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Audio Book Review
This bigger-on-the-inside box set contains all the original audio books (that is, those not also published in print) to have featured the Eleventh Doctor, as played by Matt Smith, with the exception of the Big Finish co-produced Destiny of the Doctor: The Time Machine. That’s fourteen stories across fourteen CDs – “No, sir, all fifteen!” – sorry, fifteen CDs, because one story, The Eye of the Jungle, covers two discs. The Runaway Train is the first to leave the station, though…
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…
There’s no denying the excitement of hearing Matt Smith reading The Runaway Train. It means the Eleventh Doctor sounds just like he does on the telly! The actor 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, but never sounding much like Karen Gillan – and I doubt that author Oli Smith intended him to pronounce “Cei” in the way that 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 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, possibility because the author doesn’t have as broad a canvas to paint on (just one hour of running time). The supporting characters aren’t easily distinguishable from one another. There are entertaining references to the clichés of the Western genre, including a posse of rough-and-ready outlaws, a Mexican stand-off, and probably a lot more that I didn’t spot as I’m not that into Westerns. Sound designer 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, but overall it isn’t exactly a runaway success.
When the TARDIS lands on Orkney in the near future, the Doctor and Amy find a large demonstration in progress over the construction of new electricity pylons. The Doctor tries to break things up peacefully – but suddenly the road splits open, swallowing security guards and protesters alike. Separated from the Doctor, Amy takes charge of transporting the wounded to hospital – but the rescue mission becomes a terrifying ride as the pylons come to life and begin to walk… The Doctor, meanwhile, has even more than metal monsters and rebellious roads to deal with. Who is sucking the life out of the power company’s employees – and just what is lurking inside the Astra-Gen headquarters…?
Karen Gillan never found the time to record any of these audio books, which is a shame – especially in the case of The Ring of Steel, which features a large number of Scottish characters. Instead, Arthur Darvill, alias Amy’s fellow travelling companion and soon-to-be husband Rory, provides the narration, despite the fact that Rory doesn’t actually appear in this story.
His reading is noticeably intense, especially at the beginning, as he pronounces Stephen Cole’s stark introductory prose: “A wire-sharp breeze blew in from the sea across the hunched, treeless landscape. Beyond the dunes, the grassland was choppy, whipped by the wind. The sky was epic in its empty whiteness, all detail and content fled…” The Scottish accents that Darvill puts on, including Amy’s, are not overdone or unintentionally comical, as is sometimes the case with this range, while his Eleventh Doctor comes remarkably close to Matt Smith’s offbeat delivery.
Whereas The Runaway Train felt a bit hemmed in by its running time, The Ring of Steel does drag on a bit. Cole takes his time with grandiose descriptions of immense, walking pylons and roads that rear up, erupting with boiling tarmac. Such passages are livened up, however, by Simon Hunt’s effective sound design, which includes the ominous rattling of thick cables as the pylons move about.
At the heart of his alien menace, the writer includes a nifty bit of real science, in the form of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), molecules that are found in coal and tar deposits, which may also be the building blocks for the earliest forms of life. Though The Ring of Steel is not the best Cole deposit I have ever discovered, there’s still reason enough to say ta.
Intercepting a distress call, the TARDIS is drawn to a Shinto shrine in medieval Japan, where the Doctor and Amy meet village elder Shijô Sada. He explains that the ogre-like mannequins surrounding the holy site are harmless guardians, called Otoroshi. At the heart of the temple is an ancient jade pyramid, so sacred that only the monks may look at it. But the Shogun, the ruler of Japan, wants to possess the pyramid and has ordered seven samurai and a band of soldiers to come and seize it. While the Doctor is tracked by a ninja assassin, Amy discovers what happens to trespassers at the shrine. Soon the secrets of the jade pyramid – and the towering Otoroshi – will be known…
There are hints of the Patrick Troughton serial The Abominable Snowmen in The Jade Pyramid. Martin Day’s story features an interesting, low-tech, historical setting; a clash of mindsets between the spiritual and the warlike; and giant, hairy beasties that menace the Doctor and his Scottish companion. However, the specific political aspects of the period and location (such as the Shogun’s crippling taxation of the village, a disgraced samurai and deadly ninjas) lend a different direction to the plot.
