Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Fearmonger

It's time for some more brutal honesty. Earlier I said that I didn't enjoy the 6th Doctor's era on television. We'll I really didn't like the 7th Doctor's era. Even the greatest TV theme song in the history of the universe managed to get mangled during his run. One thing I can say about all the actors who have played the Doctor is that they are really good actors. With McCoy I say it through somewhat clinched teeth. There are times where I think he can be brilliant - mostly when he is understated. There are many times when he's acting angry or upset where I think he really overacts badly. One of the most cringe inducing elements for me was in "Battlefield" when he's arguing via telepathy with Mogana (shudder). His propensity for rolling r's also gets on my nerves, greatly. I also thought the quality of the scripts was even worse during this era. Even the "classics" from his era like... uh... like... well... I guess that would be "The Curse of Fenric" - while I find it entertaining, I still think it's a bit of a mess with way too many things crammed into one story. So, when I decided to start buying these Big Finish CDs from the beginning, I did have a bit of inner debate on whether or not to skip the 7th Doctor stories. I ultimately decided I would buy them all, which I have continued for the 152 of the monthly range that I have purchased so far. When I first heard this nine years ago, I had reservations.

Thankfully, "Fearmonger" gets things off to a nice start for the 7th Doctor. This is a political story with a sci-fi monster bent to it. The Doctor is travelling with Ace... (Sigh)... OK, let's talk a little about Ace. When the 7th Doctor's seasons were airing on PBS, I was probably around 1-2 years younger than Ace was supposed to be. One would think that might make me relate to her. Well, think again. I loathed Ace. She was another reason I didn't care for that era of the show. I found her incredibly annoying. I hated the fact that she called the Doctor "Professor". I hated her backpack full of nitro-9. I just hated Ace, period. These audios have warmed me to her somewhat, but I still often find her character pretty aggravating. To her credit, Sophie Aldred (like Nicola Bryant before her) slides right back into playing Ace without missing a beat. You'd never guess she was a decade removed from having performed the role for TV.

Back to the story. It does feature a couple of actors who appeared in Doctor Who on TV: Jacqueline Pearce who played villainess Chessene in "The Two Doctors" and Hugh Walters whose two most notable roles in Doctor Who were Runcible in "The Deadly Assassin" and toady, Vogel in "Revelation of the Daleks". I did recognize Walters' voice as sounding like Vogel's right away the first time I heard this. Pearce plays ultra-right wing, racist politician Sherilyn Harper, and Walters plays her chief adviser, Roderick. They are a good, villainous double act. All hell is breaking out in Great Britain and Harper's incendiary "New Britannia" political rantings are at the heart of it. But, something else is happening. This bloke Walter, who is seemingly crazy, claims that Harper is a monster. No, it's not just her political views that make her monstrous. He can actually hear a monster talking when she speaks. Of course the only ones that believe him are the Doctor and Ace - oh and also Walter's friend, Stephen, who apparently taught Walter how to hear the monster. Lending little credibility to Walter's claims is the fact that Stephen is currently in a psych ward. The monster (who for once has origins unknown to the Doctor - hence the nickname of "Fearmonger") appears to have taken over Harper and is using her to put fear into the hearts and minds of the public. It then literally feeds on their fear.

One other clever wrinkle in this story is the fact that parts of the story are told via broadcasts of a fiery political talk radio show. Vince Henderson is quite good playing rabble rousing political talk host Mick Thompson. The first time we hear his show, when the Doctor magically shows up in his studio while he's on the air, is great stuff. In fact for all my grousing about him earlier, McCoy is great in this story. He's mostly underplaying things, which is where I think he's most effective and likeable. Big Finish would explore the idea of telling a story with a radio show to a much larger extent in a later story, but we'll deal with that one later. Like a few of the earlier stories, there is a nice twist in this story involving the monster. It's a satisfying one, since there are plenty of hints for you. So, you don't feel cheated if you didn't figure it out in advance. (For the record, I didn't.)

Despite the fact, that this story was delayed from its original recording time due to McCoy's unavailability, there was apparently a lot of frantic last second rewriting for this. Author, Jonathan Blum, apparently nearly had a nervous breakdown getting it finished. It ends up being a pretty fine story, and is among the better 7th Doctor Big Finish plays. It didn't exactly make me fall in love with McCoy's Doctor, but it did thaw me on him somewhat. As it's one of my favorites featuring him, I'll be generous with the rating (plus it gets extra credit for actually having Ace get shot! I'm just kidding - I think....).

Rating: Great

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