Doctor Who
The Stones of Venice

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
ISBN 1 903654 25 4
Available now


The Doctor takes Charley to Venice, but by the time they arrive, the city is decidedly past its prime. Venice is finally sinking beneath the water, purportedly as the result of a curse placed upon an ageless duke by his scorned wife 100 years ago...

Rather like The Androids of Tara, this story mingles the futuristic with the archaic to create an intriguing and extremely unusual scenario. Although set in the 23rd century, this is a tale of curses, cults, dungeons and masked balls, the latter of which is brought to life with the aid of some beautiful Renaissance-style music by Russell Stone. The science fiction elements include a mutated underclass of amphibious gondoliers, but these people are usually described by the ruling classes in terms of mythological monsters - sentient toads, hobgoblins and trolls.

Eccentric though it is, Paul Magrs' script avoids the comedic extremes of some of his Doctor Who novels. However, the creator of the renegade Gallifreyan Iris Wildthyme still has a place in his story for a wilful elderly lady, in this case one Ms Eleanor Lavish (Elaine Ives Cameron). Meanwhile, Miss Havisham, who made a brief appearance in Magrs' novel Verdigris, also has a role to play here (kind of), amalgamated with another character from Dickens' Great Expectations. Estella, the departed wife of Duke Orsino, is rumoured to have ended her life by throwing herself into a canal wearing her wedding dress.

Portraying the lovelorn Duke is Michael Sheard, a veteran of many guest appearances in Who on television, but perhaps best known for his long-running role as the forbidding Mr Bronson in Grange Hill. Equally capable of playing good guys (such as Laurence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars) as well as baddies, Sheard is perfectly cast as the Duke, who is by turns both pitiful and callous, being entirely prepared to allow his own citizens to drown along with his city. Other colourful characters include a craven curator, Churchwell (Nick Scovell) and Vincenzo (Mark Gatiss), the zealous high priest of the Cult of Estella. Paul McGann and India Fisher as the Doctor and Charley also enjoy an excellent rapport, belying the fact that this was actually the first story they recorded together for Big Finish.

I hate to admit it, but once again I managed to guess the final episode's "surprise" revelation long before it was disclosed. Perhaps I have watched, read and heard too much Who over the years to be genuinely surprised very often. However, I will never tire of listening to this particular series.

Richard McGinlay