I had given some thought as to what story my first review should be about and originally I had decided that the first Doctor Who Big Finish play would be a good Idea. Then, as is always the case, I started thinking some more about it. Did I really want to do my first review on a past story when there have been so many more interesting stories since then? But surely they are all “past” stories arenâ€™t they, as you couldnâ€™t review a story unless youâ€™ve seen it. Then again dealing with a show that involves Time Travel the past IS the presentâ€¦ and the future, depending on your point of view. So after battling a Dalek of a headache, I decided to get serious and pick a play based my own enjoyment.
The story I chose is Storm Warning the first Big Finish play to feature one of my personal favorite Doctors, Paul McGann. Why had I chosen this story? Simple, ever since 1996, whatever your opinion of the TV Movie, most of us agreed on one thing, Paul McGann was indeed a fantastic Doctor. Sadly the powers that be did not see things as we did and the season that never was, never happened. Then in 2001 we got that chance and personally I, and many others, were not let down.
The first thing you hear is a new arrangement of the old familiar theme tune. At first it seems odd, the initial thought is that of “oh my whatâ€™s this?”, then your ears and your mind work together and realize different is not always bad. The next familiar sound is that of the Doctor as he chats with himself while trying to brush up on the workings of the TARDIS. As fate would have it the Doctorâ€™s peaceful trip is turned upside down when he runs into a bit of trouble with a Vortisaur in the temporal vortex. This meeting has caused him to land the TARDIS onboard the Air Ship R101 in the year 1930. And as if thatâ€™s not bad enough the TARDIS is dropped from the Air Ship as ballast leaving the Doctor Stranded on the R101.
For all of those real history buffs out there all of the names of the characters onboard the R101 have been changed out of respect for the dead.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled review.
Needing to find a way back to his ship the Doctor decides to have a look around the R101 and runs into a young girl by the name of Charlotte Pollard (Charley to her friends). Charley has gotten herself into a bad situation as she has been discovered to be stowaway onboard the air ship while pretending to be a member of itâ€™s crew. This is one of those moments that make you realize that we were right about Paul McGann; he is as mentioned before, a fantastic Doctor. In his first meeting with Charley he is as pleasant, playful, authoritative and childlike as the Doctor ever was – from the name-dropping to his simple misunderstanding of the situation, to his deep insight into the heart of Charley just by looking into her eyes. It would seem the Doctor really is backâ€¦
Soon after their meeting the Doctor and Charley discover that the R101 is not merely on its maiden voyage as history would portray it, but really it is on a secret mission for the British Empire. They also discover an alien of the Triskele race is onboard the air ship, but in a twist to more classic stories this alien is not a threat up to an evil scheme. Instead it is a prisoner under the watch of Lord Tamworth and his South African “valet” Rathbone.
One of the techniques that Gary Russell and the Big Finish team use to make the characters more easily identifiable from one and other, (that is in the audio medium things could get a bit confusing if everyone sounded the same) is to have the actors use different accents or voices. So far this has worked out very well for them with only a couple of plays making it a bit noticeable. In this particular play Lord Tamworth and Rathbone are good examples of both as the characters, or more accurately the actors, never distract you from your listening with their performances. One other character worth mentioning, perhaps just out of fun, is Lieutenant-Colonel Frayling. Aside from being one of the main players in this story, his voice bares an uncanny resemblance to Simon Jones, who most of us remember from “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.
In true Doctor Who fashion the Doctor and his new friend Charley get themselves caught up in the middle of this secret mission, with the Doctor now having been accused of being a German spy and Charley as his accomplice. Also still in the mix is the Vortisaur from the stories teaser, this time causing the R101 a bit of trouble. The Doctor must work to get the creature back to the Temporal Vortex, help the captured alien and find a way back to his TARDIS before things get out of control.
Naturally things do get out of control when the R101 proceeds with its mission and meets up with a Triskele ship to start negotiations with its people. With out wanting to give away too much, or simply write a review which is just a rundown of events from the story, I will stop here with the plot. I will, however, recommend that you pick up this story for yourselves to see what all the excitement is about.
In the end, as many of you will have guessed, the Doctor walks away with a new companion in Charlotte Pollard, played to perfection by India Fisher.
She is a different sort of companion from what we have seen in the past and yet she still fits the bill of the classic character (without all the screaming and carrying on). However she is more entangled in the grand scheme of this Doctorâ€™s life, the universe and everything then even Ace was to the 7th Doctor. For example all of the 8th Doctorâ€™s first two seasons are connected back to Charley. This may seem like a bad thing to some who worry about the rewatch value of the stories, however as important as this story arc is to the first two seasons each story was made as a standalone adventure. So just like all of our favorites from the TV series they can be viewed individually, but when put together as a whole they paint a much bigger picture.
You may have noticed that I mentioned a few times in this review about seeing or viewing the play when it is in audio form. I didnâ€™t do this because I am crazy or not smart enough to realize what Iâ€™m writing about, I did it to make a point. Just because these stories are in the audio format does not mean that you canâ€™t see them, the visuals are all there in your head and you can make the story have whatever budget you want. I myself always see the same pictures when I “rewatch” an episode. This is due to the fact that characters give you a vocal description that really does create the pictures for you and never seems out of place, with few exceptions.
It is interesting to note that Big Finish didnâ€™t use the Daleks or the Cybermen or anything like that to bring back the 8th Doctor; instead they created an original story an original alien race and an original companion.
All this new stuff and they still achieved the feel and flavor of the old show. So now with the new series on the way this year I get to see it in a different light then most fans as I have been lucky enough to have had new and exciting Doctor Who for the last 4 years, and the fun is not over yet.
Some people say that the Big Finish plays are not “real Who” as they have no pictures, but I couldnâ€™t disagree more. They are licensed by the BBC and have the real actors playing their TV characters, no fakes no substitutions.
I look at them more like the missing Hartnell or Troughton stories of the 60â€™s. We have been cheated out of seeing them as they were destroyed, well so were McGannâ€™s when he was never given the chance. Now he has one, wonâ€™t you take one too?
In short “Storm Warning” is everything the TV Movie should have been and more, and from here they only get better.
First published 10th February 2005