Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: Doctor Who, "Whispers of Terror"

In this 93-minute audio drama from 1999, the Sixth Doctor and Peri (Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, reprising their TV roles) find themselves in the Museum of Aural Antiquities, a repository of sounds from speeches to wiretaps. Visteen Krane, a voice actor-turned-politician, had been favored for the Presidency until his recent death, an apparent suicide. Instead, Beth Pernell, Krane's agent and his presumptive running mate, is making plans to announce her own candidacy, using a Krane speech praising her toward that end. Pernell and her associates are also in the Museum, planning the big announcement.

After a mysterious death and claims that someone had altered Krane's speeches, the Doctor and Peri help investigate. They discover that, when Krane died, he transferred his mind into his recording equipment and has been altering tapes. They must discover why - and how to stop him.

The stakes in the story were important - murder and political intrigue - but small in the grand scheme of things, with no planetary catastrophe or alien invasion at hand. To me, that's a good thing, as too many Doctor Who writers seem to believe that the only stories that matter are when the stakes are sky-high. In contrast, I find small stories can be very effective and focus the listener (or viewer) on character and plot, rather than on the almost forced emotional reaction to planetary peril.

In some ways, this story is ideally suited to the audio drama format. The story involves sound and the manipulation of sound, so much of the action does not rely on auditory versions of what would otherwise be visual cues. (Reinforcing this point, the Director of the museum is blind, which does not handicap his work with sounds, but does play a role in the plot.) The mystery is straightforward but enjoyable. I enjoyed the banter between the Doctor and Peri; although "The Two Doctors" is the only TV story starring Colin Baker as the Doctor that I've seen so far, Baker and Bryant resume their roles as though this were made in 1985 and not fourteen years later. The Doctor is a little mellower, too, which is a good thing.

If I had a criticism about this drama as a Doctor Who story, it is that it lacked a great deal of Doctor action. He deduces what is happening before the others, and performs a little deus ex machina Doctor magic, but in many ways in this is a story about Krane and Pernell, with the Doctor in a relatively small role.

One difficulty I had was in distinguishing among the actors' voices. Peri was unmistakable, and I usually could identify the Doctor, but other characters occasionally blended together.

I'm still of two minds about these audio dramas. I like having an expanded range of stories, particularly in the increasingly long waits for new television episodes, and I think it's terrific to be able to have new adventures with the classic series Doctors, particularly with the original actors in the role (along with some of the original companions). In addition, I can listen to audio in places, such as the subway, when watching an episode would be difficult or impossible. And completing a story in 90 minutes or so gives me a fighting chance to remember important plot points, more so than reading a book over a much longer period. On the other hand, there's always the question of how these stories fit into the show's canon, and the limitations of audio make for some tough going at times. Still, I'll keep listening, at least for a while.

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