As with The Runaway Train, the running time (70 minutes), seems to constrain the author, whose plot never fully spreads its wings. However, he does find time for some lovely descriptions of the Eleventh Doctor from the point of view of village elder Shijô Sada, including this one: “…he sounded at first as young as his companion, but the more Shijô listened, the more he wondered if the gentle smoothness of his voice was that of a pebble dropped into the sea, and polished and rounded by centuries of time and tide.”
Reader Matt Smith’s impersonation of Karen Gillan has improved since The Runaway Train, though the companion does still sometimes sound more American than Scottish. This, though, is more than compensated for by the pleasure of hearing Eleventh Doctor dialogue delivered by the man himself. Meanwhile, musician Steven Jones further evokes the television series by including traces of Murray Gold’s ominous theme for the cracks in the universe.
The Jade Pyramid is enjoyable while it lasts, but it seems to be over too soon. Also, despite having listened to it twice, I’m still not sure what actually happens to the pyramid itself.
When Lord Woolcroft and his team break open the fabled Tomb of Artemis, which has been sealed for thousands of years, they are astonished by what they find inside… The Doctor and Amy have come to Smyrna in 1929 to investigate a mystery. The Doctor knows that something very bad happened there: something that caused a lot of people to die, and an entire, magnificent temple to be found and then immediately lost again. But he doesn’t know what is picking off the archaeologists one by one, or how it is connected to the terrifying howling in the night. As he and Amy get closer to the terrible truth behind an ancient evil, he begins to wish he’d never found out…
Ancient, bestial statues coming to life – again? To be fair to author James Goss, it’s not his fault that The Hounds of Artemis coincidentally has some themes in common with The Jade Pyramid. Fortunately, the setting is quite different: an ancient Greek temple being excavated in 1929. Any thoughts of similarity to the opening scene of Pyramids of Mars are quickly defused by the Doctor’s jokey reference to “the Scarman Institute”, which he claims to represent.
For the final time in this collection, Matt Smith acts as narrator, though on this occasion he is aided by a secondary voice – not Karen Gillan, as had originally been intended, but Clare Corbett, who previously supported Tom Baker in the Hornets’ Nest miniseries. Here she plays Helen Stapleton, a descendent of one of the archaeologists, who has inherited a dairy penned by Amy Pond, from which she reads extracts. The use of alternating narrators helps to keep the story lively, though the switching of perspectives can get confusing.
Amy is well characterised, by both Goss’s writing and Corbett’s reading. I can easily imagine Gillan’s Pond bemoaning the 1920s “undercrackers” she is forced to wear. The depiction of the Doctor is less successful when performed by Corbett, sounding more like David Tennant than her co-reader Smith.
The end result makes for diverting enough listening. It doesn’t capture the multi-voice excitement of BBC Audio’s Fourth Doctor releases, or much of Big Finish’s output, but The Hounds of Artemis is far from being a dog’s dinner.
The ice planet Vinsk, in the year 2112. The all-new anti-viral handwash, Gemini, has been laced with Meme-Spawn: a sentient micro-organism that makes the user fluent in every language in the universe. However, manufacturer Zalnex made one crucial mistake. They didn’t test Gemini on humans, who are seized by the violent urge to communicate in every language at once, and pass on the virus by touch. When the Doctor and Amy arrive on an Earth-bound cargo ship loaded with Gemini, it’s only a matter of time before Amy is infected. With the ship locked on course, and no way of curing the sufferers, the Doctor is faced with a terrible decision: does he save Amy, or Earth…?
