1963: Fanfare for the Common Men (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 27 September 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Fanfare for the Common Men
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Eddie Robson
Directed by Barnaby Edwards
Released: September 2013
“The problem with those who try to engineer history is that they can’t appreciate the wonder of sheer happenstance!”

The times, they aren’t a-changing. Whereas for the majority, this year’s plentiful Doctor Who 50th Anniversary audio outings have held the central purpose of expanding the series’ narrative universe rather than engaging in regular bouts of nostalgia, Big Finish’s 1963 trilogy is taking a different approach during the final stages of the countdown. Listeners will find themselves grounded in the inherently familiar (well, at least if they were around to witness the broadcast of An Unearthly Child) this time around, as the production team explore some of the defining elements of the year in which the show premiered.

Fanfare for the Common Men investigates the impact of arguably the most influential group of musical artists in the entirety of the ‘60s. Though for obvious reasons a physical appearance from members of the Fab Four themselves is out of the question, their presence - or rather their absence, such is the premise of the piece - is felt throughout nonetheless. It transpires that as the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa arrive at what should be a Beatles concert in November 1963, an altogether different band have taken their place in history for reasons initially unbeknownst to the world at large.

As a premise, Fanfare’s set-up works magnificently, its opening chapter at the aforementioned gig a startlingly impressive rendition of ‘60s fandom- though this reviewer can’t claim to have been present in the year itself to verify the release’s complete accuracy! If the remainder of Eddie Robson’s storyline succeeded in fulfilling the high expectations the listener will instate after these great initial moments, then as a whole the product could be dubbed an inspired venture. In brutally ironic fashion, however, the crucial setting of the piece itself works notably to its detriment.

One particular trait of the Big Finish range which has struck this reviewer over the past nine months is the impact which a supporting cast ensemble can have on a singular release’s quality. Just as easily as guest stars such as Jo Woodcock and Terry Molloy have elevated Starlight Robbery and Daleks Among Us respectively to the metaphorical Hall of Fame, so too at the same time have the underwhelming guest stars on Destiny of the Doctor releases such as Enemy Aliens served to diminish their chances of entering those same upper echelons of the range. Here, newcomers Mitch Benn, Andrew Knott and David Dobson are each either regularly afforded unoriginal or uninspiring dialogue or simply don’t excel in their performance as much as their predecessors have done in the past.

All is not for nought in this department, though, with the central cast still providing consistent portrayals. Peter Davison remains on top form as his incarnation of the Doctor, this particular version of the character appearing no older than in his last full story in 1984. Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa doesn’t rank among this reviewer’s favourite classic companions, but Sutton puts plenty of enthusiasm and passion into her role here regardless. Without noteworthy performances such as these, the piece would offer far less value in terms of its cast ensemble, a crying shame given the (relative) youth of this new series of adventures.

Of further negative impact is the lack of ambition to be found in the overarching narrative. Although Mark GatissVictory of the Daleks was met with a mixed critical reception, at the very least Gatiss could be commended for attempting a new spin on the well-tread World War Two (World War Who?) setting. On the other hand, Robson’s plot struggles to innovate, the execution of its premise infuriatingly similar to the manner in which other episodes based around the consequences of time travel and time manipulation have played out. While not a wholly destructive flaw, this failed attempt to fully utilise the period setting of 1963 rather worryingly contradicts the purpose of a range based primarily around that specific period.

Had Fanfare occupied a role within a wider series arc, constrained in some form by additional plot elements beyond its writer’s control (as was the case with Persuasion earlier this year), then its shortcomings could perhaps have been forgiven to an extent. As it is, however, beyond the final release in the 1963 saga likely tying into the 50th Anniversary audio special The Light at the End, there’s virtually no foreseeable connections to be found between this, The Space Race or The Assassination Games. Even a few further homages to the year itself, whether more melancholic (e.g. the JFK assassination) or otherwise wouldn’t have gone amiss, yet surprisingly little attention seems to have been given in this respect either.

