When your fictional series uses time travel as one of it’s plot devices, it allows you to draw from exciting moments in history to make adventures that are packed with both action and terrifying danger and as moments in world history go, few eras have as much opportunity for dangerous moments and excitement as the wild west, and it seems a perfect fit for a fast paced Doctor Who tale.
The Runaway Train opens nicely on a railway platform, as three strangers are brought together by the Doctor to find and guard a mysterious alien object, smack in the middle in the American Civil War, with the Doctor at first oblivious to how and when he brought these men into his employ. The reading of the opening scenes shows one of the small flaws in this audio, which is although Matt Smith has both proved himself to be an excellent actor and in this instance a very fine narrator and reader, his American accents seem to all be the same.
Annoyingly, I was left confused as to who was saying what in the spoken dialog, but this is a small nit pick as Matt in general does great moving the story along at the mostly frantic pace as it races across the desert throughout the story.
Westerns, like horror pictures, are full of archetypical characters and situations. We all know the protagonist of that scary movie is going to investigate that ominous house on the hill near where his car stalled, and westerns are full of guns, horse chases and train robbery’s. The Runaway Train has these elements in abundance, and although they are the same plot devices you have probably seen or heard in a wild west setting before, they are woven into the story well enough that the audio book still makes for a nice little tidy adventure story for the Eleventh Doctor.
One thing the story conveys very well is how dirty, dusty and violent the old west was, and how much the violence hurt real people and their lives, a depth I was surprised to find in an audio book.
If there is anything that ruins an sort of fictional adventure for me, I would have to say that any conclusion to a story must have loose ends tied up in a solid yet believable fashion. The Runaway Train pulls out at every stop along the line, the climax neatly explains everything we have heard during the audio book, and although I think the Doctor went a bit easy on the alien presented considering his original end goal, the end of the tale completes a nice little side trip to the current series of Doctor Who on television, especially for those of us dying to get the know the Eleventh Doctor a bit better.