Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Storm Warning

Before there was new Doctor Who in 2005, there were the Paul McGann Big Finish stories. While I was delighted by all the new Doctor Who featuring classic Doctors, I had an extra feeling of anticipation as I prepared to introduce myself to the 8th Doctor audios. This was new Doctor Who featuring the current Doctor. This was also the first "season" of Doctor Who from Big Finish.

"Storm Warning" does not have what I would call a great plot, but it does a terrific job of reintroducing the 8th Doctor, and introducing new companion Charley Pollard. Over the first two seasons of 8th Doctor audios Paul McGann and Charley would establish the kind of chemistry between Doctor and Companion not seen for a long time, and with a new vibe. India Fisher who was fine, but not overly remarkable as Perril in "Winter for the Adept" almost instantly becomes one of the all time great companions. The "Edwardian Adventuress" has a lust for life outside of the normal confines of her upper crust upbringing. She has the same zeal for travel and exploration that the Doctor does, so it's no wonder that they get along right away - even if Charley does think the Doctor may be completely crazy at first!

The story focuses around the doomed air ship the R101. I confess to not knowing a thing about this piece of history prior to hearing this story. The R101 crashed in France in 1930 on its maiden voyage, and writer Alan Barnes constructs a fun sci-fi story around this tragedy. This story also lays the seeds for a multi-season story arc for the Doctor and Charley that takes the series to some epic highs (and some ghastly lows). Over the course of the story, the R101 has a rendezvous with a UFO, and when we meet the aliens the story becomes a bit of a let down to me. The alien society just seems implausible and not particularly interesting with their factions of Creators and Uncreators with the Law governing both sides. It's also a big let down when the Creators are freed from their (literal) chains and end up being a pretty threatless alien monster.

But, there's a ton of fun to be had along the way in this story. McGann charms right away in his opening monologue in the TARDIS. I felt that the TV Movie was mostly awful with the exception of the incredible production values (I mean that TARDIS interior was just gorgeous!) and of course McGann himself. I remembered being devastated by the low US ratings which doomed the fledgling co-produced reboot (although it was obviously a blessing in disguise) because I really wanted to get to know this new Doctor. Well, he's finally back here! Listening to him talk to himself - and then chide himself for talking to himself is a delight. McGann sounds like he is having a ball and has the same boundless enthusiasm he showed in the TV Movie. (I also love the clever foreshadowing of "Mary's Story" in this which doesn't come to fruition for many years - although I doubt it was actually intentional back when Barnes wrote this.) McGann really is a bridge between the classic show and the current one, as his characterization feels more energetic and emotional like the new series portrayal, but the stories are structured in a more classic series format.

The guest cast is highlighted by Gareth Thomas (most famous for being Blake in Blake's 7, which I have actually never seen) as Lord Tamworth. Tamworth comes off like a pompous fool in the early goings, but there's much more to him. Barnaby Edwards is amusing as the villainous Rathbone, but at this point it feels like Edwards is in almost all of these early stories, so it's pretty easy to spot his voice early on. Maybe I'm just used to hearing him on the CD extras of the newer releases.

As mentioned earlier, the most significant plot element to come from "Storm Warning" is the fact that the Doctor saves Charley from the death she was supposed to have crashing on the R101. This tweak to history ends up having serious repercussions later on, but in this season we just get some hints about its seriousness when the Doctor broods about it. This story gets this new era (at the time) of Doctor Who off to a fun start.

Rating: Great

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