The Gemini Contagion is read by Meera Syal, who played Nasreen Chaudhry in The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood. I didn’t recognise her at first, because hers is such an easy-going, neutral voice. I don’t mean it’s a bland voice, but I found myself thinking not about who is speaking, but what is being said, which is surely no bad thing in an audio book.
Syal’s pleasant, measured tones also set up a shocking contrast when things go wrong with the Gemini handwash and its human users begin aggressively demanding of all and sundry, “Listen to me! Listen to me! Listen to me!” Suddenly, the narrator’s voice deepens, an effect that is amplified by sound modulation.
Just when the listener might be getting used to the creepiness of those guttural proclamations, writer Jason Arnopp adds another alarming phase to the infection. Icky green starfish start jumping out of victims’ mouths and on to other people’s faces, passing on the contagion. I was reminded of those hideous flying pizzas in the Star Trek episode Operation – Annihilate!
Such dramatic developments make it possible to overlook the unbelievable stupidity of the researchers at Zalnex for not having the common sense to test their product on humans. Duh! The greed of the corporate head honchos and the guilt experienced by the head scientist (all characters in the story) also help to address this central implausibility. They cannot wash their hands of the matter so easily…
The Amazon rainforest, 1827. The Doctor, Amy and Rory land in the jungle near a hurriedly abandoned campsite, where they are surrounded by huge, hungry crocodiles. Only the arrival of a man with a rifle sees off the giant beasts. Oliver Blazington has come to the forest to bag big game, and his companion Garrett is a naturalist, collecting exotic creatures for London Zoo. The Doctor soon discovers that another very different hunter is stalking the Amazon. Animals and people have been disappearing without trace, and local villagers speak darkly of “The Eye of the Jungle”. Amy senses that the all-seeing Eye is watching them – but she and Rory are powerless to intervene when it sets its sights on the Doctor…
When I was in my late teens, I had an idea for a Doctor Who spin-off series, which would have comprised audio and video adventures starring me and some friends. It would have told the tale of another renegade Time Lord, and it would have been entitled The Other Renegade – yes, I know, highly original! Elements from one of my script ideas for The Other Renegade did eventually see the light of day in the BBC’s range of Eleventh Doctor novels and audio books… but sadly not in a story penned by me! By coincidence, Hunter’s Moon, the title I had come up with, graced the cover of an Eleventh Doctor novel by Paul Finch, while my idea for a cliffhanger ending marks the halfway point of The Eye of the Jungle.
A far more likely influence on author Darren Jones is the Predator franchise. The first disc of this two-CD story plays out rather like a 19th-century Predator, with a big-game hunter – and other victims – becoming the hunted. There’s more to the plot than that, though, and the second half of the tale is genetically engineered into something more akin to The Island of Doctor Moreau.
Reader David Troughton’s imitation of Karen Gillan’s Scottish accent isn’t much better than Matt Smith’s during previous tales. For the most part, Troughton doesn’t attempt to do impersonations of the regular cast, especially in the case of Arthur Darvill’s Rory, a character who makes his audio-book debut here. However, Troughton’s delivery of some of the Eleventh Doctor’s lines invites comparison between Matt Smith’s characterisation and that of David’s dad, Patrick Troughton. His voices for the rodent-like aliens are rather ridiculous, but then they’re probably supposed to be.
Sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising, sometimes comical, sometimes grisly, there’s plenty to enjoy in The Eye of the Jungle.
November 9th, 1965: New York City is plunged into darkness, a taxi driver has bad dreams, and an invisible spacecraft hovers ominously above the skyline. As an extra-terrestrial disease sweeps through the populace, Amy and Rory must sabotage the city’s water supply in order to slow the spread of the infection, and a dying Doctor holds another man’s life in his hands. With the death toll rising, and his companions stalked through the streets by alien businessmen, the Doctor is forced to make a terrible decision. How far will he go to save his friends…?
