Written By: Mike Tucker + Robert Perry
Read By: Sophie Aldred
Voices Of The Cybermen: Nicholas Briggs
Publisher: BBC Audio
Released: 28th July 2016
Duration: 543 Minutes
American private detective Cody McBride witnesses the arrival of the sphere, and is certain it opened, allowing some alien being to depart its confines. But the British military will only credit McBride's account of events as a German weapon, that has 'accidently failed' to work. It is November 1940 and Britain is enduring the Blitz, with the Second World War dominating human affairs. As the Luftwaffe wreak devastation on London, other dangers are not far away. A brutal murderer, branded as 'The Limehouse Lurker', is at large around the streets of the capital that have sustained attack. And a mysterious silver sphere has fallen from the sky. Its contents could bring massive change to the fortunes of the two sides in the War.
However, soon he encounters two bizarrely dressed people that call themselves 'the Doctor' and 'Ace', and they very much give credit to his account. And many more odd events are about to happen now McBride is involved with people who can seemingly navigate the fourth dimension of space and time...
Once again, as with other books featuring earlier Doctors, BBC Audio has released another such title to bring to full life a story that was popular enough with fans and general readers to merit a re-release in recent times. When this story first hit shelves in late 1997, it perhaps came across as rather 'traditional' and 'safe', given how many original novels of the decade aimed to break new ground. But in its defence, it was originally conceived as a properly made TV story featuring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. Of course, the infamous cancellation of the classic series put paid to any realisation of the story onscreen. And if anything the story would have been very ambitious for TV, and here benefits from expansion to a full novel.
The narrative fundamentally is a simple one, but does have a notable number of subplots and allows for certain characters' back stories to be sketched out in detail. For the most part, the listener is left in no doubt over the virtues or vices of the supporting characters.
On one side we have clearly brave and good-intentioned people such as McBride and Chief Inspector Patrick Mullen.
And on the other end of the spectrum, are a number of deplorable Nazis and/or their conspirators, with notable antagonists being Captain Hartmann, Colonel Schott, and the creepy Mr Wall.
But, then there is one key character that is more shades of grey, and who is a real intellectual match for the Doctor. He almost evokes some sympathy, but his methods are still deplorable, and he clearly leans towards the amoral and indifferent stance, despite all the suffering and devastation going on around him. Despite this story being nigh on 20 years old, I will leave it to the individual listener to go on the path of seeing which character I am describing.
Mike Tucker and Robert Perry not only know how to pace their story well, but how to achieve effective inter-relations between the personalities that populate the novel. There is plenty of fine material for either the 'one-to-one' or 'group' dynamic, with it being most effective when featuring the leading lights, that are the Seventh Doctor, and his still very exuberant teenage protégé Ace. The authors are well-versed in the McCoy section of Classic Doctor Who, and there is never a moment when the complex character that is the Seventh Doctor feels any less than authentic. And, in terms of this being not just a dramatic story, but a thriller as well, there is sufficient depiction of war and monstrosity in equal measure. Cyber body horror is done very well here, and the full lethal potential of the Cybermats is also explored in commendable fashion. Some aspects of Cyber-Lore, that were new to this book at the time, have since gone on to feature in New Who stories such as The Pandorica Opens and Nightmare In Silver.
Sophie Aldred is as impressive here as in any audio book or full cast drama I have heard her in previously. In the audio release Dark Convoy, I had a small reservation with her being forced to convey a group of characters that were all male. But with time to use the prose and character development here, she grasps fully the opportunities afforded to her to show her vocal range. And yet again, her own defining voice/performance of Ace works just as well, as when first unveiled in 1987.
The actual vocals for the Cybermen are handled by Nicholas Briggs - who has clearly become the definitive voice of the metal conquerors at this point - and work well, both in tying with modern TV stories, but also a vintage 1960s TV escapade. This bit of continuity work is given just a passing bit of exposure in the wholly satisfying epilogue to the novel.
There are some fine bursts of incidental music, which never linger too long, but do add successfully to the overall impact of this audiobook. They are particularly strong when a chapter ends or one of the four 'episodes' reaches a climax, (with Tucker and Perry being determined to retain the original TV serial structure in this book version). The 'shooting' signature noise designed to evoke the Blitz is quite effective in its unsettling intent, and helps remind listeners this is not just an entertaining work of fiction but something with roots in our own world history and reality.
Ultimately, Illegal Alien is best described as a rattling good yarn. It is worthy of unequivocal recommendation for anyone who feels the Seventh Doctor and Ace TV stories deserved more entries, than what eventually transpired in actuality.