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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Companion Chronicles
Ghost in the Machine


Starring: Katy Manning
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £8.99 (CD), £7.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 086 2
Release Date: 31 October 2013

Mary had a little lamb, / Its fleece was white as snow. / And everywhere that Mary went, / That lamb was sure to go.” The TARDIS is empty. The Doctor has gone. Jo Grant steps outside into the darkness and finds the frozen body of her friend, and the ship’s log recorder. On it is attached a simple message: “Use Me”. As she explores a seemingly abandoned research facility, recording her every move, Jo discovers the horror that lies in the shadows – but by then it is far too late...

The concept of sound as a deadly danger finds its ideal home in the audio medium. It should therefore come as no surprise that Big Finish has covered similar ground before – in particular in the company’s first Sixth Doctor release, Whispers of Terror, and in its Sapphire & Steel range. There is a distinct Sapphire & Steel vibe to Jonathan Morris’s script for Ghost in the Machine, with its deserted location, its minimal cast of characters, the sinister use of a nursery rhyme, and “something” trying to break through from the past. However, the narrative is handled sufficiently well by all involved that it does not come across as over-familiar.

There are some undeniably unnerving ideas at work here (appropriately enough, given the Halloween release date). These include the notion of playing back a recording of one’s own voice, only to find that it now says something different, and the concept of one’s existence being as fragile and as prone to erasure as a magnetic tape. Jo (Katy Manning) almost goes the way of all those wiped TV episodes!

Manning and her supporting artist Damian Lynch play multiple voices, or rather multiple personalities using the same vocal cords, and it is a credit to the performers that they are always easy to tell apart. There is no narration as such, so I would consider this a two-handed audio drama rather than an audio book. The performers are aided by sound designers Richard Fox and Lauren Yason, who help to distinguish between the recorded and “live” voices by means of tape hiss and dropout. And let us not overlook the role of the director – an impressive debut by none other than Louise (Leela) Jameson!

Morris alludes to Jo’s previous use of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and the TARDIS log recorder in Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks respectively. However, the production team overlook the rhyme’s other, more ominous connection to Jo’s television adventures: spoken in reverse, it formed the Master’s incantation to summon Azal in The Dæmons, which Manning almost but not quite remembers during the 11 minutes of interviews at the end of this CD.

I did wonder whether the recording aspect would allow for the inclusion of a few well-chosen archive clips of Jon Pertwee’s voice, but it was not to be. In all other respects, though, the Ghost in the Machine team have got it taped.


Richard McGinlay

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