Inevitably, then, the standalone nature of the piece enables its caveats to be highlighted fully, and in this case such caveats are as clear as a Yellow Submarine. Fanfare for the Common Men has its moments, but those are limited by its weak supporting cast and mediocre narrative. A benefit to this is of course that subsequent 1963 releases can (ideally) only get better, but it’s troubling when that is the single greatest compliment this drama can attain. In the words of the Fab Four themselves, unless a potential listener knows him or herself to be a Beatles fanatic, then in the case of this sub-par initial outing, they can simply Let It Be.

FILTER: - Fifth Doctor - Big Finish - Audio - 1781780781

The Beast of Babylon (Puffin Books)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 23 September 2013 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

Doctor Who - The Beast of Babylon
Written by Charlie Higson
Puffin Books
UK release: 23 September 2013
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK edition of the ebook. 

Last month’s wobble in this Puffin series left me feeling slightly crabby, but thankfully this month things are firmly back on track. Charlie Higson’s rendering of the Ninth Doctor is spot on, aided by occasional riffs on dialogue from series one. And like Malorie Blackman’s Ripple Effect, Higson finds a way to stretch the format of Doctor Who, exploring and developing an intriguing story possibility that would be rather difficult to realize on-screen. The trick that’s pulled off here hinges very much on qualities of the written word, coupled with the fact that readers are likely to make certain assumptions about characters they encounter.

Despite feeling true to the Ninth Doctor’s TV adventuring, The Beast of Babylon doesn’t feature Rose Tyler as the Doctor’s companion, even if her presence constantly hangs over these proceedings. Instead, Higson introduces an original creation to help the Doctor in his Babylonian mission: Ali, a teenage girl from the planet Karkinos who gets swept up in the Doctor’s latest adventure. Higson slots events into an unusual gap in the story Rose; this tale unfolds in the time between the Doctor leaving Rose and Mickey and then returning to ask Rose for a second time if she’ll join him: “did I mention that it also travels in time?” Revisiting canonical events via an altered perspective means that the story can have some fun with familiar moments, for example showing the Doctor rehearsing how he’s going to speak to Rose by practicing an appropriate face. It makes you wonder just how many seemingly spontaneous gestures our favourite Time Lord has rehearsed across his many years…

What’s even more impressive than a new slant on an old moment, though, is the way that Charlie Higson uses this particular story gap to explore a vital theme resonating with the Doctor’s interest in Rose Tyler: essentially, that he needs a companion with the values and virtues of humanity. Ali is almost another Adam  – highlighting how a true companion should behave – and she allows The Beast of Babylon to dramatise what it means to accompany the Doctor through space and time. Higson’s carefully crafted wordplay continues into a gag about Ali being an “a-star” student, with this badge of (astrological) excellence eventually taking on a rather unexpected meaning. Ali also quickly recognises the Doctor as a Time Lord and deduces that he has a TARDIS, making her highly knowledgeable character a different proposition to many of those who travel with the Doctor. If the TV companion’s role is to offer new audiences a way into the Doctor’s strange life, then this example fulfills a rather distinct function. Ali isn’t an identification figure so much as an intensification figure: she intensifies fan-readers’ established sense of the Ninth Doctor’s psychology, as well as deepening the notion that Rose Tyler is the perfect fit for this incarnation at this time.

Caught up in the Doctor’s intergalactic battle against a powerful “Starman”, with this seemingly God-like entity on its way to terrorise ancient Babylon, Ali is forced to confront the “beast” of the ebook’s title in an excellent and surprising sequence. Although she and the Doctor don’t quite form an effective pincer movement against the mysterious, powerful force, Ali proves to be a potent warrior in her own right.

This short story has the feel of an energetic action-adventure romp, but it also layers in more thoughtful material, and the fluid, precise prose is always a pleasure to read. In short, Charlie Higson proves himself to be a “fantastic” addition to the series of writers on this project. Through the figure of Ali he’s created a colourful, spiky companion who helps persuade the Ninth Doctor to give Rose Tyler another chance, at the same time compelling readers to reflect on what it takes to travel with the Doctor. In its questioning, its energy, and its ethical spirit, The Beast of Babylon smartly captures the tone of the Russell T Davies era. Along with Blackman's earlier contribution, this is another must-read part of Puffin's 50th anniversary sequence, paying off its title with style and verve.

