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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
The Runaway Train


Author: Oli Smith
Read by: Matt Smith
BBC Audio
RRP: £8.99 (CD), £6.60 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 4084 2747 7 (CD), 978 1 4084 4032 2 (download)
Available 07 October 2010

Arriving on Earth in the midst of the American Civil War, the Doctor and Amy must get a posse together to help them retrieve an alien artefact that has fallen into the clutches of the Confederate Army. The terraforming device belongs to the Cei, a race of invaders who plan to use it to turn the planet into their new home world. But neither the Army nor the aliens are keen to let the Doctor and his gang interfere with their plans, and give chase across the Wild West. The only hope of escape for the Doctor and friends is to catch the 3:25 to Arizona and race along the newly built transcontinental railroad...

Originally scheduled for June 2010, The Runaway Train’s commercial release was delayed, not by leaves on the line, but by the decision to issue it as a freebie with The Daily Telegraph newspaper in April. However, that was an unfinished version, lacking incidental music and sound effects. Now’s your chance to hear it with music and effects by Simon Hunt.

Whichever version you listen to, there’s no denying the excitement of hearing Matt Smith reading his first Doctor Who audio book. It means the Eleventh Doctor sounds just like he does on the telly! He also seems to have fun putting on drawling American accents as various supporting characters. His rendition of Amy is less successful - sometimes with too heavy a Scottish accent, sometimes sounding a bit American, never sounding much like Karen Gillan - and I doubt that author Oli Smith intended him to pronounce “Cei” the way he does.

In common with the same author’s print novel Nuclear Time, this audio book features not only an American setting but also something of a time paradox. Oli Smith handles the latter rather strangely, though. At first I thought I had got it (and I had), but then when the Doctor quickly drops the subject and the narrative never mentions it again until the end of the story, I began to wonder whether I’d misunderstood something (but I hadn’t).

The plot is less interesting than that of Nuclear Time, possibly because the author doesn’t have as broad a canvas to paint upon (just one hour of running time). The supporting characters aren’t easily distinguishable from one another. There are entertaining references to the Western genre, including a posse of rough-and-ready outlaws, a Mexican standoff, and probably a load more that I didn’t spot as I’m not that into Westerns.

Simon Hunt helps to evoke the genre and period with his music and sound effects, which include a buzzing fly, lots of gunfire and the train itself.

The Runaway Train is worth catching for Matt’s reading alone, but overall it isn’t exactly a runaway success.


Richard McGinlay

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