It’s back to the USA once again for the Doctor, Amy and Rory – and for author Oli Smith – with Blackout. Given the setting, Stuart Milligan, who played President Richard Nixon in The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon, is an appropriate choice of reader.
Unfortunately, the familiarity doesn’t end there. The 1960s time period is also similar to that opening two-parter of Series 6, as is the alien menace that our heroes encounter. Extra-terrestrial businessmen with distorted faces and elongated bodies, hiding in the shadows… they do sound rather like the Silence, don’t they? There are also several references to actual silence, which can be unnerving because on audio you can’t tell whether there’s a capital letter or not! However, I don’t think these aliens are the Silence: people don’t forget them as soon as they turn away from them, and these creatures are clearly just visitors to our planet, rather than long-term residents. In common with another Steven Moffat episode, Let’s Kill Hitler, the Doctor is poisoned and has only a short time left to live.
Following the double-disc Eye of the Jungle, it’s single CDs all the way for the remainder of this box set. Often single-disc stories are hampered by a lack of scope and scale, but here Oli Smith overcomes the problem by beginning his adventure as though we are halfway through a serial. We first meet the Doctor, not in the TARDIS control room or stepping out through the police box doors, but through the eyes of a troubled taxi driver, which gives the Time Lord a suitable air of mystery. We first encounter Amy and Rory in the midst of a mission to sabotage New York City’s water supply.
There are occasional lapses, such as the author’s use of the word “pavement” rather than “sidewalk” when writing from an American point of view, but despite its flaws, Blackout is one of the highlights of this collection.
“‘Don’t be alarmed!’ the Doctor cried through gritted teeth, ‘It’s simply sucking the life out of me. Nothing to worry about…’” When the Doctor falls through a crack in time, he finds himself in the Horizon Gallery. But it’s no ordinary art gallery, because this one has the best view of the most impossible wonder of the universe: the Paradox. Tour parties are eager to see this stunning, hypnotic portion of sky that’s beyond description, and it’s Penelope’s job to stop people from staring up at it for too long – for the Paradox’s beauty drives people mad. The Doctor, Amy and Rory are about to discover that the Paradox also contains a giant and frightening creature with a taste for death…
Author James Goss takes a leaf out of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles audio books, by presenting The Art of Death entirely from the point of view of the narrator. He has used this technique before, in Dead Air, though on that occasion the narrator was the Doctor himself, David Tennant. This time his protagonist is gallery tour guide Penelope, voiced by Raquel Cassidy, who has played various roles for Big Finish’s Doctor Who range as well as Miranda Cleaves in the Eleventh Doctor serial The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People. Unlike The Companion Chronicles, there is no supporting performer providing an additional voice, though there are times when you would swear that Karen Gillan was present, so good is Cassidy’s impersonation of Amy.
The title of the piece also takes a leaf out of previous books. We’ve had the novels The Art of Destruction by Stephen Cole in 2006 and The Death of Art by Simon Bucher-Jones ten years earlier. The notion of a phenomenon so strange or so beautiful that it can drive the observer insane is also a familiar one, with Star Trek’s Medusans and Gallifrey’s Untempered Schism being just two examples.
The plot structure is where The Art of Death comes into its own. The Doctor, Amy and Rory don’t simply turn up, get involved in events and then sort things out. Because the TARDIS crew have been separated and temporally displaced, Penelope encounters them one at a time during her life, not always in the right order. This series of one-to-one meetings works well in an audio book, because it usually allows the narrator to focus on performing no more than two voices at a time, and the listener is never left wondering “who’s speaking now?”
Each of the regulars is well written by Goss and performed by Cassidy. I particularly enjoyed Rory’s lines, while Amy’s segment is made all the more enjoyable by a surprisingly gripping moment in which Penelope’s future career depends upon her reaction to a dropped sandwich. Sandwiches are important in this story.
You may see the plot’s twist coming, though for me that happened only moments before it was disclosed anyway, so effectively was I distracted by the author’s story. Goss is well on his way to becoming a master of his art.