FILTER: - Ninth Doctor - Books - 50th Anniversary - B00C150EVM

Daleks Among Us (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 22 September 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Daleks Among Us
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Alan Barnes
Directed by Ken Bentley
Released: September 2013
How strange and fascinating it is that half a decade on from its inception, a single element of a new Doctor Who instalment can still change our perception of the show’s lore so significantly. Much like its inspired predecessor Starlight Robbery, the third and final release in the 2013 Seventh Doctor range builds upon an initially recognisable premise using innovative, intricate storytelling methods in order to bring across the scale and dramatic weight of its narrative in such a manner as a televised story could never convincingly achieve, packing some brilliant twists which shake up the status quo immensely.

That Daleks Among Us’ storyline bears such a seemingly uncanny resemblance to those of past on-screen Who episodes at first in fact contributes to the overall impact of this trilogy finale more than most fans would likely expect. Last month’s Sontaran-laden Seventh Doctor outing offered its listeners a teasing glimpse of events to come as Frontier In Space once did for Planet of the Daleks, which could have inevitably caused concerns for followers of the range that similar to Planet itself, this release’s plot would take its good time to gather momentum. Nothing could be further from the truth, though, with Alan Barnes’ creation appearing only to be spurred forward by the arc threads already set in place for it to build upon.

Whether it’s in Barnes’ cunning re-introduction of Skaro’s iconic inhabitants into the Doctor’s world or in his subtle yet crucial interweaving of a resolution to Elizabeth Klein’s parallel universe identity arc into proceedings, there’s precious little in this particular script that can be faulted on the whole. Admittedly, the latter plot element has always come off as a tad convoluted and cumbersome for the range, something which was doubly apparent in Persuasion and Starlight Robbery, and the complexity of comprehending its climax is one of the few moments of detrimental impact in the piece. Yet such detriment is negligible for the majority, its resounding effect on the quality of the release being minimal at worst.

The scribe’s consistent and finely-paced work here is backed up with exhilarating gusto by the notably accomplished cast assembled for the release. Naturally, Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor grows as a more empathetic and tangibly heroic character during every instance in which he receives new material, the continuing success of McCoy in this case coming as no surprise. Despite their characters holding primary roles within the narrative, Tracey Childs and Christian Edwards’ portrayals of Klein and Will respectively are debatably restrained by their limited dialogue and significant actions, the former character serving as little more than a Russell T. Davies-esque deus ex machina initiator come the tale’s climax.

Enter Terry Molloy, whose much-warranted return to the role of Davros does not dissatisfy even slightly. As if Resurrection of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks weren’t enough to demonstrate the British thespian’s sheer ownership of the role of the Daleks’ creator in his classic series guise, the content Molloy performs here clearly reaffirms the fear and simultaneous pathos this tragic antagonist can evoke in his audience. Russell recently demonstrated the uncompromising, borderline self-destructive nature of Davros’ psyche in the aftermath of the Time War (The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End); however, more engaging by far is the opportunity Molloy enables for listeners to discover new truths surrounding a man whose existence is one of isolation and whose race no longer deems his existence a necessity.

Anyone approaching this latest encounter with Davros will no doubt recall that the exposure between McCoy’s Doctor and Molloy’s layered antagonist in Remembrance was slight to say the very least. Suitably, the two characters share further sequences in the same room this time around, and their tense dynamic maintains itself as one of the most compelling elements of the piece in its entirety. A sense pervades that (in the words of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight screenplay) these two warring geniuses “have a destiny together”, their fates eternally linked by one’s desire to fight evil and the other’s to survive and conquer. Perhaps the Great Healer of old was destroyed in the Crucible in Russell’s Series Four finale, yet judging by his confirmed resilience in classic televised and audio instalments alike, his survival to fight the Time Lord another day is the more probable assertion.

It’s only a shame that the note on which this particular audio drama crescendos is not as effective as the conclusions of its predecessors. In those instances, Jonathan Barnes and Matt Fitton held the benefit of their ability to implement a thrilling cliff-hanger in preparation for the next instalment, a trait which (the other) Barnes neither needs to nor can logistically fulfil at the trilogy’s end. The shortcoming comes more as a result of Big Finish’s production approach than anything, but it’s simply notable enough that the Doctor, Klein and Will readying themselves for a further impending dangerous excursion through time and space isn’t a particularly daring send-off in comparison to recent televised season finales or indeed other ‘seasons’ in the various audio ranges.

