Northern Adventurer: ‘Stupid, stupid apes!’ I was just waiting for the Doctor to make an appearance once Rose had been arrested and lo and behold he waltzes into the station with a fake identity and whisks her away, grinning all the way. There is more than a touch of Troughton from The War Games here (‘How dare you treat me like this, sir?’) except he exchanges bluster for charm. Humphrey Bogart was the only man to ever beat the Doctor at chess when he co-starred in several movies with him. Rather than produce a genuinely threatening piece of hardware, the Doctor proposes to walk into a stand off with a spud gun. Remember that trip of a lifetime the Doctor promised Rose? He delivers in spades when she leaps on the back of a hover bike and they go screaming of into the night on the trail of a criminal psychopath. When an innocent dies, that frightening anger of his flares all of a sudden. In Rose’s experience, the Doctor’s reaction to himself in two regenerations time is the first time that he has ever said ‘fantastic’ with anything other than enthusiasm. Very like his short tenure, the Doctor doesn’t have to be an active participant in the events of the climax (he shied away from making choices because a choice that he had made in the past had devastating consequences) but encourages people to do the right thing and save themselves. He gives McNeil a real gift at the conclusion; making him realise that however he might be feeling now, he did the right thing. Maybe he is talking about himself there.
Chavvy Chick: The Doctor had promised Rose a trip of a lifetime but instead what she got was a third rate waitressing job in a sleazy 23rd Century casino in New Vegas. Rose is used to being caught up in stressful situations by this point in her tenure and is the one who calms Jack down when he tries to extradite her from police custody. She can handle herself. When interrogated, Rose suggests that she is on her gap year. Rose Tyler is the Doctor’s anchor and she performs the role over and over again, taking his hand and leading him away from the wrong choices.
Hunky Hero: Jack steps from the TARDIS, boastful and full of stories. I remember when he joined the Doctor and Rose after The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and genuinely thought the series had arrived with a compelling, sexy and fun line up of characters to front the show. Night of the Whisper captures that feeling of a show finding its feet with real zest and confidence, the three characters complimenting each other beautifully. He’s always glad to see men in uniform, even if they are law enforcers that have come to arrest him. Don’t believe him when he says he only has eyes for you, he’d offer that plaudit to anybody that would help them out.
Standout Performance: Wow, just wow. Was that really Nicholas Briggs? Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, naysayers! I remember when this release was announced and there was a line of the usual Briggs-bashing suspects ready to criticize his involvement in this story with cries that he is monopolizing the audio market. I don’t know if anybody could have done a better job mimicking Christopher Eccleston’s accent and attitude, it is a remarkably authentic performance that quite took my breath away. If you can’t have the real thing then this is a more than acceptable substitute. Briggs’ Rose is a little more mannered but perfectly serviceable whereas his Jack captures all that vim and vigour that John Barrowman (ever the showman and only occasionally an actor) brought to the role. I can understand why all three of the original performers might be in hot demand and unable to reprise their roles but for the record it would have been a blast to have had one of them take part, especially Eccleston or Piper (Barrowman has performed for the Torchwood audios before so that box has been ticked). Just when you think he can’t be asked to deliver any more, along comes Briggs’ spot on rendition of the eleventh Doctor. I was having so much fun with this it was the first time since the second installment of the Destiny of the Doctor series that I had completely forgotten about him and been waiting for his appearance. This time it was a real surprise.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Give me all your dough or I’ll fill you full of Maris Piper! You gonna scream, or what?’
‘If that’s your mother we’re not in!’
Great Ideas: Scott & Wright conjure up the series one in pretty much their first sentence with talk of a trip of a lifetime and the use of ‘New’ to suggest a future copy of a location on Earth. Wolfsbane is Al Capone with teeth and fur, in charge of the casino that Rose has found herself working in. Digital rewind gets a mention, of course. McNeil turning his daughter into a weapon (and the vigilante of the title) is a gut wrenching twist that I would have thought nobody capable of and provides the story with a fantastic dilemma. This is the most vengeful Doctor of them all (ask Cassandra…oh no wait, you can’t, she’s a long string of chewing gum after he let her dry out and snap) and yet his predecessor has instructed him to keep McNeil alive at all costs. How will he keep that barely restrained anger under control? The Whisper threatening to take down the New Vegas containment bubble is the kind of disaster zone climax that a story this in-yer-face needed. Scott & Wright provide an emotional roller coaster of a finale between father and daughter that wont be forgotten in a hurry and following that up with a vertiginous action sequence. They’ve left nothing out, this is one packed audio. ‘Thanks to Bad Wolf Holdings…’
Audio Landscape: As befits a new series adventure, the soundscape for Night of the Whisper is stylish and immersive, a step up from anything we have heard from the classic series adventures in this range. I swear at some points during this adventure I was on the back of a hover car with the Doctor, dodging bullets and swerving to avoid oncoming traffic. Casino atmosphere, alarm bells, bullets screaming through the air, energy crackling, hover patrol cars rushing past, rain, lightning, honking cars screaming past. There was more and it was excellent but I was so caught up in the story by the end I stopped taking notes.