When the TARDIS is buffeted by “time slippage”, the Doctor experiences a terrible vision of the end of everything. Tracking the source of the disruption, he takes Amy and Rory to what appears to be an English public school in the 1950s – but as the friends are about to discover, there are some very unusual things about Darkstar Academy. For a start, the prefects carry guns. Then there is the strange forcefield that surrounds the perimeter. Not to mention the foot-long, crab-like creatures with spiny, armoured bodies… When the Doctor learns the truth about the Academy, he also discovers that the whole place is in terrible danger. But with a swarm of carnivorous creatures on the loose, what can the travellers do to prevent a terrible disaster…?
Darkstar Academy takes a number of familiar Who elements, such as a spaceship where one wouldn’t expect a spaceship to be, and some giant invading spiders (no, they’re not the Eight Legs, in case you were wondering), and bolts them together without much apparent care or attention. Writer Mark Morris doesn’t really give sufficient reason why the academy is disguised as a 1950s boys’ school in the first place. For a while, we are also lacking an explanation as to why the monsters are attacking it. The latter is ultimately disclosed, but prior to that point the mystery is downplayed to such an extent that it seems as though none of the characters, or the author, is really all that bothered.
There is little of the horror that one usually associates with Morris’s work, though a few shivers are sent down the spine by Simon Hunt’s eerie incidental music.
Alexander Armstrong, who played Reg Arwell in The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe and Mr Smith in The Sarah Jane Adventures, also does his best to enliven the escapade as the reader. He is a talented voice artist, as adept at dramatic moments as he is at his better-known comedic roles, which is a good mixture for Doctor Who. Armstrong doesn’t do impressions as such (all the characters he has portrayed throughout his career have been recognisably him), but he nevertheless distinguishes the different voices and moods of the piece. He suggests Matt Smith’s Doctor without actually imitating him, and his Rory is good, too, though he struggles with Amy’s accent.
The strengths of this academy adventure lie mainly with head boy Armstrong. As for the weaknesses… Morris must try harder.
The TARDIS materialises in a pitch-dark tunnel, where the Doctor, Amy and Rory stumble upon the dead body of a soldier. Questioned by his superior officer, Colonel Bowe, they learn that they’re inside a British nuclear bunker, in the middle of an atomic war – in 1982. Amy and Rory weren’t even born then, but they know the bomb didn’t drop that year, and so does the Doctor. The friends also know that they had nothing to do with the death of Sergeant Trott – so who, or what, was the killer, and why does the Doctor’s psychic paper not work on the Colonel? They soon discover that something else is lurking in the shadows… something deadly…
Another audio adventure, another invasion by over-sized creepy-crawlies. In Darkstar Academy it was giant, genetically engineered spiders. This time it’s man-size mutant cockroaches. Once again, the setting resembles the 20th century… but in terms of quality, Day of the Cockroach could scarcely be more different from its predecessor.
This time it actually is the 20th century – but how can it be 1982 in the aftermath of a nuclear conflict? That question propels the potent pre-titles sequence, which is as quirky and cliffhanging as the best that the television show has to offer, and it lingers throughout most of the 75-minute running time of this tale, though it does get sidelined by the more pressing matter of avoiding grisly death by insect mandibles. This being a Steve Lyons story, I had anticipated the familiar theme of an altered timeline. After all, atomic war was a very real possibility in the 1980s. However, without giving too much away, the author succeeded in defying my expectations.
I was reminded at times of The Web of Fear, with all the characters trapped in an underground shelter, not knowing who to trust.
Arthur Darvill returns as narrator, providing a very listenable reading voice and decent imitations of the rest of the TARDIS crew – so there’s no reason at all for this gripping story to bug you.
