Doctor Who
The Natural History of Fear

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
RRP 13.99
ISBN 1 84435 038 X
Available now

In Light City, names are forbidden, as are questions, and undesirable personalities are "revised" for the greater good. The viewing of visual broadcasts is more than a privilege: it is compulsory. One of the more popular series concerns the fictional adventures of travellers known as the Doctor, Charley and C'rizz. But these accounts seem oddly familiar to one member of the population...

It's hard to know what to say about this story without giving the game away. Even the synopsis on the back of the CD case, which takes the form of a copyright notice regarding the unauthorised duplication of personalities and memories, keeps the actual events of the narrative a closely guarded secret. The cast list on the inner sleeve names only the performers, rather than the characters they play, but this also reflects to the fact that the people of Light City aren't permitted to have names.

Big Finish has built up a reputation for its "repertory" approach to casting, repeatedly reusing a relatively small group of actors in numerous roles and productions, a practice that is not unusual in audio drama. Here the repertory approach is taken a step further, as the regular and guest cast alike play a variety of characters in this one production. Rather than being a cost-cutting venture, this practice helps to realise Light City's policy of personality revision. For example, a person that we hear in Part One might be heard in an entirely different guise in Part Two, while the familiar words of a previous personality might be voiced by an entirely pair of lips. There are shades of the repetitive nature of Flip-Flop in Jim Mortimore's script, as we hear certain phrases reprised in a new context.

Light City's presentation of the Doctor's adventures involves some witty allusions to the actual BBC television series. The stories are divided into eight eras, some of them are sadly missing while others were commissioned but never made, and a Restoration Group is responsible for making the material suitable for transmission to the masses.

The Natural History of Fear is clever and well realised, with some excellent performances, particularly from Conrad Westmass and Paul McGann, though the production does go on for rather longer than is entirely welcome. Nevertheless, this is easily the strongest story in the Eighth Doctor's "new universe" season so far.

Richard McGinlay

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