Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Storm Warning" - Dieselpunk Meets the Doctor

If not the last stage in the descent into madness, listening to audio stories of television characters is at least a stop near the bottom. Having run out of new Doctor Who episodes, having a stack of classic series DVDs but only so much time to sit and watch, and, indeed, anticipating a day when those episodes will too be in the past, I purchased two audio dramas from Big Finish Productions, both featuring the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann.

The first of these, "Storm Warning," released in 2001 and running about two hours, much to my surprise started out as a diselpunk tale: set in 1930 aboard a British airship, the R101, heading to India on its maiden voyage, we encounter intrigue in the skies. The TARDIS materializes inside one of the ballast tanks of the airship, having accidentally brought along a predator, a bird of prey called a Vortisaur, through the Time Vortex. The TARDIS disappears as the ballast tank is dumped, trapping the Doctor in the airship. The Doctor encounters Charlotte "Charley" Pollard (played by India Fisher), a young lady impersonating the identity of a male steward in order to see the world, and the rest of the airship's crew. This includes a mysterious passenger, who turns out to be an alien, Engineer Prime of the Triskele species. R101 is returning Engineer Prime, who crashed in England the previous winter, to the Triskele spaceship. The airship makes its rendezvous with the Triskele spaceship high over France. Then the games begin...

The Doctor knows the historical R101 crashes in France on its maiden voyage (as does the nonfictional R101; see the link above), so he has to return the Vortisaur to its proper place, solve the problem of the Triskele, deal with human double-dealing, and keep himself - and Charley - alive long enough to find the TARDIS and escape the airship before it explodes.

I liked McGann as the Doctor in the 1996 movie - certainly he rose above the material in that film - and he's good in the role in audio. Charley (played by India Fisher) is the usual plucky adventuress companion. (Doctor Who regular Nicholas Pegg (he plays a Dalek in various episodes of the new series) is also in this production, playing Lt. Colonel Frayling.) For the most part, I was able to distinguish among the main characters through differences in their voices, though having too many gruff-sounding men with English accents made this challenging. The story was good, without too much hand-waving to fill holes in the plot, with a satisfying resolution.

As a British company, Big Finish sells its audio CDs in pounds and ships them from Britain. Fortunately, Americans can save the lengthy shipping time and high cost by downloading the audio files in MP3 format. (And the stories are conveniently priced in U.S. dollars as well.)

This may be madness, but it's a good way to go crazy.

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