THIS STORY TAKES
AND "THE MAGIC
MARK MORRIS (1),
NICK SCOVELL (2),
MARK MICHALOWSKI (3)
& STEVEN HALL (4)
BIG FINISH CD#115
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
UNEARTHS AN ANCIENT
SECRET BURIED IN THE
VALLEY OF THE KINGS.
ON THE ISLAND OF
ATTEMPTS TO PUSH BACK
THE FRONTIERS OF THE
IN WAR-TORN LONDON, A
COCKNEY SPIV TAKES
POSSESSION OF A
BIZARRE ALIEN OBJECT.
AND IN A MILITARY
BUNKER IN THE COLD
HEART OF ANTARCTICA,
THE STRANGEST AND
DEADLIEST OF THE
ENEMIES LIES IN WAIT.
1. FALSE GODS 2. ORDER OF SIMPLICITY
3. CASUALTIES OF WAR 4. THE WORD LORD
These days Big Finish’s commemorative releases lean more towards the short story anthology than they do the ball-busting slobberknockers. And whilst not many of us would
say no to a wistful multi-Doctor companion smackdown every year or five, there is certainly something to be said for the quieter and more meditative approach to an anniversary. And with 100 under Colin Baker’s belt and the matchless Circular Time under Peter Davison’s, this time around it falls to Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor to have a crack at the audio omnibus.
Interestingly though - and in marked contrast to 100 - Forty-Five relies not upon the experience of four proven Big Finish audio storytellers but instead upon the excitement and enthusiasm of new blood.
The anthology’s first offering is penned by prolific Who novelist Mark Morris, who most recently impressed with his thought-provoking tenth Doctor adventure for BBC Books, Ghosts of India. False Gods is, quite astonishingly, Morris’ first script in a professional writing career that spans two decades, and the commission must have been doubly daunting for him given that the script in question was for the notoriously tricky audio medium. Fortunately though, Morris’ tale of troubled Time Lords and Osirian history ebbs and flows every bit as beautifully as his books do, and so hopefully this won’t be the last that we hear from him (‘hear’ being the operative word).
The second story of the collection failed to have as much of an impact on me, sadly. Whilst Order of Simplicity by Nick Scovell is undoubtedly built upon a fascinating premise, it simply didn’t hook me within its short running time. For me, this brought into sharp focus one of the chief difficulties with Big Finish’s one-off episode format – the stories absolutely have to hook the listener swiftly, because there’s no time to win them round in a second or third episode.
My biggest moan about Forty-Five though would have to be that my CD arrived with a staple through the Doctor’s head instead of the booklet’s centrefold – not a welcome sight to such a compulsive collector! Still, even this gross blunder was in some small way made up for by the breathtaking artwork to be found inside. I’m not sure whether the glorious panoramic image of the Doctor, Ace, and Hex inside the TV Movie console room was the work of Simon Holub or Alex Mallinson, but whoever deserves the credit should be lobbying the beeb for a licence to sell posters of this kind of stuff.
The second disc of Forty-Five kicks off with an absolute cracker – Casualties of War by Mark Michalowski. Michalowski is a writer that I’ve greatly admitted ever since he first burst onto the scene almost seven years ago with his riveting seventh Doctor and Ace novel, Relative Dementias. In that novel, I was particularly impressed with how Michalowski portrayed the regulars; after years and years’ worth of books and audios that developed the two characters almost beyond recognition, he seemed to nail them exactly as they were on television, which I found rather invigorating.
“We’re never going to be properly right, are we? Bye, Mum.”
Here, he once again manages to capture that same lightening in the bottle, especially so far as Ace goes, whilst still pushing the characters forward. Aided and abetted by one of Sophie Aldred’s most polished performances for Big Finish, here Michalowski shows us a side of Ace that we seldom get to see, and what’s more he does so in the most enthralling of ways.
“We all have our secrets, Hex.”
And Hex isn’t neglected, either; indeed, Casualties of War is the first story since No Mans’ Land to really toy with the secrets of Hex’s cloudy past and whet our appetites for the payoff that will doubtless follow in due course. “Who’d have thought there was so much to a 25-minute audio play, eh?”, as Michalowski puts it himself.
However, as extraordinary an offering as Casualties of War is, it is surpassed by one of the most imaginative and inspired episodes that I’ve heard in a long time – The Word Lord, by Raw Shark Texts author Steven Hall. In this tale, the Doctor and his companions come up against a bounty-hunting creature from another dimension… that lives inside language. Think …ish, but good.
Not only is the concept captivating, but it is also executed fabulously by all concerned. The performances – especially those of Paul Reynolds, who plays the eponymous Word Lord, and Sylvester McCoy, who doesn’t – are utterly dazzling. And Reynolds’ interpretation is made all the more sinister as it approximates David Tennant’s tenth Doctor so closely. Well that, and of course the suggestion that he can’t actually be vanquished in our universe…
Turning to the CD Extras, once again Big Finish give the writers’ their say; something that I found even more insightful than usual here as they are each new to the range, if not the medium. It was especially delightful to hear Hall’s evident excitement at seeing his script produced and being able to each lunch with the Doctor – a touching reminder that, even after forty-five years, most - if not all - Doctor Who writers are still devoted fans with a profound love for the series.
All in all then, Forty-Five is yet another highly recommend release in what is proving to be a very exciting 2008 for Big Finish Productions. With stories set in the past, the present, and the future, in just four episodes this compilation manages to sum up so much of what of the series is about, and told as it is by four new distinctive voices to the range, the next forty-five years look every bit as bright.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
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to be identified as the author of this work.
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