Musical Cues: The initial theme tune for the new series was just tops, wasn’t it? Bombastic and confident, just how it needed to be. As soon as it kicked in I found myself getting my groove on at the keyboard! It is so superior to the horrid dreck that is currently accompanying the titles that I cannot figure out why they keep changing it. It’s that man Howard Carter on sound design and music duties and once again he does a exceptional job. It is rather refreshing to listen to a ninth Doctor story that isn’t scored by Murray Gold (this isn’t a Gold bash, I think despite some overuse of themes and the occasional over dollop of syrup he has managed to score the series exceptionally well over seven seasons), Carter delivering the same kind of energy but his own unique style.
Isn’t it Odd: Not a comment on the story itself but more the writers themselves and their general disappearance from the audio schedules of late. They rocked onto the scene with the unforgettable Project: Twilight (whether you were a fan or not) and followed that up with the equally memorable Project: Lazarus (with a charming and colourful detour to The Church and the Crown on the way) and finished their trilogy with the overblown (but massively popular in some quarters) Project: Destiny. They’ve contributed a few items elsewhere but have been extremely quiet recently. Like Joe Lidster, I don’t always fall in love with everything they write (that is the nature of being a writer who takes risks) but I love the fact that they push things to extremes and try out some potentially unstable ideas to keep their work fresh and interesting. It might not always be my cup of tea (it often is, but not always – this is unusually diplomatic for but I genuinely appreciate their effort to stay fresh) but I appreciate their willingness to take risks and would certainly love to see more of them in the future. Certainly the main range (which is erring on the wrong side of conventional of late) could do with their electrifying touch to shove a few thousand volts up its ass.
Standout Scene: Ultimately the Doctor can empathise with McNeil because he has been forced to take drastic action that is out of character to get his business done, something the Doctor recognises in himself. The Time War had to get a mention somewhere and because Davies was so brilliantly obscure about details, he could be referring to himself or the John Hurt Doctor who the recently screened Name of the Doctor suggested had a dramatic role to play in the conflict. Either way it makes for a breathtaking moment, the Doctor comparing himself to a man who would go to such lengths.
Result: Something was putting me off from listening to Night of the Whisper and it took me a little while to figure out what it is. I rather like the ninth Doctor and certainly don’t consider him to be the weakest (if we were going to do that sort of thing) as seems to be popular opinion these days and I was genuinely psyched to plunge myself back into the mood of optimism and excitement that greeted the first series when it aired in 2005. But in my heart I knew that unless there was some miracle that Big Finish would obtain a licence to produce ninth Doctor stories and by an even greater convergence of circumstances Christopher Eccleston would be willing to reprise the role on audio this was most likely going to be the last original ninth Doctor story I would ever experience (I don’t read fan fiction, alas). Night of the Whisper starts running and never lets up, like many a new series episode. However, it has the fortune of being a quarter longer than most of the Eccleston episodes and goes to show just how much breathing space and extra detail can be packed in an hour long story. I have always said that if you aren’t going to go for the old style 4 x 25 minutes then an hour is your best second choice – look at SJA and Benny, none of those stories felt rushed. What you have here is an authentic ninth Doctor tale; told in a trendy location with set pieces that you could tell your mates about on school on Monday (‘They were riding about skyscrapers on a hover car!’ ‘ No way…I missed that!?’) and lots of entertaining things for the Doctor, Rose and Jack to do. Nicholas Briggs deserves nothing short of a standing ovation for his bravura turn as all three regulars in this adventure, imbuing them all with authentic characteristics and capturing Eccleston’s tone as well as Frazer Hines captures Troughton’s. In some respects this is quite similar to the recently released companion chronicle, House of Cards (certainly in terms of its setting) but the tone of a Troughton adventure and an Eccleston one are worlds apart and Scott & Wright should be applauded for taking the best of season one and stuffing into one hour long bundle of escapist fun, with the occasional moment of cruel emotion. If I have to listen to my last ninth Doctor adventure, I would be happy for it to be Night of the Whisper: 9/10