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Audio Drama Review
The Doctor and Peri find themselves in the palatial gardens of the deposed Empress Safira Valtris, where nothing is ever quite what it seems...
This anthology of four tales on the theme of perception begins with Breaking Bubbles by LM Myles. The writer explores the topic in terms of both spatial awareness and how certain individuals are judged by others to be – in particular the toppled dictator (is she all bad?) Safira Valtris (played by Jemma Churchill).
As well as perception, I also perceived the recurring themes of confinement (the prisoner in this story, a quarantined patient in Of Chaos Time The, and closeted students in the other two stories) and war (former conflicts in which Valtris has been involved and the threat of a new battle if she manages to escape from her prison, time being used as a weapon in Of Chaos Time The, the dawn of the Second World War in An Eye For Murder, and warrior robots in The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night-Time).
Breaking Bubbles is a decent enough little story, but it feels somewhat constrained by its half-hour running time, with certain characters undergoing some rather sudden changes of heart towards the end.
Cast adrift in his own chronology, the Doctor must avert the consequences of a catastrophic experiment in the use of time as a weapon of war...
Whereas Breaking Bubbles messed with characters’ perception of space, Mark Ravenhill’s Of Chaos Time The jumbles up the awareness of time – for both the listener and the Doctor (Colin Baker). Like an iPod set to shuffle, the scenes in this episode are not presented in chronological order.
It’s a device that has been used before in Doctor Who (in The Jigsaw War, for example) but here Ravenhill doesn’t have the luxury of a long running time in order to establish, play with and explain what is happening. He gets around this by allowing us to hear the Doctor’s thoughts as the Time Lord realises that something strange is happening, wonders what is going on, and steadily pieces together the sequence of events.
Like Breaking Bubbles, Of Chaos Time The seems a little restricted by its duration, coming to rather an abrupt conclusion. Hats off to Phil Mulryne, though, for playing so many versions of the patient Trobe.
The year is 1939, and a case of poison pen letters at St Ursula’s College threatens to change the course of the Second World War. Fortunately, thriller writer Miss Sarah Perry is on hand to investigate...
In contrast to the futuristic settings of the two tales on Disc One, the second disc is more down to earth, featuring stories set in our planet’s past and present. In An Eye For Murder, Una McCormack uses a women’s college as an effective microcosm for the social-political upheavals that took place in Europe in 1939. One of the students is a Jew, one of them a Nazi sympathiser, and another a communist, all with very different views of the world. The theme of perception enters the fray in a more literal sense during the second half of the story...
The exclusively female setting of St Ursula’s makes a nice change from the norm. In an amusing scene, the Doctor is told by Peri (Nicola Bryant) not to go wandering off, and has to pretend to be her lowly assistant and typist.
A word of warning about inconsistent sound levels on this release, especially if you are listening on headphones. After the relatively quiet theme music heard on Of Chaos Time The, the signature tune that opens An Eye For Murder might prove to be murder on the ear!
Michael is a young boy who likes to solve mysteries, such as the mystery of the extra gnome, the mystery of the absent father, and the mystery of the strange man in yellow trousers at the bottom of the garden…
Nev Fountain’s The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night-Time is quite openly a spin on the similarly titled novel and play. In common with the source material, this story concerns a teenage boy with an autism spectrum disorder, and it works very well. Young Michael (played by Johnny Gibbon, who took the lead role in the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time stage play during 2013) is not unlike the Doctor, in that he gets compared to an alien, is often single-minded, fails to register the emotional states of those around him, and possesses precious little social discretion when it comes to blurting out what he knows or believes. Peri briefly resumes the authoritative role that she played in An Eye For Murder when she tells off the Time Lord, just as Michael’s parents lose their patience with their son, but this is mostly Baker’s and Gibbon’s story.
In a typically bonkers move, Fountain also includes some sinister garden gnomes, but the end result is curiously poignant, despite the matter-of-fact – never maudlin – narration by Michael throughout.
With no overt continuity links to previous audio releases, this anthology would make an ideal “trial pack” for anyone new to the Big Finish range who may be thinking of giving it a go.
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