Doctor Who

Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN 1 84435 099 1
Available 25 September 2005

"You're listening to LIVE 34, broadcasting to Colony 34 all day, every day - constantly updated every minute of every hour - all news, all day, every day... Reports are coming in of an explosion... On the line now is the leader of the FDP... The President is about to begin his address... We can see bodies in the wreckage..."

This experimental drama is conveyed entirely in the form of broadcasts from a 24-hour news network. The structure is still episodic, but it dispenses with such conventional trappings as the Doctor Who theme tune (though you might just be able to hear elements of it in David Darlington's opening LIVE 34 jingle), incidental music, cliffhanger endings and reprises. Instead, the "broadcasts" fade in and out of static in four segments that take place over successive days.

During the course of news reports and interviews with individuals such as the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Hex (Philip Olivier), newcomer writers James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown succeed in conveying the distinct impression that LIVE 34 is not as independent or as impartial as its anchorman Drew Shahan (Andrew Collins) claims. Nor is the populace of Colony 34 as free or as prosperous as the government would have the listeners believe. Once again, Big Finish presents us with uncomfortable echoes of Britain's present political situation: civil liberties are being eroded by "security measures" put in place to protect the public from an alleged terrorist threat.

The voice of Drew Shahan is an almost constant presence throughout the production, and real-life presenter (and writer and critic) Andrew Collins rises to the occasion with a subtle and believable performance that carries the show.

As an aside, fans of the New Adventures novels will be pleased to note that the Doctor's companion Dorothy reverts to her nickname of Ace during this story, following a sequence of adventures, beginning with Colditz, in which she preferred to be addressed as McShane. Now these audio dramas can once again sit comfortably ahead of The New Adventures in terms of Who continuity.

LIVE 34 isn't quite as groundbreaking as it thinks it is - the similarly themed Babylon 5 episode And Now For a Word got in there first - but as an experimental piece of Doctor Who, it is a success.

Richard McGinlay