Doctor Who

Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 180 0
Available 19 February 2007

On the human colony planet Nocturne, there is suffering and blight, tragic symptoms of an ages-old war. Nevertheless, this is one of the Doctor's favourite places, because it is here that a late, great flowering of human art and music is taking place. It is a place he finds inspirational and uplifting, and he wants to share it with Ace and Hex. It's always been a safe haven for him, a world of friends and laughter. But with strict Martial Law imposed on the front-line city, and the brutal scourge of interstellar warfare gripping the system, how safe can anyone really be? There is a note of death in the wild, midnight wind...

Having really enjoyed the freshness and excitement of writer Dan Abnett's previous Seventh Doctor/Ace/Hex story, The Harvest, I had high hopes for this follow-up. Unfortunately, Nocturne comes up rather shorter on the original ideas front.

The writer explores the interesting notion of the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) having friends at various ports of call throughout space and time - not just on Earth - in this instance the planet Nocturne. Thus at the outset of the adventure the travellers arrive at a place where they are welcomed with open arms, rather than, as is more customary, stepping out into the unknown and/or being greeted with hostility by suspicious natives.

However, it's not long before familiar old patterns begin to reassert themselves. Following some mysterious deaths, the Doctor is treated as a suspect and is even accused of being an enemy spy. Prior to this turn of events, we are introduced to a set of pleasantly voiced yet sinister robots, known as Familiars (all played by Helen Kay), whose "cannot harm humans, honest guv" programming comes straight from the works of Isaac Asimov - which have, of course, previously been raided by Who in the Tom Baker serials Robot and The Robots of Death. Ultimately, the real menace proves to be sound-based, an idea that was novel back when Big Finish first used it in 1999 in Whispers of Terror but now seems a little old-hat.

Abnett does attempt a bit of character development for the Seventh Doctor, as the Time Lord apologises to Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Hex (Philip Olivier) for having kept them in the dark in the past about his foreknowledge and motivations, and promises to try and mend his ways. However, fans who regard the New Adventures novels as part of the same continuity as these audios know that this Machiavellian incarnation will soon slip back into his devious old ways. Not even McCoy and Aldred believe that the Doctor will keep his word for long, as they make plain in this double CD's extra features.

During these interviews, the stars are also asked their opinions of the new television version of Doctor Who. I heartily agreed with Aldred's view of the pre-publicity that surrounded the then new companion Rose Tyler. The way the press carried on about Rose being a feistier and more capable kind of companion than ever before, you'd think Ace had never appeared on the show!

If only the drama itself had engaged me as much as Aldred's comments did.

Richard McGinlay

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