Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Winter for the Adept

For some reason I always remember Andrew Cartmel's first story for Big Finish as being boring, but then I revisit it and find I enjoy it more than I remembered. Perhaps I am just biased against him since he script edited one of my least favorite eras of the show. "Winter for the Adept" has the Doctor and Nyssa dealing with an apparent poltergeist in a girls' finishing school in the Swiss Alps in 1963. It also features Peter Jurasik (famous for being Londo in Babylon 5), India Fisher (who would go on to become the much beloved 8th Doctor companion Charley Pollard), and Sally Faulkner (who played Isobel in the classic Doctor Who story "The Invasion"). Big Finish has a penchant for bringing back alums from the classic show, which is a lot of fun.

The story is book-ended with narration from Alison with the wonderful piano tune which permeates the story. This helps establish the atmosphere right away, but doesn't do much to add to the plot. When doing a ghost story, the atmosphere is important and it's wonderfully done here by the music and audio sound-scape. Part one is a particular highlight as it mostly involves Nyssa alone. The idea that an experiment gone wrong in the TARDIS teleporting poor Nyssa into the Swiss Alps is amusing. Luckily, she is quickly rescued by Lieutenant Sandoz who escorts her to the school. Jurasik's Sandoz is somewhat distracting because I can't quite figure out what accent he is trying to produce. It's some sort of odd blend of American, English, with perhaps a touch of Londo Molari thrown in. Perhaps it's a Swiss accent - I'm not sure. In any event I do find it distracting. I think it's funny that Jurasik agreed to do a Doctor Who audio without having any idea what the show was. (He thought it was a medical drama!) In any event, the Doctor doesn't show up until late in part one which serves Nyssa well. She does a great job of trying to investigate the strange goings on at the school. Faulkner is terrifying as head mistress Miss Tremayne. She's a deeply religious woman who is unhinged by the strange goings on at the school. Fisher is surprisingly not that noticeable as Peril, since this helped lead to her being cast as Charley later on.

I really enjoy Peter Davison in this story. He sounds like he is having a lot of fun with the story, and the Doctor is written to be suitably eccentric and also in control - something I think was often lacking on many of the 5th Doctor's stories. I love his bumbling around for the on switch on one of his gadgets and it's hilarious listening to Nyssa almost refusing to help him for fear of being teleported away again. I also love the Doctor's calm reaction when their investigation into the "ghost" hits a dead end and when asked what next he calmly says it's time for a seance! (Even if that does make for a flat cliffhanger.)

The story goes a bit downhill in the final part. The odd explanation of an actual "ghost" (although the Doctor calls it an energy being with the memories of a dead man... huh?) having seizures which triggers Alison's latent telepathic skills, which in turn triggers Peril's telekinetic abilities is confusing and unsatisfying. The final reveal of the alien "Spillagers" comes off as silly and feels like a tacked on threat to end the story with. The ending's a bit of a letdown, but the journey is still pretty enjoyable. Better (much better) things are to come for the Doctor and Nyssa, but this is still a good bit of fun along the way.

Rating: Good

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