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[Note: this review was originally written for the Blake's 7 mailing list and Judith Proctor's fan site, so is mildly B7-centric.]
|The Doctor||Paul McGann|
|Lord Tamworth||Gareth Thomas|
|Chief Steward Weeks||Hylton Collins|
Another in the series of audio Dr Who adventures from Big Finish Productions, this one featuring the Eighth Doctor. This was the first time I'd heard one of the Big Finish CDs, and I'm very impressed. It is Dr Who, it just happens not to have visuals. I only wish they had the rights to do similar work with B7.
The plot is excellent, vintage Dr Who set in a universe that would look remarkably like our own, were it not for the presence of assorted aliens and monsters. In this case, the real-life inspiration is the maiden, and fatal, voyage of the airship R101 in 1930. None of the original crew are aboard the Who universe R101, but other details of her flight are historically accurate. The special effects are, of course, so much better than on the telly. The script is well written in this regard; it's very easy to "see" what's happening. And I love the monster, it's just so Who. I can see it being exactly the sort of thing they'd have done in the tv series if they'd had the effects budget, although Mary Whitehouse would have probably been most upset if the FX team had reproduced one scene.
The story is very atmospheric, and drew me in, so much so that the crash scene was genuinely distressing. It's sensitive handling of the blurring between fiction and a factual tragedy, for which I'm glad.
Oddly enough, the one disappointment for me was Paul McGann's performance, particularly at the start of episode 1. I hadn't expected this, because I thought he was the one good thing about the American telemovie. His first lines are a monologue, and it sounds, well, like an actor reading his lines. It gave me the impression that McGann isn't used to working with audio only. Fortunately his performance improved later on.
Gareth Thomas is superb as Lord Tamworth, the Minister responsible for the airship project. The character appears initially to be a blustering, bigoted idiot, but as the story develops it becomes clear that there is more depth to the man than first appearances suggest. He is, in the end, a very sympathetic character, with a strong sense of duty and an ability to make difficult moral decisions that conflict with his personal prejudices. Yes, I'm biased - but I think Gareth's stunning performance has a lot to do with the success of this character.
The other characters are generally well-played, although I do have one nitpick - that South African accent is so bad that I didn't recognise it at first, and why does a British patriot have an accent that's more Afrikaans than English-speaking South African? This confused me somewhat until it was explicitly stated that he was a British patriot, since I had assumed that he was the opposite.
Other minor nitpicks; well, only one. Yes, it's a long-running joke that the Doctor has been present at (or meddled in) any historical event that happens to be mentioned by one of the Earth characters. But too many of these references in one story becomes irritating, and this production crossed the line as far as I'm concerned. I think this may simply be a diiference between audio and video, as such references can be more subtle on video, and it may not annoy other people.
Nice touches: written in four episodes, complete with title episodes and repeat of last week's cliffhanger. The Radio Times style episode listings in the middle of the booklet. Yes, it does make a difference...
It's a wonderful production, and I would recommend that any Who fan who doesn't already have it put it on the Christmas present list. Even if you're not a Who fan, any fans of Gareth Thomas should seriously consider getting this CD set. He has a meaty role, and does a superb job with it.
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© Copyright 2001 Jules Jones