The Doctor, Amy and Rory are awe-struck by their first sight of Hope Eternal, a super-Earth bigger than Earth itself, with heavy gravity, volcanoes and a crust loaded with mineral deposits. But their wonder is cut short when they discover a body dumped on the ground – a huge figure with extraordinarily long arms covered in thick, purple scales. Yet the corpse is not alien: he’s human, albeit unlike any human Amy and Rory have ever seen. The Nu-Humans have adapted their genes to fit their new environment, and formed a thriving colony. But now they are facing a terrible threat. Can the Doctor find out who is killing Nu-Humans and why – before he, Amy and Rory are themselves tried for murder…?
All right, let’s get the bad news out of the way first. I did find The Nu-Humans somewhat predictable. Though this talking book is easy to get into, from about halfway through I found that I could guess where Cavan Scott and Mark Wright’s plot was heading. Fortunately, in other respects the outlook is more favourable.
The concept of pantropy (adapting human biology to thrive on alien planets, rather than terraforming alien planets to suit human biology) is a fascinating one, and not one that I can recall having really been tackled in Doctor Who before. The authors explain, via the Doctor, that this technique is a passing phase of human colonisation, which answers the question of why we’ve never encountered it in stories set further ahead in the future. It’s an idea that comes across better on audio than it might have done on television: even the hefty budget of ‘Nu-Who’ might struggle to realise the long-limbed, purple-scaled Nu-Humans inhabiting the high-gravity, volcanic world of Hope Eternal.
Simon Hunt’s sound design gives the listener an effective sense of this hostile environment, while Raquel Cassidy does another commendable job as reader. It is easy to distinguish the individual characters, though Cassidy is naturally better at female voices than she is at male ones, and her delivery of the Doctor’s dialogue occasionally (but only occasionally) sounds more like David Tennant than Matt Smith. Her impersonation of Amy is simply marvellous, though – sometimes you would swear that Karen Gillan herself was there in the recording studio beside her.
Like the genetic structure of the Nu-Humans themselves, this audio book is not without its weaknesses, but all in all it’s a skilfully engineered bit of new ‘Nu-Who’.
Thrown off course by a howling storm, the TARDIS lands in a bleak, desolate stretch of countryside. The Doctor deduces that it has arrived in Hampshire in the 1920s and, sniffing the air, he smells a distinct odour of sulphur – indicating that a spaceship has crashed in the area. While Rory goes to fetch an umbrella, Amy and the Doctor brave the rain to find the stricken craft. It is huge, shiny, silvery-blue – and completely empty. A set of footprints lead to a cosy-looking old cottage: but the house, too, is deserted. However, the Doctor and Amy can hear people talking – and one of the voices sounds like Rory’s. Where are the residents of the empty house? And what has happened to the inhabitants of the spaceship…?
The Eleventh Doctor audios are on a roll at this point, making good use of the comfortingly familiar while mixing it up with the startlingly strange in The Empty House (which has nothing to do with the Sherlock Holmes story of the same name).
Raquel Cassidy returns as reader for the third and final time in this box set, her compassionate tones evoking a range of emotions, from the cosy simplicity of an old couple’s quiet home life… to the terror of something unexpected at the door.
There’s a good rapport between the three members of the TARDIS crew – after an initial hiccup in which the narrator makes Rory sound rather stupid. Author Simon Guerrier captures the trio’s sardonic banter and playful sniping, including plenty of references to Amy’s scariness! He also turns some of our expectations on their heads. After several stories in which the gruesome appearance of non-human creatures has served to underline the threats they pose, here the morality of the situation is not so clear-cut.
A sort of science-fiction ghost story, Guerrier’s tale brings to mind the likes of The Stone Tape and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Next Phase as it wends its mysterious way, without being any of things exactly. The Empty House is full of appeal.