Judged either on its own merits or as a cog within the metaphorical machine of the trilogy, Daleks Among Us is an imperfect but immensely gratifying experience for the listener. McCoy and Molloy both shine marvellously in their performances in spite of the remainder of the main and supporting cast failing to match them, and in spite of the primary titular antagonists not having any particularly bold impact on the core narrative. This isn’t the splendid gem that Starlight Robbery emerged to be last month, that’s for sure. In many ways, though, it’s a hidden gem, its defining strengths counterbalancing its shortcomings by a notable margin. There’s an old saying which asserts that we never truly stop learning, and in this case, even in Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary year, it appears (incredibly) that writers like Barnes still have plenty of exhilarating lessons to teach yet.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Seventh Doctor - 1781780773

The Monster CollectionBookmark and Share

Thursday, 19 September 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Monster Collection:Released: 30 September 2013

The Monster Collection is a new series of DVDs that each focus on one of the Doctor's adversaries; unlike previous collective releases such as The Dalek Collection and Cybermen, however, this time around each of the six DVDs pair up both the modern and classic appearance of the subject in question.

There's obviously been an attempt to pair up 'origin' stories: for the Sontarans we have The Time Warrior with The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, the Silurians have Doctor Who and the Silurians with The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, and with Dalek creator Davros it's Genesis of the Daleks alongside The Stolen Earth/Journey's End. Things start to go a little awry with The Master, where it's Terror of the Autons paired with The End of Time (though the latter story does explain why the Master is how he is so perhaps more relevant than Last of the Time Lords. The Cybermen are then represented by Rise Of The Cybermen/Age of Steel and The Tomb of The Cybermen (this being the first 'complete' story featuring them) - I'm guessing either the animated reconstructed version of The Tenth Planet wasn't ready for that set's preparation, or maybe it was actually a decision that having an animated episode is mis-representative and might detract newcomers from the show (I doubt it would have been through it's inclusion in the recent Regenerations boxed set, though, being The End of Time is included here!). However, I'm rather more mystified at Asylum of the Daleks's inclusion with The Daleks - I would have thought Dalek would have been a better choice - not to mention meaning that Christopher Eccleston's contribution to the series could also have then been represented!

Speaking of incarnations, only the first four 'classic' Doctors are represented, though with all of the adversaries in the set introduced during the first twelve years of the show that's inevitable. For those that are, we have one Hartnell, one Troughton, three Pertwee and one Tom Baker story (though Troughton only makes it in through The Tenth Planet not being used). Perhaps if the Terileptils, Bandils and Tetraps return then the others could get a look-in (grin).

If future collections were to be considered, then candidates might be - assuming animations remain off the menu - the Ice Warriors represented by The Seeds of Death alongside Cold War, and the Zygons through Terror of the Zygons and the still-be-broadcast The Day of the Doctor. The Autons are another notable absentee, though with Terror already in The Master collection and Spearhead from Space only just been re-released on Blu-ray that set is probably unviable (though it would have given Eccleston another chance with a pairing with Rose!).

However, I suspect that sets such as The Macra (The Macra Terror and Gridlock) and The Great Intelligence (The Abominable Snowmen and The Snowmen) are rather less likely ...

The Discs

The Cybermen and The Sontarans are presented on one disc, with the others across two. As these are a collection, all the discs use the same basic "rainy" montage with spinning TARDIS in the background, with the main protagonist taking centre stage (see the screenshots below). Unfortunately this doesn't extend to the stories themselves, so the 'classic' story has the same graphic as the 'modern' - this is most noticeable with The Master, where John Simm graces Terror of the Autons where I would have really liked an imposing Roger Delgado!

