On the 5th October 1930, the airship R-101 left Cardington bound for India. She had been lengthened and modified because the original design was unstable. Rough weather and engine trouble forced her to low altitude, and over northern France witnesses saw it pitch and roll, then dive, strike the ground, and catch fire. Just six passengers out of 54 survived. Among the dead were members of the craft's design team and Lord Thompson of Cardington, the Secretary of State for Air.
In the Doctor Who universe, things happened only a little differently. The Tardis lands onboard R-101 and the Doctor promptly teams up with Charley, played by India Fisher, a high-spirited young Edwardian adeventuress. (It is positively amazing how quickly new companions learned to trust the Doctor. Obviously some strange mental power of his.) Charley insert after with Charley is an enjoyable, if somewhat predictable, companion. After all, it is no longer PC to have female companions who get scared easily and scream.
Also onboard the R-101 is Lord Tamworth, the Minister for Air, ably played by Gareth Thomas. At first I thought Tamworth was going to be a cliché character, but in fact I was pleasantly surprised. Lord Tamworth turns out have depths to him, and was able to surprise me. I found when listening to the CD for the second time, that I was able to interpret many of his actions in a completely different light, knowing the way that the story was to develop.
Paul McGann plays the Doctor in this adventure. Having been severely disappointed in the Doctor Who TV movie, I was a little apprehensive as to how the CD would turn out. However, it has to be said that Paul McGann was the best thing in the movie -- I enjoyed his performance even when I thought the plot sucked. I needn't have worried, the plot here is excellent and I like McGann's Doctor. The story held together with no obvious loopholes, there were interesting twists and turns, mysteries and a suitably climatic ending to the story. Who is the mysterious passenger in cabin 43? What is Lord Tamworth planning? Does Rathbone have a secret agenda? Are Frayling's worries about the R-101's safety justified? What is the connection between all of the above and the ancient triskelion symbol?
It's an enjoyable story. I've listened to it twice already, and will probably listen to it again. I find there are yourself is three good ways to listen to audios. The first is while sitting in a comfy chair and relaxing; the second is while washing the dishes; and the third is on a Walkman while I am walking into Oxfam on a Tuesday morning. By way of comparison, I only ever managed to listen to The Sevenfold Crown once.
Gareth puts in an enjoyable performance wake-up as Lord Tamworth including an interesting scene that could be straight out of a Boy's Own comic (to say more would be to give away a major element of the plot). I'm not sure if I believed it totally <grin> but I did enjoy it. My favourite minor character is undoubtedly Ramsay -- I think there is a fair chance that Ramsay, along with Charley, will appear in future Paul McGann CDs. Who's Ramsay? Find out for yourselves... I have a pretty clear mental picture as to what Ramsay looks like.
The sound effects are excellent. I didn't miss the visual element, I could see quite clearly in my head what was happening. This was aided by the quality of the writing. The only slightly weak point was the Doctor's opening monologue. It's quickly clear why Doctors need companions; there has to be someone for them to explain everything to. When he is talking to himself, it can carry less conviction.
I've listened to several Big Finish productions since I initially listened to The Fearmonger (with Jacqueline Pearce). I've come to the conclusion that the productions written direct for audio work out better than those adapted from books. The book adaptations often have points when I feel that I'm missing something. There are no actual gaps in the plot, but I'm aware that I'm missing out on background detail. There are characters whom I'm sure played a larger role in the original story. This doesn't happen in the director for audio stories -- they are written as complete adventures in themselves, and the number of characters and the pacing suit the audio medium. This story was written by Alan Barnes. Apart from the opening monologue (which would admittedly have been difficult to do in any other way) he manages to very effectively convey the visual elements of a scene, without resorting to over-obvious dialogue.
Virtually my only complaint about the entire production (and the same thing annoyed me about The Fearmonger) is that the track numbers for the beginning of each episode are not given. Each of the four episodes runs for about half an hour, and this works well as it gives natural break points. I just find it irritating when returning to listen to the second episode on a CD to have to try and remember whether it begins on track six or on track seven.
Overall, I highly recommend this production. I only wish someone would give Big Finish the rights to produce Blake's 7 audio. I'm sure they do better than the BBC did.
Last changed on 20th of January 2002
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