The Doctor and Peri find themselves in the Museum of Aural Antiquities, where every sound is stored for posterity – from the speeches of Visteen Krane to security service wire taps and interrogation tapes. But they also find an intruder, mysteriously changed recordings, and a dead body.
Before long the Doctor realises that there is more going on than a simple break-in or murder. How can he defeat a creature that is made of pure sound?
Colin Baker as the Doctor in Whispers of Terror.
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Nicola Bryant (Peri)
Rebecca Jenkins (Amber Dent / Car Computer)
Hylton Collins (Goff Fotherill / Computer Voice)
Matthew Brenher(Visteen Krane)
Harvey Summers (Radio Announcer)
Peter Miles (Museum Curator Gantman)
Mark Trotman (Miles Napton)
Nick Scovell (Detective Berkeley)
Steffan Boje (Hans Stengard)
Lisa Bowerman (Beth Pernell)
Justin Richards(Answerphone Message)
Jacqueline Rayner (Audio Voices)
Written By: Justin Richards
Directed By: Gary Russell
X X X X X
Oh, Colin Baker.
The Sixth Doctor never got a far shake during his television run, thanks to a whole bunch of executive meddling. There were complaints that he was written as too mean, too callous, too eager to commit violence. His choice in clothing was ghastly. His first season was cut short. His second season consisted on a long story arc that grated on some viewers. He was the only Doctor to be fired from the role, not even being granted a proper regeneration scene. And, of course, his run gave us The Twin Dilemma. Ghastly.
It’s easy to be apprehensive when first provided with the serials of his audio run. How could a Doctor that was so misused on television come across to the ears? Could those fans of the Sixth Doctor be convinced to give his Big Finish plays a try? Could those who weren’t fans of Colin Baker be convinced to give his Big Finish plays a try?
Well, considering that Colin Baker was voted “favorite Doctor” by Big Finish listeners a few years ago, I would say the rehabilitation of the Sixth Doctor has been a smashing success. And, much like how Storm Warning is a great introduction to Paul McGann, Whispers of Terror is a superb entry play for those unfamiliar with, or wanting to get re-acquainted with, Colin Baker.
The Museum of Aural Antiquities holds audio records that cover the entire spectrum. Speeches, wire taps, interrogations, communication logs. It is here that the Doctor and Peri find themselves, arriving in the museum and immediately stumbling across a dead body and a concerned security guard. What killed the man? Why is someone so eager to play a broadcast tribute to a deceased actor? Why are the actor’s recordings being altered? And why are there whispers when no one is speaking?
Colin Baker’s Doctor is loud. He’s brash. He’s bold. He’s absolutely right all the time. And where Peter Davison’s Doctor got into adventures based upon his curiosity, Baker’s Doctor gets involved because he wants to solve the puzzle and prove his intellect. In the hands of another actor, this type of performance could quickly become one the audience loathes, the brainy know-it-all who never looks bad. Baker, though, pulls it off with a mix of charm, bombast, and arrogance. He’s not great because he says he is, after all, he’s great because he IS. His return to the role is triumphant. A listener can get the sense that this is the way Baker envisioned portraying the Doctor, and now that he’s been given the opportunity, Baker runs with it to great success.
It’s almost like going back to the 80’s when listening to this play, as both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant’s voices sounds like they just walked off the set of Trial of a Time Lord. A lot of fans give Bryant short shrift because she sometimes came off as nothing more than eye candy, but on audio, Bryant gives a great performance as Peri. As soon as we meet her and the Doctor again for the first time, they’re sniping, snickering, mumbling, and needling one another as if they’d been friends for decades. The insults are petty, but fun, and instead of being just the damsel in distress, Peri comes through with a few suggestions and takes action that drive the story forward. For as much kudos as Baker receives for his show as the Doctor, Bryant deserves credit as well for showing a stronger, but familiar side to Peri.
The supporting cast is excellent as well. It’s a dead giveaway just who the sound creature is, even before the reveal, but the further revelations of the villains of the piece are handled well. There’s a great twist that I didn’t seen coming involving one of the secondary characters in the final act that’s very well done, and the final fate of the sound creature is a welcome change from the usual fates that befall such creatures through the history of Doctor Who. Lisa Bowerman, as Beth Pernell, turns in a strong performance as well. She plays her character’s motivations and actions with just the right amount of conviction and dedication to keep her from sliding into “chewing the scenery” territory.
Whispers of Terror is a serial that could never have been done on TV. The whole serial serves as a homage to old-time radio, in a way, and any attempt to recreate “sound” on television would have come off as incredibly cheesy. However, with sound as the only medium, the atmosphere and tension of the story is turned up to 11. As sound is the primary weapon of the monster, everything relies on how it comes across to the listener. Gary Russell does a flat-out amazing job with the use of sound in this audio. There’s the dialogue, but then there’s the recordings themselves from the museum that are played throughout. Russell mixes them up, pulling some conversation to the forefront, but also keeping the other conversations or recordings in the background, which adds a good bit of realism to the piece. The multi-track voice of the sound creature is absolutely stunning and its’ “attack” will send shivers down the spine of a listener. A scene where the creature is tortured in an original manner is deeply disturbing as well. The ambience and setting is incredible as well. There’s always a noise, something going on, that makes the listener wonder if it’s just background noise, or the creature waiting to strike.
Whereas Phantasmagoria had a quick run time that brought it down slightly, Whispers of Terror enjoys a short run time as well, just under 90 minutes, but the story doesn’t feel dragged down, or like anything is missing to the story’s detriment. It’s edited tightly, with little dead air or wasted space, and serves as a classic “The Doctor arrives, hell is raised, peace is restored, the Doctor leaves” piece.
Final Synopsis – Close your eyes to eliminate distractions, focus on the play, and enjoy what is not only a great introduction to the Sixth Doctor, but a good sign during Big Finish’s early days that the audio prtion of the franchise is in good hands. 4/5
Next up – Landing in Alaska, the Doctor and Nyssa encounter a group of people in a most unusual house, cut off not only by the harsh climate but by their individual secrets and obsessions…
Peter Davison as the Doctor in Land of the Dead.