The TARDIS touches down on Nadurniss, a planet under quarantine. A joint Nadurni/human mission has recently landed on the planet to survey it for possible re-colonisation. Two millennia have passed since the Nadurni Empire fell at the end of the Prokarian War, and Nadurniss seems to be a lifeless, barren world… but a mysterious illness is infecting the Nadurni, and now the whole team is in danger. The nature of the infection becomes clear when the sickest Nadurni dies and an amorphous creature emerges from its dried-up body. A shambling mound of bacteria, acting as one being – a Prokarian – it has been on the planet all along, sleeping in the dust, waiting to attack…
Next, it’s Arthur Darvill’s turn to read his third and final audio book in this collection. What makes his involvement all the more fitting this time is the fact that Sleepers in the Dust is written from Rory’s point of view.
Writer Darren Jones also brings back an alien species from an earlier adventure: the rodent-like Nadurni from The Eye of the Jungle. Other blasts from the past include references to the world of Peladon – this being a story involving the Galactic Federation. Just as the Peladon serials reflected political concerns at the time of their production, Sleepers in the Dust takes satirical swipes at the current decade’s austerity measures with allusions to Federation cutbacks following a financial crisis on Thoros Beta!
As in The Gemini Contagion, there’s a strange infection to combat, one that goes through some particularly unpleasant phases, including reducing its victims to dried-out husks, eaten away from the inside. As in The Gemini Contagion, Amy is infected, and there’s a race against time to save her (that’s not really a spoiler, by the way – this development was given away in the original blurb for the individual CD release). What’s different on this occasion is that the race against time becomes more of a race through time, as the Doctor and Rory travel back more than 2000 years, not to change history, but to glean vital information from it. At least, that’s the idea. No prizes for guessing it doesn’t go entirely according to plan…
With plenty of twists and turns, some of them timey-wimey, there’s little danger of you nodding off during Sleepers in the Dust.
Dr Elehri Mussurana has spent a lifetime on her work. She has guarded her pet project close to her chest, letting only one person share her secret – her husband and lab partner Ernst Wharner. As their experiment reaches its final, glorious fruition, they watch in awe as sparks fly in a sealed chamber and specks of sapphire light begin to join together into a shining haze. A wormhole in time and space is being created… But then something unexpected appears inside the swirling vortex: a tall blue box with the words “POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX” on the top. The TARDIS has arrived in the far future, in a scientific research facility – just as reality is ripped at the seams and the universe tears in two…
Being an old-school Doctor Who fan, I often find that the fast pace of new series episodes means that the plot unfolds rather too quickly for my liking. However, that is certainly not the case with Snake Bite. Author Scott Handcock really takes his time, so much so that we are about halfway through the 70-minute running time of this final CD before Amy, who has been stranded on a distant alien world, encounters the planet’s occupants. This delay means that the snake in the title is something of a spoiler. It is about as long before the Doctor and Rory stop talking with the scientists on the gigantic Jörmungandr space station and actually get on with the business of rescuing their missing friend. It’s always good to have some interaction between “the boys”, but the first half of this story is low on incident, even by classic Who standards.
Reader Frances Barber (who played Madame Kovarian, AKA the Eye Patch Lady, throughout Series 6) also gets off to a bad start, with some awkward delivery at times. Crucially, at the very beginning of her narration, she hesitates over the name Dr Elehri Mussurana (which is understandable, as Handcock has given her some very long words to say), pausing after the word “Doctor” as though she is about to announce the series title. She soon recovers, though, providing decent imitations of the vocal styles of Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill, a not bad Karen Gillan, and clearly relishes the hissing snake voices and descriptions of their serpent tongues.
These creatures are not to be confused with the Skishtari from BBC Audio’s Fourth Doctor miniseries Serpent Crest, a reptile race with an unfortunately similar affinity for wormholes, as is pointed out by the Doctor within the narrative. Nor, in case you were wondering, do they have any connection with the Mara.
This serpentine story is where our Eleventh Doctor tales come to an end. There are no adventures here featuring Clara Oswald, because her audio originals are all Twelfth Doctor tales. It’s been a mixed but generally improving bag, and certainly this collection provides excellent value for money. It’s just a pity that the concluding entry couldn’t have had a bit more bite to it.