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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Whispering Forest


Starring: Peter Davison
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 84435 473 3
Available 31 August 2010

The TARDIS arrives in alien woodlands, where a small group of humans are holding tight against the menace of the Takers - strange creatures who come by night to spirit away members of their settlement. But if there’s one thing that the inhabitants of Purity Bay fear more than the Takers, it’s the dirt and disease spread by strangers - strangers like the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa. The fanatical Sister Mertil and her hygiene-obsessed acolytes are victims of a terrible corruption, but not in the way they think. Only the whispering forest knows the truth...

Big Finish really ought to put its trailers at the end of the CD, rather than the beginning. The way I see it, a trailer at the end of a story can hook the audience with the promise that, though this tale may be over, there’s plenty more where that came from. That’s how the “next time” trailers work on the TV show. In this instance, the lure of the Mara’s return in the trailer for The Cradle of the Snake would have been a good follow-up to the events of the final episode of The Whispering Forest. As it is, my enjoyment of this audio drama was slightly marred, especially at the beginning, by the reminder I’d just been given of the fact (which, admittedly, I already knew) that the Mara would be coming back... but not just yet.

The Whispering Forest has an unenviable position in the release schedule, sitting between the time-travel shenanigans of Cobwebs and the returning enemy of The Cradle of the Snake.

Nevertheless, Stephen Cole has written an intriguing tale, in which hospital hygiene procedures have been blown out of all proportion and distorted into a kind of religion, rather like the scientific origins of the Sevateem’s rituals in The Face of Evil. Sue Wallace (who previously guest starred as Mrs Baddeley in The Chimes of Midnight) is memorably obsessive as the dictatorial Mertil, who is constantly washing her hands, and we are treated to vivid descriptions of skin that has been scrubbed until it’s red raw. There is also an element of Terminus to these events, but this is justified by Nyssa’s (Sarah Sutton) continuing quest to eradicate Richter’s Syndrome.

Unlike Terminus and Cobwebs, there isn’t much interaction here between Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson). Instead, Cole splits up the TARDIS crew so that Turlough spends more time with Nyssa, giving these two characters more scenes together than they’ve ever had before. Perhaps not surprisingly, though Turlough remains argumentative, the more composed Nyssa has a calming influence on the boy, a very different relationship to the one he has with the hot-headed Tegan, or even with the sometimes flustered Doctor (Peter Davison).

The cast has to wrestle with a fair few tongue twisters along the way, including Sutton’s line, “the Takers have taken Tegan”, though I missed, “I’m sure she’ll shout should she see Sister Sesha”, an example that is pointed out by director Barnaby Edwards in his sleeve note. The name Sesha (played by Hayley Atwell, who previously appeared in Blood of the Daleks and ITV’s recent remake of The Prisoner) appears to have been misspelled Seska on the cast list: it is pronounced “Sesha” throughout the production.

This two-disc release also contains five and a half minutes of Richard Fox and Lauren Yason’s evocative incidental music and fifteen minutes of interviews with the cast and crew.

Though initially not as gripping as Cobwebs or as exciting as the prospect of The Cradle of the Snake, The Whispering Forest builds into a suitably involving and challenging case for treatment by the Doctor and his staff.


Richard McGinlay

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