Doctor Who
The Settling

Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99
ISBN 1 84435 171 8
Available 23 May 2006

The TARDIS lands in the Irish town of Drogheda during its siege in 1649. The much-feared English General Oliver Cromwell is on his way. As Hex recalls the town's fate, events swiftly turn bloody and the travellers become separated. While the Doctor has his hands full looking after civilians, Ace and Hex find out what life was really like in Oliver's army...

Oliver Cromwell is well known for his role in the English Civil War. However, this historical tale (it's too grim to be referred to as an "adventure") takes place after that period, by which time Charles I had been killed and Cromwell was leader of the Protectorate. Parliament has sent him to Ireland, from where it is believed Charles' son might launch a bid to retake England.

Both the writer, Simon Guerrier, and the performer, Clive Mantle, seek to explore the man behind the myth. Definitive answers are impossible to provide, because historical accounts differ radically, but Guerrier and Mantle raise questions such as: was Cromwell really the monster of folklore? Thus the time travellers witness his fearful, tyrannical anger (Mantle? Mental, more like!) as well as his more caring, spiritual side.

The production is an almost relentlessly gloomy affair, with only brief moments of relatively light-hearted relief when, for example, we cut back to the TARDIS interior as Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Hex (Philip Olivier) look back upon recent events while attempting to make a pot of tea.

Those TARDIS scenes are themselves rather contentious - from a Who fan's point of view - since they make use of sound effects from the 1996 TV movie. Ace explains that the crew have been doing a spot of redecorating. The implication that the TARDIS interior takes on its TV movie appearance contradicts many other stories: the New Adventures novels; Gary Russell's novelisation of the TV movie; even Big Finish's own The Sirens of Time, which used 1980s-style TARDIS interior sounds. As an almost obsessive fan of continuity (as producer/director Gary Russell used to be, but evidently is no longer), I am forced to conclude that this makeover is a temporary measure and that the vessel reverts to its white décor at some point prior to the New Adventures. Besides, since we can only hear, rather than see, the interior, who's to say that it doesn't look different than it does in the TV movie?

All in all, The Settling is a bleak but thoughtful affair, though a little wearisome in its repetitive descriptions and depictions of doom and gloom.

This double-disc tale is accompanied by an additional sample CD, narrated by Russell and featuring excerpts from Big Finish's Doctor Who spin-off ranges: Dalek Empire, UNIT, Sarah Jane Smith, Gallifrey, Doctor Who Unbound and Cyberman. These series are well positioned to appeal to fans of the BBC's new version of Doctor Who, featuring as they do actors, characters (UNIT, Sarah and K-9) and monsters (the Daleks and Cybermen) that have since appeared on the TV show. Russell is keen to point out that the Daleks in Dalek Empire are voiced by the same man who provided their ranting tones in the 2005 TV series and that the current Doctor, David Tennant, played roles in no fewer than three of the featured ranges.

Unfortunately, the digipack used to present this three-CD set omits the usual author and production notes (though the author's notes can be seen on Big Finish's website). Also, the photographs used to illustrate the pack's interior are not ideally chosen when you take into account the presence of the plastic trays - poor Sylvester McCoy's face is completely obscured by one of the central hubs.

Still, in view of the entire product's strengths, I'm prepared to settle for its few weaknesses.

Richard McGinlay

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