Monday, July 07, 2014

Adventuring with the Eighth Doctor - Who Audio 4

Three entries ago I said my aim was the Eighth Doctor, yet I've managed to do a good job of avoiding him so far. Well know we finally get on with it. There may be the odd deviation occasionally, but I'm sticking with Eight right through to the end of Charley. Don't worry we'll get to what that means.

Storm Warning is the first proper Eighth adventure we get to go on with Paul McGann. Yes okay, there was the film. But we all know how I feel about that one. This here, is a proper Doctor Who serial, with the Doctor who to date only really has his two regenerations on screen. Big Finish are letting this Doctor stretch his legs. And boy does he stretch them.

His first adventure dumps him on-board the R101, the British equivalent of the Hindenburg, on its ill-fated maiden flight. It also introduces us to Charlie, the Doctor's first audio companion, who might be welcome on-board the TARDIS simply because there's a chance she should have died in the R101's crash into the French countryside. It's one of those brilliant ideas that's almost a shock that no one has thought of before. The Doctor being unable to change history is one of those facts that the series hinges upon, but no one ever thought to hang a companion on the concept. Technically there's aspects of Captain Jack Harkness here, with his fixed point of time, but Charley beat him out of the gate by a clear four years, and his problem to Time is different to Charley's. So instead the Doctor invites her along to make sure history doesn't get averted. Maybe. The script does a rather nice job of not making it that clear.

Storm Warning isn't without its faults. A couple of characters sound a little too alike, and as a result it was easy to lose track of a few of them. The aliens weren't that original, having fallen into a oddly benevolent despotic class system, one of which is straining against the rules and wants to start a war. But they are pulled off well. Paul McGann spends much of the first episode alone in the TARDIS, having to explain the plot to no one in particular, which is possibly the worst scripting I've heard by Big Finish yet. But once past that, it flew along nicely, unlike the R101.

Then it was on to the Sword of Orion, which is one of the big recommendation given when people ask about the Eighth Doctor. It also has a very Earthshock feel, mainly because it's Cybermen on a spaceship. There's also a lot of Tomb of the Cybermen about it, with the robotic lot coming out of their cyro-pods being a large factor, and constant references to their war being over and the majority of their race being asleep on Telos, just waiting for Patrick Troughton to appear. It's like Big Finish took their best hits and created a new adventure out of it. I know back at The Genocide Machine I moaned about the continued use of the Big Bads, but when you get stories like this I don't have a problem with it.

Like Doctor Who so often does, it conjures up a world that you want to spend more time in, but we only get a brief glimpse and we're off, just like the Doctor. Here it's the Orion Wars, a conflict kicked off between humans and androids, as the mechanical beings strive for freedom from their oppressive human masters. Okay, it's well trodden ground, but the sell you get on the conflict halfway through sounds awesome, and adds real emergency and tension to why the other humans are present, which is distinctly better than Tomb of the Cybermen managed.

Probably my only problem with the entire serial is that the twist with the Captain is pretty damn obvious, and it comes across like the Doctor has figured it out round about the same time I did. Only then he hasn't and she actually has to show him. It felt like it betrayed the very concept of the Doctor. Oh, and the criminal dealings of half the junkship's crew. It's one of the first things we're introduced to, before we meet the majority of them we're shown one member doing his best to sell on dodgy goods. But the episode never goes anywhere with it, just using it as vague justification for a mutiny. However, the main criminal's final moments are pretty horrific, and really sell how soulless the Cybermen have become.

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