The Monster Collection - The Daleks (Journey's End Main Menu) (Credit: BBC Worldwide) The Monster Collection - The Cybermen (Main Menu) (Credit: BBC Worldwide) The Monster Collection - The Master (Terror of the Autons Main Menu) (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

Other than that, these are vanilla releases with only subtitles as an option, and the story-specific sub-menus only give the option to choose a specific episode. There is no restoration work undertaken on these discs either, retaining any rendering issues encountered on their previous dedicated DVD release (for example, David Daker and John Carney credits are still missing from The Time Monster); however, The Tomb Of The Cybermen is the re-released, VidFIREd version from Revisitations 3.


The pairing of a classic era adversary with its modern interpretation is an interesting way to bring those creatures' earlier exploits to the attention of those solely versed in the 21st Century version (not to mention a 'fresh' Doctor, too!) As the publicity says, "These collections are perfect for younger viewers just discovering the scary delights of fifty years of Doctor Who." This is quite a canny move on the part of BBC Worldwide in order to engender an interest in the older stories (and the back catalogue of hundreds of adventures to purcha- enjoy, as well...).

However, there is nothing new of interest to those who already owns previous releases - and the chances are you have, of course - for example with something like Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel this is its fourth outing, having been previously released as part of Series 2 Vol 3, The Cybermen (2009) and Doctor Who: DVD Files Vol #10 (not to mention complete series and era boxed sets!). But then, these DVDs are not really aimed at you!

On the other hand, if you are thinking of treating a younger cousin etc. to a Doctor Who DVD in order to introduce them to larger history of the show then these are perhaps a relatively cheap way to do so.

(It's just a shame that the Jagaroth didn't make a re-appearance in order to have City of Death, so you'll just have to buy them the classic release instead!)

FILTER: - Third Doctor - Second Doctor - First Doctor - Eleventh Doctor - Fourth Doctor - Blu-ray/DVD

The Dalek Generation (AudioGo)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 September 2013 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

The Dalek Generation
Produced by AudioGo
Written by Nicholas Briggs
Read by Nicholas Briggs
Released: June 2013
“You know what the Daleks are?” the Doctor asked.
“Yes,” said Sabel. “They help people!”
“Help people?” The Doctor was appalled. “What do you mean by that?”

You have to envy Nicholas Briggs. Aside from living every young (and old) fan’s dream as a voice artist on the modern Doctor Who TV series – as the embodiment of the Daleks – he has also established himself as a prolific storyteller. Since the inception of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio range, he has contributed countless serials for the medium, including numerous confrontations with Skaro’s infamous pepperpots (whom he has also voiced), as well as four seasons of the excellent spin-off Dalek Empire.

Given that he has spent over a decade virtually living and breathing Daleks, it’s a wonder Briggs did not exhaust every ounce of his creativity on the creatures long ago. His enthusiasm for the monsters has never waned and he has still been able to develop fresh angles for the Daleks in his stories, emphasising them as astute, rational and devious villains. The Dalek Generation, Briggs’ first official work of Doctor Who prose for BBC Books and AudioGO, also offers an unconventional take on the metal meanies. However, whereas Briggs’ Dalek tales are regularly epic, ambitious, action-packed and cleverly structured, The Dalek Generation is a mishmash of competitive elements and styles. The story is part urban noir, part urban thriller, part ancient mystery and part children’s drama. It is also more intimate and introspective, emphasising characterisation over action. Unfortunately, the presence of so many competing elements means it is hard to envisage exactly what kind of story Briggs is trying to tell as you listen to it.

The premise of The Dalek Generation is more implied than spelled out. The prosperous and harmonious Sunlight colony worlds are convinced the Daleks are saviours and philanthropists, not conquerors and devastators. The excellent prologue hints at a Dalek snake in an all too perfect Eden where people are happy and wealthy and (in typical fascist style) the bullet trains run on time! Like the classic Who serial The Happiness Patrol, doubters and dissidents are sought out and reconditioned – or “rehabilitated” - and the general populace are distracted by the joys of consumerism and reality television, oblivious to the true nature of their overlords. But as fascinating as this premise is - it certainly shows us another facet of the Daleks’ ingenuity and cunning - it is not as well developed as it ought to be and it is covered much too late in the story. Indeed, you are led to believe from the prologue that the book will focus strongly on the Doctor (as he so often does) arriving to “turn this mad upside down world up the right way again”. The book defies that expectation. Briggs at least convincingly portrays the Doctor’s failure to show the Sunlight colonists the deceit of their Dalek saviours. However, the underbelly of this so-called perfect world could have been so much more chilling, horrific and graphic. Past Dalek tales like Revelation of the Daleks and Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways have taken no prisoners when unveiling the horrors (both graphic and implied) that the Daleks hide behind a façade of civility.

