plenty of other great Paul McGann adventures to be found elsewhere in Big Finish’s back catalogue. While Enemy Aliens is most certainly not the weakest release in the studio’s history thanks to a somewhat ambitious narrative and assured direction, it lacks each and every one of the key elements which have made the Destiny of the Doctor franchise so far a success, and thus must be considered its weakest link as a result.