THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIOS
AND "THE BOOK OF
BIG FINISH 8TH DOCTOR
CD#4.03 (ISBN 1-8443
5-477-1) RELEASED IN
A manifestation in
the Control Room
forces the TARDIS
onto the Plutonian
shores of the world
sole inhabitant is
the war criminal
Morella Wendigo –
a prisoner of this
But the Doctor and
his new companion
only visitors. THE
fears the arrival
of an assassin SENT
AFTER his prisoner.
An assassin with
There’s no escape
robot jailers serve
obsession with the
works of the 19th
writer Edgar Allan
Poe; An obsession
that might yet lead
to the premature
burial of everyone
on the surface, in
the mist they call
the Red Death!
Turning to Doctor Who’s lauded gothic horror years for inspiration, Big Finish script editor and scribe Alan Barnes realised that, whilst everything even vaguely bloodcur-dling this side of the pond has already been bagged and tagged, the series has never really paid homage to classic American horror; not even the works of 19th century romantic Edgar Allan Poe, whose tormented life provides almost as much fodder as his literary exploits.
Nevermore is a suitably sinister and surreal piece, Barnes deftly encapsulating the defining moments of dread found within each of the pieces that he pays homage to, and then fixing them in a colourful and well-drawn Who setting. Devotees of “Evil Eddie” will find this play awash with allusions to celebrated works such as The Pit and the Pendulum, The Black Cat, and of course, The Raven, as well as various noted adaptations of them. Indeed, the irradiated prison planet that the TARDIS is drawn to here is the living embodiment of Poe’s lurid imagination, teeming with cartoonish robot-like ravens, mysterious moggies, and even the flesh-eating, vaporous pestilence that they call the Red Death…
However, Nevermore is more than just
a series of sumptuous set pieces or a
volley of violent vignettes. The story that
ticks away behind the terror is rich and
riveting, every one of Barnes’ characters
harbouring murky secrets and shames
that make its manifest monstrosities
pale in contrast. The second episode
in particular is abounding with tortuous
twists and misdirection, Barnes finally
lifting the veil on his protagonists, only
to reveal riddles about Time Lords and time travellers; mysteries about black cats and their agendas…
Furthermore, the production boasts a star-studded supporting cast to rival the sensational Situation Vacant. Fenella Woolgar, star of both the 2008 television episode The Unicorn and the Wasp and last year’s audio adventure Fitz’s Story, is the standout performer for
me. Woolgar imbues war criminal Morella Wendigo with disturbing uncertainty, teasing the listener with hints of penitence that are never followed through. What’s more, having grown up in the United States, Woolgar is able to affect a convincing American accent, tying her tones to those of her co-stars and bolstering the production’s sense of identity. Michael J Shannon also impresses as Uglosi, the Poe-obsessed jailer who’s created his own hell;
and Silent Witness star Emilia Fox is almost as impressive as his ostensibly decorous daughter, Berenice. Even Eric Loren (of Evolution of the Daleks fame) is on hand to pull
a memorable double-header as a perverted pilot with x-ray eyes as well as Poe himself.
The flashback scene telling of the Doctor’s meeting with Poe just a few days prior to his death is perhaps the most stirring sequence in the play.
In addition to all of the above, Nevermore also marks the Doctor’s new companion’s maiden voyage in the TARDIS. I ummed and arred a lot as to whether I could realistically review this release (and thereafter the rest of the series) without revealing her identity and thus spoiling Situation Vacant’s finale for those yet to hear it, before concluding that, whilst I could throw a few vague platitudes at her, it wouldn’t really be a worthwhile exercise. This is because much of who Tamsin Drew is, at least at this early stage, derives from her extraordinary back story. A struggling actress whose youth has now passed her by, Tamsin decided that she’d rather re-invent herself as bullish business babe ‘Juliet Walsh’ and audition for a major role in time and space than play another bit-part Mum. And, though Juliet was the first contestant to be eliminated from the Doctor’s companion auditions, Tamsin was ultimately able to prove her worth, earning herself a berth on board the Doctor’s fantastical time ship.
Thanks to this unusual opening gambit, Nevermore is effectively the listener’s introduction
to Tamsin, and both Alan Barnes and actress Niky Wardley make sure that it’s a memorable one. Tamsin is sassy and smart, yet vulnerable with it – she’s wise-cracking in one moment and then going weak in the knees the next. There’s more than a little of Bernice Summerfield about her, particularly in how she chides the Doctor from their first scene to their last, even bringing the full weight of her credentials down on him at the most inopportune of moments. Her impromptu critique of his transparent Uglosi impersonation stands out especially.
However, at times I found Tamsin to be a little overbearing, and though she’s clearly better educated than Lucie was, she doesn’t seem quite as sharp, common sense deserting her on more than one occasion here. Already though Wardley seems to have developed a real affinity with Paul McGann – perhaps an effect of the season’s irregular recording pattern – and I look forward to seeing their spirited relationship progress as the season unfurls.
And so whilst they may say “never say never”, Alan Barnes has said it twice, managing to produce a second ‘never’ here that I’m confident will prove every bit as enduring as his last. Nevermore might not be a patch on Neverland when it comes to weight, but it still has one of the most distinctive identities of any Big Finish production, and is certain to set many a feverish, Poe-fuelled nightmare ablaze.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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