It’s time for another couple of firsts with the next two releases. First of all, Nyssa meets the Daleks, having previously being a member of a small group of companions who never met them and Storm Warning sees the Eighth Doctor return to the fold and also introduces one of the best audio companions, Charley Pollard makes her debut!
The Mutant Phase
Written By: Nicholas Briggs
For much younger Doctor Who fans, The Mutant Phase holds a special place in their hearts as the Doctor Who Adventures magazine gave away a cut down version of this story to its readers. I don’t remember picking up that issue, I think I had grown out of the magazine at that time, but maybe I’d have benefited from getting the cut down version, as The Mutant Phase just doesn’t do anything for me, the same way it seems to do for others.
I’ve listened to it a few times now over the last few years and this is a story that just goes in one-ear and out the other. Its a shame too because somewhere where there is a pretty decent Dalek story from their voice actor, Nicholas Briggs. Continuing the countdown to the Dalek Empire series, The Mutant Phase sees the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa arrive on Earth once again in the 22nd Century during Earth’s Dalek Occupation. The central mystery is certainly interesting, and the idea that wasps might be the Daleks’ biggest enemies on Earth is so absurd that it works quite nicely. It’s interesting that the threat is also an issue that the Daleks can’t deal with adds to the worry that even the Doctor won’t be able to deal with it.
It’s all rather a pity, that’s all I can say about this story as it seemed to kick start so many young fans love for Big Finish. Maybe I’ll have to track down the shorter version given away with DWA, because this story just doesn’t do it for me, that’s all I can, unfortunately, say about this one.
Written By: Alan Barnes
To go from The Mutant Phase to Storm Warning is quite a jump in quality. Again Storm Warning isn’t perfect but it was Big Finish’s first chance to tell a story with virtually brand new characters. Up to this point, Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor had only been seen in the television movie and a series of BBC novels so this gave Big Finish to basically give McGann’s Doctor a brand new and rightly deserved series.
Barnes doesn’t hold back with the script and what he had to do. Not only did he have to reintroduce a Doctor, but he also had to introduce a new companion and then he set it on the crash of the Airship R101, created the Vortosaurs and somehow introduce the whole first multi-story arc. To his credit he does it brilliantly, it can be a dangerous risk introducing a new Doctor and companion at the same time, but luckily he has enough faith in McGann and incoming India Fisher to give them some great material.
There are a few plotting and pacing issues here and there, and one does feel that the story goes on a little too long for what it is. Perhaps one more draft away from being a true classic, Storm Warning isn’t as good as the Eighth Doctor stories that came later but the script is all the better for its simplicity which allows for the performances to drive the story forward.
Like the first time, he’d played the Doctor since 1996’s TV Movie, McGann feels like he hasn’t been away from the role. It’s hard now to believe there was a time now when he wasn’t the Doctor and in many ways, is the longest-serving actor in the role. There is some clunky dialogue when the Doctor is on his own but McGann makes it work and is as instantly likeable here as he was in the TV Movie. Although its seemingly unlikely that Big Finish will acquire the rights to the characters of Grace Holloway and Chang-Lee, one wonders if there was a universe where they were the companions for this story.
As much as I really saw a lot of potential for the two companions in the TV Movie, luckily Big Finish created one of the best companions in the spin-off media for the show, in the form of Charley Pollard. Barnes hits all the right notes for a great companion, someone whose inquisitive, has a sense of adventure, isn’t afraid to stand up for themselves or to the Doctor and who wants something more out of her life. And it seems to the Doctor, at least in the beginning that rescuing her from the crash is going to give her a better life. It does become clear though through the course of the early Eighth Doctor audios’ that isn’t necessarily true but she’s a great companion nonetheless. India Fisher is instantly likeable in the role and makes for a great pairing with McGann, it isn’t hard to see why, even now, she is such a popular audio companion and has lasted for almost all of Big Finish’s history.
Perhaps the biggest downfall for this story today is that it feels like it was produced twenty years ago. With its clunky dialogue and almost cartoonish sound effects, this might not be held in such high regard nowadays as it was when it was released. Where its strength lies however, is in Barnes’ characterisation and strong central idea, even if the plot sometimes gets a little muddled. By no means a classic but a strong start to the massive journey the Eighth Doctor has undergone in the twenty years he’s been with Big Finish.
Next Time: More adventures with the Eighth Doctor and Charley in Sword of Orion and The Stones of Venice.