October, 1930. His Majesty’s Airship, the R101, sets off on her maiden voyage to the farthest-flung reaches of the British Empire, carrying the brightest lights of the Imperial fleet. Carrying the hopes and dreams of a breathless nation. Not to mention a ruthless spy with a top-secret mission, a mysterious passenger who appears nowhere on the crew list, a would-be adventuress destined for the Singapore Hilton…and a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.
There’s a storm coming. There’s something unspeakable, something with wings, crawling across the stern. Thousands of feet high in the blackening sky, the crew of the R101 brace themselves. When the storm breaks, their lives won’t be all that’s at stake…
The future of the galaxy will be hanging by a thread.
Paul McGann as the Doctor in Storm Warning.
Paul McGann (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charley Pollard)
Gareth Thomas (Lord Tamworth)
Nicholas Pegg (Lt-Col Frayling)
Barnaby Edwards (Rathbone)
Hylton Collins (Chief Steward Weeks)
Helen Goldwyn (Triskelion)
Written By: Alan Barnes
Directed By: Gary Russell
X X X X X
With all the Doctor Who media out there – the show itself, both old episodes and new, comic books, novelizations, squeezable Adipose stress balls – eventually someone will discover Big Finish Productions. Over 300 audio plays have been produced by Big Finish, focusing on new adventures for our beloved Doctor. With so many to choose from, it’s inevitable that this single question will be asked to the Whovian community. “Which one do I listen to first?”
99% of the time, the answer is Storm Warning.
Storm Warning. is the eighteenth release in the monthly range of Doctor Who audio plays, and stars Paul McGann as the eighth incarnation of the time-traveller from Gallifrey. This was his official return to the role after the not-quite-warmly received TV movie from 1996, and it is indeed a triumphant return. McGann, along with India Fisher as his new companion Charley Pollard and a wonderful supporting cast, spin a tale that is the perfect jumping on point for newcomers to the world of audios.
In true “Who” fashion, the good Doctor, after a run in with time/space devouring vultures called Vortisaurs, finds himself without his TARDIS and trapped on the British airship R101. The R101 was an airship that crashed during its maiden voyage, killing 54 passengers on board. The Doctor, well aware of this historical fact, tries to make his escape without changing history, but it turns out that there was (as always) more to the maiden voyage of the R101 that met the public’s eyes. Mainly, that there was a mysterious passenger in Cabin 43 who desires the Doctor’s presence.
The plot itself would have been right at home in the original television run. For the monthly run of plays, Big Finish has split each play into four episodes that was roughly half-an-hour in length, giving us two hours with the Doctor. If one closed their eyes, it’s very easy to imagine the sets, the blocks, the stage directions, and the scene transitions that those who grew up with the Doctor are so familiar with. Oh, and of course, let us not forget the most important part of any multi-part “Who” serial, the cliffhangers. Yes, they are present, and served as a wonderful callback to the old days.
Of course, even the wonders of nostalgia wouldn’t mean anything if the actors aren’t up to snuff. Luckily for us, Paul McGann is more than equal to the task. While the television movie was the introduction to the Eighth Doctor, it’s here that McGann jumps in and makes the role his own. As opposed to the patient chessmaster that was Sylvester McCoy, McGann is a wide-eyed adventurer who wants to see everything the universe has to offer. He comes off as youthful, energetic, and very curious, throwing himself into situations without a plan. His presentation is much different than any other incarnation, and he truly makes this Doctor his own. He speaks a little fast, tends to mumble under his breath, and loves the run-on sentence. He truly is the Shelley-esque figure from the television movie, finally brought to full life.
A Doctor, of course, is nearly nothing without his companions. One of the great things about Storm Warning serving as an introduction to newcomers is that it’s a chance for them to see what Doctor Who can be like without the specter of former companions always hanging about. The Doctor comes in by himself, but leaves with a new companion, Charley Pollard, played by India Fisher. Companions need a strong introduction story, and this audio gives one to Ms. Pollard, a Edwardian-style adventuress who quickly realizes the Doctor isn’t what he seems. She serves in the standard “there to receive exposition” role, mind you, but she has instant chemistry with the Doctor and quickly slides into the “partner” role. This was the second audio that McGann and Fisher recorded together, The Stones of Venice being the first, so the chemistry between the actors spill over into this one. When Charley goes along with the Doctor at the end of the audio, it sets the foundation for their story arc, so she definitely has a bigger part to play in the upcoming series.
The supporting cast is solid as well, apart from a horrible South African accent from Barnaby Edwards as Rathbone, the “villain” of the piece from British Intelligence. He does his job well, as does Nicholas Pegg as Frayling, who comes across as a Third Doctor era hapless government official who gets in the way more than he helps. Nicholas Pegg, as Lord Tamworth, is the start of the supporting cast, a throwback to the era of 19th century British colonialism.
Now, this audio isn’t all tea and crumpets. The first episode consists of a lengthy portion where the Doctor is talking to himself before fighting off an attack of Vortisaurs. It does come across as a bit cheesy, and a new listener will have to grin and bear it until the scene passes. There’s not much you can do in this case, but the sooner the Doctor interacts with the crew and passengers of the R101, the better.
Also, as the audio follows the “4 episodes x 30 minutes” format, there is some padding, and the result is a drag through Episode 2 with the mysterious passenger, and again in Episode 3 with some cultural exposition for the “villains” of the piece.. Again, though, once the listener gets past it, the rest of the episodes are well worth the wait. It’s not the best story Big Finish has done for the Eighth Doctor, but the flaws are minor and worth looking past.
Final Synopsis – Storm Warning serves as a wonderful point for a newcomer to either the audio plays or to Doctor Who itself, as it re-introduces the Doctor for the first time, adds a sparkling new companion, mixes together Earth history and science fiction, and the final segment of Episode 4 sets the stage for the upcoming story arc concerning Charley. 4/5.
Next up – Trapped aboard a mysterious derelict star destroyer, the Doctor and Charley find themselves facing summary execution. But this is only the beginning of their troubles. The real danger has yet to awaken.
Paul McGann as the Doctor in Sword of Orion.