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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
Destiny of the Doctor
Shadow of Death


Author: Simon Guerrier
Performed by: Frazer Hines
AudioGO / Big Finish
RRP: £10.20, US $24.95
ISBN: 978 1 4713 1168 0
Available 07 February 2013

Following an emergency landing, the TARDIS arrives on a remote world orbiting a peculiar star – a pulsar which exerts an enormous gravitational force, strong enough to warp time. On further exploration the Doctor and his friends, Jamie and Zoe, discover a human outpost on the planet’s surface, inhabited by scientists who are there to study an ancient city. The city is apparently abandoned, but the scientists are at a loss to explain what happened to its sophisticated alien architects. The Doctor discovers that something dark, silent and deadly is also present on the world – and it is slowly closing in on the human intruders...

Three words are often associated with the era of the Second Doctor (as played by Patrick Troughton). Those three words are: base under siege. It’s a phrase that’s been bandied about quite a bit in reviews of Shadow of Death, the second release in the 50th-anniversary Destiny of the Doctor series.

However, the story type is more common to the Second Doctor’s adventures with Jamie and Victoria during the television show’s fifth season than the exploits of the Season Six TARDIS crew depicted here: the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. During that season, the final one of the monochrome era, they did more than just fend off invading monsters – though there was a fair amount of that, too. They also embarked upon a fantastical trip to the Land of Fiction (in The Mind Robber), became embroiled in a monster-free space opera (in The Space Pirates), and faced the horrors of Earthbound conflict (in The War Games).

It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that this audio release gives us more than just a besieged outpost. There is a monster, or at least there seems to be, though it’s not the show’s usual brand of bipedal beastie (which on screen would typically be portrayed by a man in a costume). Instead, writer Simon Guerrier gives us a sinister shadow whose temporal touch makes people crumble to dust (very Sapphire & Steel). The location, a planet in orbit around a pulsar, where there shouldn’t really be a planet at all, is a high-concept idea reminiscent of another recent revisitation to this era: Stephen Baxter’s The Wheel of Ice. As with his Oliver Harper / Steven Taylor trilogy of Companion Chronicles, Guerrier brings his recent astronomy studies to bear. (The Doctor also refers to a certain space pilot he used to know...)

As anyone who has followed The Companion Chronicles will know, Frazer Hines (alias Jamie) is the natural choice for narrator of this story, thanks to his uncanny impersonation of Patrick Troughton. As a result, this enhanced audio book is the next best thing to listening to a performance by the late Troughton himself. 

In common with such productions, Hines is supported by a secondary voice artist, in this case Evie Dawnay as Russian base commander Sophie Topolovic (the international base crew being another recurring feature of the Troughton era).

In fact, the only real difference between this anniversary series and The Companion Chronicles is that for once Big Finish (working for AudioGO) is allowed to depict elements from the new television series. I won’t specify exactly what element is alluded to here, but it’s a more prominent reference than in last month’s First Doctor story, Hunters of Earth. Things appear to be building, slowly but surely... Shadow of Death stands on its own merits if you wish to treat it as a one-off, but for those of you with a desire to follow the entire Destiny of the Doctor saga, it does make you wonder where this is going...

It is curious how the first couple of releases in this range have mirrored the story selections that took place in 1981 for the Five Faces of Doctor Who reruns on BBC2: pre-An Unearthly Child and Season Six circa The Krotons. Not that I mind – I was eleven at the time, so those are the only serials featuring the First and Second Doctors that I can truly feel nostalgic about!

As with Hunters of Earth, the ending is a bit sudden, the resolution rather convenient. That aside, this excursion to Sixties Who is more than a shadow of its former self.


Richard McGinlay

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