originally written 14/04/2011
At last, I’ve finally heard the first Eighth Doctor play and the first Charley play. Other than the dawdling opening, I thought it was great. I was listening to it on a coach ride and did not have the cast list with me, so was pleasantly surprised to learn that Gareth Thomas played Lord Tamworth, Barnaby Edwards Rathbone, Nicholas Pegg Frayling, and Helen Goldwyn the Triskele (her CV must be incredible—she plays dozens of aliens in Storm Warning one moment and Christine Daaé in Phantom of the Opera the next!). I’ve never heard of Hylton Collins before, but he was excellent as well.
Alan Barnes is skilled at this audio thing, and he divided this story in quite nicely balanced and paced four parts. (The much-maligned opening with the companion-less Eighth Doctor talking to himself simply because that’s what you have to do on audio made me think for a long time, how would I have done it differently? Everyone knows it’s a faux pas to have audio characters talking to themselves; it’s considered lazy writing. Yet, it can work—here it feels like it’s bolting the stable door and we have to wait until Charley and the Doctor to meet for the stallion to escape!)
Though basing my opinion mostly on this and Chimes of Midnight, I love Charley. India Fisher brings such warmth and character to her voice, she’s already shot up to the top of my favorite companions list. She emerges here as a self-described “Edwardian adventuress,” which has never totally made sense given she’s from 1930. There’s a bit of Amy Pond-storybook-ness to her as she has stolen a steward’s uniform and papers and is in a “trouser role” aboard the R-101 until she’s (quite quickly) unmasked as a girl. I love the way she (like any good companion) immediately develops trust and affection for the Doctor. Fisher and McGann have some of the best companion-Doctor chemistry ever, and it makes it such a delight to listen to their scenes. I can’t wait to hear their ongoing story.
Another reason the first quarter stalls so much, perhaps, is that it’s setting things up and not really defying our expectations. Storm Warning is a story with multiple strands, beautifully interwoven and resolves in the final three parts, but the first section is what you might expect of a Doctor Who pseudo-historical: something odd afoot in the R-101, the British Empire’s pioneering dirigible, which the Doctor has just managed to land upon after an encounter with time-vulture Vortisaurs; the R-101 seems to be inhabited by types, rather than characters: Lord Tamworth is Todd from “Kinda,” and Lieutenant-Colonel Frayling is the somewhat timid self-made man whose ideas are constantly ignored by the “old fool.” However, the story is much more than that, and the characters respond in remarkable and unforeseen ways to the Doctor’s presence and intervention.
I don’t want to spoil too much, but there’s a mysterious passenger in room 43, an equally mysterious South African valet, and Chief Steward Weeks babysitting a Vortisaur. Barnes writes big, which you can afford to do on radio, and thus we get extended debates on the strength of societies, on cultural differences, the pros and cons of war, and a stunning speech by McGann on what we’d say, in the post-RTD universe, “fixed” points in time. Lord Tamworth emerges as a wonderful character, and the Doctor and Charley search for the TARDIS which has landed somewhere in France. The Eighth Doctor has been very well-served on audio.