The major strengths of this novel are actually in the characterisations of the story’s core juvenile characters which I suspect Briggs has based closely on his own young children. Like many fans, if you despised the presence of Clara’s “brat pack” Artie and Angie in the recent episode Nightmare in Silver, then brace yourself. In The Dalek Generation the Doctor, in the absence of a regular companion, befriends three orphans he rescues in the opening chapters. While the three children – Sabel, Jenibeth and Ollus Blakely – could have been extremely irritating, they are, through strong writing, sympathetic and endearing. Their innocence and straightforward attitudes, completely devoid of the pretentiousness of adults, also ably complement the madcap Eleventh Doctor, a man who is extremely hyperactive and who is (despite his great age) child-like and childish in equal measure!

Other themes in this story also resonate with the reader but again seem disjointed in the overall narrative. Not so long after the tragic conclusion of The Angels Take Manhattan, the ugliness of time travel rears its head again. We are reminded why, for all the good he does, the Doctor’s propensity for meddling, coupled with the Daleks’ machinations, can have an unintentionally tragic impact on the course of people’s lives. Briggs definitely knows how to tug at the heartstrings and convey the Time Lord’s anguish when the Doctor must explain to the Blakely orphans why he cannot go back in time and rescue their parents:

The Doctor could still hear Sabel’s crying and when a big sister cries, he thought, so would her little brother and sister. He was right. He could hear Ollus and Jenibeth start to sob. Here he was, thought the Doctor, the man who could bring empires to their knees, stand up to and defeat the most terrible creatures the universe had to offer, and when it came to children crying, his arsenal of rhetoric, ingenuity and witty ripostes was utterly bare. For a moment, all he wanted to do was run away. How could he tell the children he couldn’t go back and save their parents?

Indeed, the Blakely children’s full life story is very affecting and the book’s conclusion is bittersweet. The conclusion, however, would be more powerful if it is not so rushed. Briggs ties together all the distinct elements that make up the book so that you finally understand the scale and depth of the Daleks’ nefarious (and rather over-complex) plan. However, I feel the book’s deus ex machina – the so-called Cradle of Life – is both an unnecessary and clichéd SF staple. It fits in with Briggs’ penchant for giving the Daleks extremely overcomplicated, long term schemes of conquest but clashes with the more personal, intimate story that he has also been striving to write.

Briggs ably performs this audio reading of his own work. Naturally he brings out the voice modulator for the Daleks but he also performs the other voices for his characters, from the naive, bolshie Blakely children to the Peter Miles-like delivery of a colonial judge on the Sunlight world Carthedia (an unashamed nod to Miles’ classic performance as Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks). Briggs also reasonably apes Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor. Smith’s Doctor has been described by many fans as the “shouty” Doctor and Briggs definitely conveys this trait in his portrayal of the Time Lord. You can literally visualise the exclamation marks whenever Briggs delivers some of the Doctor’s more excitable lines and his rants are a contrast to the Daleks’ calmer, rational, calculating and emotionless tones. This is particularly noticeable given the pepperpots are uncharacteristically on their best behaviour and at their most reasonable!

The Dalek Generation is an oddity from Nicholas Briggs. Its premise is interesting but underdeveloped and has also been recently bettered by Malorie Blackman’s Doctor Who e-short The Ripple Effect which offers its own superior vision of a benevolent Dalek society. The story is also teeming with too many other complex, interconnected ideas and themes for the reader to absorb in one sitting. Nevertheless, Briggs’ attempt to write a more personalised, intimate tale between the Doctor and the Blakely children is the highlight of the book and does show that the author is, despite his inner Dalek, capable of subtlety and empathy.

FILTER: - Audio - Eleventh Doctor - BBC Audio - B00CB91WQY

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.

FILTER: - Audio - BBC Audio - Ninth Doctor - 50th Anniversary - 1471311740