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Doctor Who
Sword of Orion

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
ISBN 1 903654 15 7
Available now

Trapped aboard a derelict star destroyer, the Doctor and Charley are accused of murder by a crew of hardened space-salvage workers. Meanwhile, a far greater menace is slowly awakening: the Cybermen...

This adventure is based on one of the Audio Visuals series of amateur audio dramas from the 1980s. I have only had the pleasure of hearing one of the AVs, and I am unfamiliar with the previous version of Sword of Orion, but on the strength of this remake, let's have some more! Writer Nicholas Briggs has smoothed over some of the more sardonic and pragmatic aspects of his own AV incarnation of the Doctor in order to tailor his script to McGann's more overtly compassionate portrayal. The main plot, however, shines through as a particularly sturdy example, marred only slightly by a rather obvious revelation concerning the curiously impeccable Deeva Jansen (Michelle Livingstone), the captain of a rough-and-ready salvage crew.

Comparisons with the 1982 TV Cybermen story Earthshock are almost inevitable, owing to its setting on board a sparsely populated spaceship and that old Doctor Who stock in trade: the Doctor being accused of a crime he didn't commit. I was waiting for someone to say, "On this ship we execute murderers!"

The voices of the Cybermen, performed by Briggs and Alistair Lock, are also distinctly '80s, subscribing to the David Banks school of imbuing the supposedly emotionless creatures with a hint of urgency, although Briggs and Lock manage to avoid the extremes of the TV Cybermen's more emotional outbursts. The story takes place some time after the Cyberwar described in Revenge of the Cybermen (1975). The Doctor also informs us that the forces on Telos are currently lying dormant in their "tombs" (Tomb of the Cybermen, 1967), so perhaps the cyborgs ought to have sounded like their 1960s or '70s models (a 1968 Invasion Cyberman is pictured on the CD sleeve). However, Christopher Robbie's Cyberleader in Revenge just sounded silly, while the 1960s voices had the problem of being frequently incomprehensible. The important thing is that the Cybermen provide a palpable threat, being coldly cunning as well as difficult to kill (unless you happen to possess a weapon like that belonging to the suspiciously well-armed Captain Jansen). A tense atmosphere is heightened by some memorable incidental music by that busy bee Briggs, who also directs the story. His music imparts a sense of lurking danger and, once heard, lingers in the memory for days thereafter.

Both McGann and India Fisher as companion Charley have quickly settled into their roles as though they had been playing them in a regular series for years. Ah, if only...

Richard McGinlay