Commentary From the Ruins of the Slacker Generation
Along with my recent desire to start reading the BBC Past Doctor novels, I decided to once again pick up the Eighth Doctor audio adventures, starring Paul McGann and published by Big Finish. McGann only had one stab at his role as the Eighth Doctor, which was in the 1996 TV movie that was co-produced between the BBC and Universal television. The American influences in the movie, I have to say, killed any hope of the movie turning into a series. Still, the movie was not a total failure. For example, McGann’s performance was fantastic in light of the material that he had to work with and limited screen time. Eric Roberts’ Master has a certain campy charm, and given better development he could have been a particularly strong iteration of the character. Either way, the movie is a strange footnote in Doctor Who lore, and it seemed that McGann would only get this one shot at playing the Doctor.
Then, Big Finish, who had been producing original audio dramas featuring the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors, secured Paul McGann to play the Eighth Doctor in a series of ongoing audio dramas that were set after the television movie. In essence, this is continuation of the Eighth Doctor adventures, and as such were broken out into seasons upon release. The first McGann audio dramas appeared in 2001, and before the new TV series made the airwaves, this felt as close to a new series as we would have. McGann is my favorite Doctor, and I have a great fondness for his series of audio dramas, even if they were not all perfect. Years ago I used to own a number of the adventures on CD, but for various reasons sold them. Recently, Big Finish has begun selling downloadable MP3 versions of the audios, many for the cheap price of $7.99 (for the older 2-CD stories) and $12.99 for the newer ones. At these great prices, I couldn’t resist.
First up is Storm Warning, a flawed but solid tale written by Alan Barnes. The Doctor winds up stuck aboard the doomed Airship R101, and things get complicated by a mysterious passenger being kept in one of the cabins and a certain young lady named Charley Pollard.
The biggest flaw with Storm Warning is that it sounds like the author’s first audio drama. Too often, particularly at the beginning of the story when the Doctor is alone, we are “told” about what’s going on as opposed to hearing it happen. Characters describing events and things in the story that comes off as stiff and awkward; no one would really say (for example, not in this story), “The cup? You mean the blue one right there with the flower pattern by the toaster?” Thankfully, things improve in later Eighth Doctor stories, but in Storm Warning this is an audio drama sin.
McGann himself is slipping into the role but does so with grace. McGann once again shines in the role, taking the full-of-life character of the Eighth Doctor and having him work through the mystery and try to save the day when the aliens arrive. India Fisher makes her debut here as companion Charley Pollard, and does a great job of giving the character spunk and depth, a tough balance. The rest of the cast are fine; no great standouts and the eventual alien threat is one with an interesting social makeup. Aside from the flaws mentioned above, the cast and production are very nicely done.
Storm Warning isn’t a fantastic start to the Eighth Doctor audios, but it’s a very good one. Despite its flaws, Storm Warning makes for enjoyable listening and gives us a great TARDIS team.