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THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE
Once Upon a Time
there was a girl
called Kitty who
worked at an Inn.
One night a stranger
walked in, through
a door, and over a
bridge made of frost
and into another
World, and Kitty
The Minister of Chance is the latest addition to the swelling ranks of Who spin-
offs, and a rather unexpected one at that. I for one had no idea of its existence until one day
it appeared on doctorwhonews.net. It’s been quietly gathering quite a reputation online as
an impressive production well worth listening to, and on the strength of this first episode and its prologue, I’m certainly inclined to agree. Billed as a “radiophonic drama - made using a combination of film and radio techniques and delivered by podcast,” it is incredible value for money. The prologue is free to download and the first episode costs a mere £1.49, which belies the excellent production values and the highly impressive cast.
The name of the series will be familiar to anyone au fait with the 2001 BBCi webcast Death Comes to Time. The Minister of Chance was a bon mot-dropping Time Lord interventionist played by Stephen Fry, who stole the show and entirely out-Doctored the Doctor. As a prod-uction, it was enjoyable but flawed, veering from storming adventure to impenetrable drivel, while attempting, and occasionally managing, to create a sense of the epic. The character
of the Minister clearly had more mileage, yet nothing more has been heard of him until now.
While it’s a shame not to have Stephen Fry back to reprise the role, Julian Wadham takes to the part with aplomb, upping the sarcasm and arrogant superiority of the character. He still remains resourceful and ever ready with a witty retort, however - when accused of alerting enemy forces to his allies’ presence, he responds: “You don’t think your stealth shouting had anything to do with it?” There are plenty of amusing lines and lyrical phrases on offer here, and the play also enjoys not having to strictly adhere to a family audience. “I’m here to talk
to the ambassador, fuck off,” being a particularly memorable example when sneered by the wonderful Paul Darrow.
The series works better for not having to constrain itself to any of the trappings of the Doctor Who universe; indeed, nowhere on the series’ site is there any mention that it is linked to Doctor Who, be this for legal or artistic reasons. There are no mentions of Time Lords here, and, thus far, no hint of the Minister’s origins. The first instalment, The Broken World, takes place in the nation of Tanto, a primitive yet strategically-placed country on a distant world. Tanto has been occupied by a neighbouring state, with the fascinating conceit that science is now outlawed and magic is the order of the day. Of course, we the listener agree with the learned professors of Tanto, who say that magic is the lie and science the way forward. On the other hand, the Minister does seem to possess the ability to create doorways to other worlds out of thin air, with only the line “I know the formula for doors,” by way of explanation.
The Who connection is not forgotten, however, for there a two Doctors in attendance. Paul McGann is magnificent as the ambassador-cum-governor Durian, a softly spoken monster whose unauthorised annexation of Tanto lays the foundation for the whole episode. The free-to-download prologue is essential listening; not only does it outline the situation of the first episode, it gives the listener the perfect opportunity to hear McGann demonstrates what a charming villain he can be. His predecessor Sylvester McCoy, on the other hand, appears as his superior, the Witch Prime, leader of the magically-inclined invading force, giving an expansive performance which shows him at his most squawkingly Sylvesterish. And this
is only the beginnings of a very impressive cast, which also includes the aforementioned Paul Darrow as the cunning General Lord Rathen and the über-classy Jenny Agutter as the renegade scientist Professor Cantha.
While it may not be Doctor Who and is clearly carving out its own identity, The Minister of Chance will appeal to a similar audience and shares many similarities with its ancestral series. The Minister is initially travelling alone, but rapidly acquires an unwanted companion, the orphan girl Kitty, played by Lauren Crace. Stroppy, outspoken and intelligent in spite of her lack of education, Kitty is the sort of character who will grant respect only to those who earn it. Crace’s down to earth performance perfectly complements Wadham’s aristocratic turn. She also has some mystery to her; discovered abandoned, described as a ‘foundling’ and a ‘sprite,’ she possesses formidable strength and unusually acute vision. It seems there will be plenty more to learn about Kitty as her adventures continue.
