Faction Paradox
Volume 1
Coming to Dust

Starring: Wanda Opalinska and Jane Lesley
Magic Bullet Productions
RRP: 9.99, US $15.00
Available 27 August 2005

Naples, 1763. The Great Ape of Posto di Forragio is on show, but three Englishmen recognise that this creature is no mortal beast. It is a harbinger of ancient evil from before the time of the Pharaohs, one that may presage the return of something thought long buried. To prevent this, they turn to Cousins Justine and Eliza, representatives of the mysterious Faction Paradox...

With BBV's audio output having ground to a halt, Magic Bullet has picked up the baton to continue the audio adventures of Faction Paradox. As with the BBV CDs, this new series is written by the Faction's creator, Lawrence Miles, and features Cousins Justine and Eliza, though the parts have been recast.

Wanda Opalinska takes over from Suzanne Proctor as Justine, while Jane Lesley steps into Emma Kilbey's shoes as Eliza. Personally, I would have cast the two actresses the opposite way around. To my ears, Opalinska's less accented, harder-edged voice sounds more like Kilbey's than Proctor's.

However, the new series has been devised so that you don't need to be familiar with any previous Faction Paradox stories in order to understand it - which is good, because I've only heard a couple of the BBV CDs and haven't read any of the books.

Debate rages as to how these spin-offs fit in with the Doctor Who books that spawned them, especially since Stephen Cole and Peter Anghelides' The Ancestor Cell appeared to wipe out the Faction, much to the annoyance of Miles. Some theorise that the Faction depicted in The Ancestor Cell is from the far future (certainly they seem more powerful and possess different motives than elsewhere). Others believe that the timelines diverged when the Who and Faction Paradox series parted company, or have disregarded one series in favour of the other. I believe that this story might take place either before The Ancestor Cell or during Gallifrey's second existence between The Gallifrey Chronicles and Rose, but I'm keeping an open mind until such time as I can catch up with the other books and CDs.

Considering that this audio drama comes from the pen of the man who brought us such challenging (or, to phrase it less charitably, tough to penetrate) works as the New Adventures novel Dead Romance and the Who book The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, Coming to Dust is surprisingly crowd-pleasing, even mainstream by Miles' standards. Once again we encounter the creepy ape-like Mayaki from Adventuress, several subsequent Who novels and the short-lived Faction Paradox comic. But of even greater appeal to Who fans is the return of Gabriel Woolf to his role as Sutekh from Pyramids of Mars.

There is a rather confusing implication that Sutekh might still be active in 1763, as opposed to being imprisoned on Mars, which would contradict Pyramids. However, it is also suggested that the Osirians depicted in this story might occupy a separate timeline. Things may become clearer in the next episode, since, as with the BBV series, this is a serialised saga.

Other guest stars include Julian Glover and Isla Blair, who are also no strangers to the worlds of Doctor Who. Glover played leading roles in both The Crusade and City of Death, while Blair took a smaller part in The King's Demons. Now the tables have been turned in terms of casting, as Blair plays a major villain while Glover gets a bit part as the Osirian Upuat.

Although the production team aren't allowed to mention the Time Lords by name, Justine and Eliza's discussion of race banks suggests technology that is common to the Gallifreyans, the Minyans (who were once assisted by the Time Lords - see Underworld) and the Faction.

Magic Bullet's production values are an improvement on the less subtle editing techniques of BBV, though there are some rather exaggerated Italian accents. However, Coming to Dust seems less idiosyncratic and offbeat than previous Faction stories: no breastfeeding villains or examinations of entrails, etc. Hopefully, once the new series is established, Miles and Magic Bullet will feel comfortable enough to be less cosy - or is that too paradoxical?

Richard McGinlay