(Doctor Who related)
Audio Adventures in Time & Space
The Barnacled Baby
Starring: Deborah Watling and Clive Merrison
Available now

A 19th-century freak show has a new star exhibit, a strange creature that resembles an oversized human foetus encrusted with barnacles. In fact, it is an injured Zygon...

Clive Merrison, who guest starred in the Doctor Who TV serials The Tomb of the Cybermen and Paradise Towers, plays physician Sir Frederick Matravers in this clever and darkly witty spin on The Elephant Man. Matravers is a corrupt version of Frederick Treves - he wishes to remove the "Barnacled Baby" from the freak show, just as Treves wished to free John Merrick, but for less than philanthropic reasons. Merrison is no stranger to audio drama, being a frequent performer on BBC radio, particularly in his long-running role as Sherlock Holmes, and seems totally at home in the Victorian setting.

Deborah Watling, alias former Who companion Victoria, who appeared alongside Merrison in Tomb, plays another Victoria this time: the Queen herself. She also portrays a contrasting (and uncredited) role as an East-end barmaid, Vera, a sort of 19th-century Peggy Mitchell.

Although Watling and Merrison are the "big names" among the cast, larger roles are played by Nigel Peever as the sadistic owner of the freak show; Kerry Skinner as his abused but compassionate daughter Doris; and Henry Burge as the Zygon Demeris. Doris, who has recently lost her own baby, finds comfort by caring for Demeris, and the two develop something of a rapport. The Zygon has provocative (and typically BBV style) discussions with Doris, during which he shares his amusingly alien views on subjects such as Christian faith.

Anthony Keetch's script develops established Zygon mythology, and manages to work around the absence of the technology that Zygons usually use, when mimicking the forms of other beings, to store body prints. At one point Demeris refers to his thoracic transmitter, which is presumably an explanation for the microphones that were sometimes visible on the costumes worn during Terror of the Zygons! Doris's solution to Demeris's need for lactic fluid (that's milk to you and me) is definitely something that works better on audio than it could have on TV.

The conclusion of this inventive tale also craftily ties in with real historical events. No demerits for this one, then.

Richard McGinlay