Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Kingdom for a Sound-a-Like

Big Finish carried the torch for Dr Who fans for many years before the show returned to TV, alongside the various Virgin and BBC novels. Nick Briggs, voice of pretty much every alien to appear so far under RTD (er, well, you know what I mean; gods, thats a mental image I could have done without), is now in charge and, by all accounts, doing a fine job in bringing past Doctor audio adventures to the slavering masses.

The quality overall has been a little variable over the years. David Tennant has also made numerous guest appearances, often as UNIT cannon fodder, sorry, soldiers. There have been some very experimental stories, such as the alternative timeline adventure with David Warner as the Doctor instead of Pertwee (Doctor Who Unbound: Sympathy for the Devil). And the one with Derek Jacobi as the writer (Doctor Who Unbound: Deadline) is superb. But then, it was written by Rob Shearman.

Now I'm not an expert on Big Finish audios; that's more the Prof's line (he's way more a Dr Who geek than I am, bless). But he does a sterling job of listening to the ones that take his fancy, then telling me which ones are really worth listening to.

Arguably amongst the best is "The Kingmaker" by Nev Fountain, most famous in Britain for being one of the writers on Dead Ringers. This topical impressions show started on BBC radio before moving onto the telly, as many do, and was possibly best known for the prank phonecalls John Culshaw used to make whilst pretending to be Tom Baker's Doctor. He was very good at it, too; the best was one he made to Sylvester McCoy, who part way through asks "Have you been drinking again, Tom?". The only unsettling part of it all was the suggestion that McCoy often got such rambling, incoherent phonecalls from the 4th Doctor and was actually quite used to it.

Culshaw gets to strut his stuff in this audio adventure with Peter Davison's Doctor, filling in for Mr Baker in possibly the worst impression he's ever done of him (which is a terrible shame, because he's usually spot on). And he's not the only sound-a-like present...

The plot centres around the 5th Doctor doing a spot of historical research for a series of books he's supposed to be writing. The thorny problem of the Princes in the Tower arises, so the Doctor, in his usual innocent-but-doomed way, decides to go back and find out first hand just what Richard III did with them. As you can imagine, things go very wrong, very quickly.

His companions on this adventure are Peri and Erimem, an ancient Egyptian princess. I always hated Peri as an assistant; she was dumb, got Peter Davison's Doctor killed and was dumb. Did I mention that she was also really dumb? I always wanted to give her a damn good slap. But in this audio, her thickness is played for wonderful, understated comic effect and despite myself I actually ended up quite liking her. Not as much as Erimem, but still.

Who-ever did the casting for this audio really does deserve a medal. Richard is played by Stephen Beckett, who does an absolutely sterling Eccleston-a-like. Make the most of it, its not as if we're ever going to get the real thing after the Beeb's cock-ups during his stint on the TV series. He delivers his lines with a dry wit, a job that is made very easy by the quality of the writing and the cleverness of the script.

Davison, as ever, is superb. Just like McGann, he's used the audio adventures to really develop the character of his Doctor, a world-weary innocent who can't do right for doing wrong. The jokes are funny and not over-done, the plot is clever (so much so that I can't really tell you any of it without ruining it for you) and the other vocal support is brilliant, including Arthur Smith at his gravelly best as Clarrie.

So, if you fancy supporting Big Finish and want an entertaining, historical adventure, "The Kingmaker" is a good place to start. And where else are you going to be able to pretend that you have three of the best Doctors vocally sparring with each other? Nowhere.


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