The eponymous Minister may not travel in a TARDIS, he does go about his business in a rather Doctorish manner. He arrives in Tanto intent on investigating the heavens of its world, concerned that there are anomalies that require explanation and could point to disastrous goings on. He has little time for the local politics, however, soon abandoning his short-term allies for another world, reached not by space-time capsule but by the poetic sounding ‘frost bridge between worlds.’ By the end of the first episode, as Tanto undergoes developments, Kitty and the Minister face dangers of a different kind on an even stranger world.
Whichever world the Minister’s in, it is brought to life with a truly immersive soundscape. The production is astonishingly accomplished in this manner, creating an environment that gently absorbs the listener. Whether the “combination of film and radio” will lead to a greater visual aspect to the production in future is uncertain. Regardless, the current blend of fine writing, superb acting and excellent production values lead to a wonderfully-realised world and quite enthralling listening experience - one that I found I could happily listen to three times without boredom. Exactly how the series will develop remains to be seen, but on the strength of the first episode, I am optimistic. Indeed, it is on the strength of this episode, and the second, The Forest Shakes, due later this month, that the remainder of this series rests. The four remaining episodes will only be produced if enough funds are raised through sales to make it viable to do so. At less than two pounds a pop, I can certainly recommend purchasing an episode very highly indeed. Nothing comes from nothing...
The second, and hopefully not final, episode of the new Minister of Chance audio series builds on the promising set-up of the first. This time around, the greater political situation takes a less prominent position, the story focusing more on the travails of the individual characters. As before, the performances are excellent and the soundscape immersive, although on occasion it can be difficult to hear some characters’ voices clearly in the three-dimensional-sounding world.
The central relationship between the Minister and Kitty remains hugely entertaining. The Minister clearly has some reason for having Kitty around, otherwise he’d just boot her out immediately, but he makes it clear that on a personal level he can’t actually stand having her around. Kitty, for her part, remains pragmatic, forthright and continually aggravated by the Minister’s know-it-all attitude. Julian Wadham’s version of the Minister stands on his own in this instalment rather better than in the first; he seems a distinct incarnation of the character, rather than a recasting of an earlier role. Although he’s clearly on the side of right - or what, from his cosmic viewpoint, he considers to be right - he isn’t above sacrifice and accepts collateral damage. On the other hand, he has enough of a sense of humour to name a huge monster ‘Oscar.’
However callous his actions
or mysterious his motives, the
Minister is certainly a far more
pleasant character than the
Horseman, his fellow traveller.
While the Minister continues
to search for him, the Horse-
man has been leaving a trail
of destruction in his wake.
When these two finally meet head-on, it should be colourful…
Kitty spends as much time away from the Minister as she does with him. Much of the story sees her in the company of Sutu, played with great likeability by Gethin Anthony. Sutu seems to be a lost peasant, sucked into this strange adventure across worlds, but he has his own secrets. The relationship between Kitty and Sutu is just as effective as that between her and the Minister, realistically portrayed with just a smattering of sexual tension amid their uneasy teamwork.
However, this episode belongs to Jenny Agutter. As Professor Cantha, she provides a truly noble character, a woman of great means and intelligence dedicated to the cause of peace. While the Minister’s manipulations leave fallout, Cantha uses her predicament, as a prisoner forced to work on weaponry, to the advantage of her cause. She brings soldiers round to her way of thinking through nothing more than pure, reasoned discussion. If there’s truly a hero in this story, I’m not sure that it’s the Minister at all.
While the wider cast get their moments to shine, it seems we shall have to wait to hear this expansive story develop. That’s why it’s critical that these two episodes are a huge success: unless they sell well, Radio Static will be unable to finance the production of further episodes, and I’ll never know who the Horseman is, what the Minister wants, what Kitty’s origins are, or whether Professor Cantha will be successful in her resistance. So you’d better click here and spend that £1.29 right now.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2011
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Presuming that this production is intended to link with Doctor Who in the first place, it seems it very probably exists in the same peculiar universe as Death Comes to Time. In the final episode of that serial, the Minister had his TARDIS revoked. The Broken World presumably takes place after this, as the Minister seems to no longer be in possession of a time capsule. We can also presume that he has undergone a regeneration, from the Fry incarnation to the Wadham version, in the interim.
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