Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Shadow of the Scourge

I never read much of the New Adventures books. A buddy of mine in college bought them and loaned me the Timewyrm series. I remembered liking Terrance Dicks' book in the series the best, but wasn't particularly tempted to keep reading them going forward. So, I wasn't overly familiar with Paul Cornell's work in the New Adventures prior to hearing this story. This is very much in the spirit of the New Adventures featuring the 7th Doctor, Ace, and Bernice Summerfield. This was my introduction to the character of Bernice (other than some of the previews for the Benny adventures found at the end of some of the early Big Finish releases). From hearing the Doctor Who audios that feature her as a companion, I have developed very mixed feelings towards her. While I don't think this story is nearly as good as "The Fires of Vulcan" which directly precedes it, this is still good enough to keep the unlikely streak of 7th Doctor stories I actually enjoy going.

This is a mostly fun pan-dimensional invasion story taking place in a hotel with three separate conventions going on. One of them involves a "spirit channeler" who is a fraud, but not quite a total fraud. Another has a scientist demonstrating his temporal accelerator. Finally, there is a group of cross stitch enthusiasts. These three groups are somehow the perfect combination to allow the powerful scourge to invade by taking over the bodies of some of the hotel guests. Of course, the Doctor has made some agreement with these invaders, which is a plot to ensnare them in a trap. And, unsurprisingly, the trap doesn't work and the Doctor himself begins to be take over by one of the scourge invaders. This puts the Doctor on the sideline for a good bit of the second disc, as he is locked in a battle of will which leaves Ace, Benny, and some other brave hotel guests to try to save him.

Possibly the best thing about this story is that it allows the Doctor's companions to really shine. This was my first real encounter with Benny, and she's really quite likeable and hilarious. Lisa Bowerman, who was one of the cheetah people in the final classic Who serial "Survival" is very entertaining as Benny. The scene where she infiltrates the group of spiritualists is hilarious. Benny also twice enters the Doctor's brain to aid in his struggle to avoid be take over by the scourge, which is both courageous and amusing. Ace, on the other hand, has a creative and extremely brave way of resisting the Scourge's ability to issue commands, that any human hearing them, is forced at a primal level to obey. You can't help but wince when Ace's solution is put into play. Ace then running around shouting a bit too loudly at everyone is pretty well done by Sophie Aldred. Ace is also a hoot on the first CD pretending to yell at the Doctor for "betraying" the Earth - playing along with his attempt to deceive the Scourge.

The Scourge themselves are a mixed bag. Their great power to control humans, and their feeding off of human's fear is interesting. Cornell does a good job of making it seem like the Scourge are fully in control, and that there's no way for the Doctor to overcome their plot. But, there's a downside to the Scourge: they like to talk.... a lot. There's way too much dialog between the invaders, painstakingly discussing their plans and also constantly repeating their enjoyment of "feeding on these humans fear". It gets very monotonous after a while and the smug tone with which they discuss these things, over and over again, begins to undermine their menace after a while. It also extends this story's length so that it feels a bit overly long. Finally, the resolution isn't altogether satisfying, and it's hard for me to get a grip on what the "rules" for how they overcome the Scourge really are.

Still, even with these flaws, it's generally a very entertaining yarn. Ace is about as likeable as she gets for me, and Benny is delightfully entertaining and funny in this one. This play doesn't really play to McCoy's strengths as an actor, as he is forced to overact greatly at times while trying to hold on to his sense of self when fighting the Scourge. The guest cast are all able as well, with Holly King as Annie and Lennox Greaves as Brian standing out (when they're human). Looking back this is probably my least favorite of the 7th Doctor stories so far - as well as my least favorite Cornell penned Big Finish audio, but it's still pretty fun, and fans of the New Adventures novels will probably get even more out of this than I do.

Rating: Good

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