Sunday, 24 January 2010

Whispers of Terror written by Justin Richards and directed by Gary Russell

Softer Six: Or not so softer six perhaps! The opening scenes of Whispers of Terror feel extremely authentic to mid 80’s Who with the Doctor and Peri being quite rude to each other, unnecessarily so. I have long been a defender of the sixth Doctor so it pleases me to inform you that things do settle down very quickly as soon as he gets a good mystery to sink his teeth into but the regulars’ scenes bookending this adventure do suggest a return to the pre Trial relationship. The joy of the sixth Doctor is not only his passion for his adventures and the joys of the English language but how his weaknesses slip through the cracks every now again, suggesting a much deeper character than the initially shallow man he appears to be. His shock reaction to Peri’s death in Mindwarp is a great example, suddenly all the bluster has gone and he can barely talk. Whispers of Terror gives the Doctor loads to do, he is as verbose and playful as ever, shouting his head off suggesting people that do so only reveal the paucity of their argument and baiting Peri into raising her voice and proving his point! He thinks he has a better sense of direction than a homing pigeon, a claim made by Hartnell’s Doctor if I remember correctly. His scenes with Beth Purnell are terrific; he seems to enjoy baiting her and manages to sniff her out as the villain straight away. In a story of speeches and performances he is the most theatrical of all, especially at the end of episode two where he positively revels in revealing the latest plot development. He can be quite impatient and snappy, critical of other people’s moments of melodrama (!) and pushes his moral indignation to murder. A supporter of democracy. We’re not quite there yet making Colin Baker accessible to all audiences but the best is yet to come.

American Attitude: Oh Peri, Peri, Peri….do you know I can never deicide if Peri is an integral part of the show or a complete turd. I love Nicola Bryant and think she is extremely game, she rocked in her two stories with Davison and managed to be the best thing about The Twin Dilemma. Season 22 saw her turn into a hysterical hang along, not really contributed to the series and just there to get into scrapes and moan. It is such a waste of her character so it is nice to see that Big Finish have given her a new lease of life on audio. Peri is pretty quiet in this story; she has her initial longing to get back to the TARDIS (of course), reveals a curious eye for detail but still runs off blundering into trouble.

Great Ideas: Having a blind character is a stroke of genius and rather than taking the obvious route of having all the characters explain what is happening visually he uses Gantman to conceal the plot twist that Napton is really Crane.
A life form that has manipulated itself as a sound wave, that can escape through any medium that carries sound has so many possibilities. The only thing it can’t do is be absolutely quiet because it exists as sound (I love how this creature could have been any sound that was running through our ears…very creepy). Having the Doctor capture him by taping him onto a CD is inspired Purnell torture his by deleting parts of the disc and stretching others is just horrible. The creature plans to manifest a version of itself everywhere that the broadcast is received – millions of mad, homicidal waveforms.
Purnell’s death scene is a surprise ending, tricked into opening a sound file sent by (the apparently dead) Stenguard and ripping her car to pieces.

Standout Performance: Lisa Bowerman who I simply adore as Bernice Summerfield makes a surprisingly uncharismatic villain which is quite refreshing in Doctor Who. She is a plain speaking, conniving, political Nazi. I love her casual ‘How dare you!’ when the Doctor starts accusing her of manipulating the speeches – she can’t even be bothered to sound genuinely hurt!

Ham Fisted: Rebecca Jenkins is a little too hysterical in places. Sometimes less is more.

Sparkling Dialogue: This is a Justin Richards script so I expected some gems…
‘Something grand and theatrical from the old school of acting no doubt, loud, bombastic, not my sort of thing really.’ – The sixth Doctor!
‘I think there’s more to this than meets the ear!’
‘Strange, I was there when Barclay searched you but some how he missed this knife. Those voices must have really screwed you up.’ This was a really creepy scene.
‘If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it!’
‘I hope it gets better than this.’
‘Democracy – an outdated, unworkable system that disperses power so thinly it hardly exists. A morally justifiable way of doing nothing. Procrastination made politic!’
‘We’ll drop by in a few years to hear how you’re getting on.’
‘Now I’ve heard everything.’ The TARDIS dematerialisation sound.

Audio landscape: Gary Russell’s first step into the directors chair is mostly magnificent, a challenging script by Justin Richards asking him to create an audio landscape that is literally an audio landscape with a sound creature, several murders, cars crashing and all sorts of audio jiggery pokery. The death of Fotherill lingers in the memory, creepy voices, manic laughter, screaming…it is an assault of disturbing sounds. The end of the first episode reminds me strongly of The Face of Evil (‘Tell me who I am!’) and is chaotic and surreal.

Musical Cues: This is an genuine 80’s score, intrusive, synthesised, bold and occasionally atmospheric. Even Nick Briggs hates some of it but apparently it was written in quite a rush. Big Finish are still taking their baby steps, soon they would abandon trying to imitate what has been and forge their own path.

Isn’t that Odd: That the middle of the CD booklet is a disgusting sickly yellow colour. Whose idea was that? The end of episode three is really badly directed – it feels like it should be an important moment but its plain with a minimum of sound effects.

Something I learnt from The Inside Story: Justin Richards read the first episode to test its length and it came out at 45 minutes long! When he asked Gary Russell if he could do another audio and what he was after, Russell replied ‘Something simpler!’

Standout Moment: Purnell causing her own political suicide was punch-the-air good. The Doctor secretly broadcasts her confession to murdering Crane.

Result: An interesting story written by a good storyteller who has put some real thought into how to construct a tale on audio. You have a Museum of Aural Antiquities, a sound creature, speeches holding the narrative together and a blind character disgusing plot twists. At times the story is a little too authentic to the time period it hails from as the music drones on and the Doctor and Peri bicker but the plot and direction are good enough to see you though. Colin Baker seems to relish being back in the driving seat but his best work is still to come and butts heads memorably with Lisa Bowerman here, a world away from their very different roles in Birthright. I like experimental stories and Whispers of Terror stylishly commits to telling a audio tale as forcefully and as intellectually as possible: 8/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @


Chad Moore said...

Really enjoying your reviews!

Doc Oho said...

Thanks for the feedback Chas - always nice to know somebody is enjoying what you are doing!

James said...

The CD cover art at the top - was that an alternative/original design?