Launching a New Chapter

Review of Storm Warning (#16)
Big Finish Release Date: January 2001
Doctor/Companion: Eight, Charlotte "Charley" Pollard
Stars: Paul McGann, India Fisher
Preceding Story: The Mutant Phase (Five, Nyssa)
Succeeding Story: Sword of Orion (Eight, Charley)

Welcome to my new series of reviews! As of today, I'm officially adding Big Finish audio adventures to my repertoire. Bowing to the will of reader poll voters and using the advice of friend and podcaster Paul Greaves, I'm starting with Eighth Doctor Paul McGann's first foray into audio.

I've heard Paul say, when asked, that he started fresh with his characterization of the Doctor when he began audio work. He'd not really had a chance to develop Eight much in The Movie, so it makes sense he'd jump at the chance to explore the character further. Every once in a while, I could hear a tinge of the Doctor of the TVM here, but for the most part, I have to concur that Eight is a "new man" on audio, and it's a man I quite adore.

You may remember from my previous post about Big Finish that I've heard a few adventures before (most of the four series of Eighth Doctor Adventures, Dark Eyes (the first set; the second still awaits its turn in the earphones), and two or three individual stories with other Doctors). I'd also managed to get my paws on Storm Warning before—though it's been a couple of years—so as I listened this time, I mostly knew what was coming.

That's not to say it was dull, though. Rather, it made things more interesting from the get-go for an American like me who had never heard of the airship R101 before this story. Luckily the context is explained later, so that I wasn't in the dark long the first time, but it gives a little extra chill up front when we witness the launch if we know its historical fate.

Aside from launching the Eighth Doctor in his audio career, this story introduces a new Companion—the first of those now added to televised "canon" when he mentions her before his regeneration in "Night of the Doctor"—Charlotte "Charley" Pollard, a self-styled Edwardian adventuress. She's game for just about anything, but believably skeptical about the Doctor's claims about who and what he knows (until the inevitable "it's all true!" moment). I'm still forming an opinion of Charley, but so far I find her trending toward the charming end of the charming/irritating spectrum. Time and further adventures will tell whether or not that impression holds.

As for the story, it ticks many of the boxes one expects in a good Doctor Who episode: mysterious happenings; intriguing aliens; misguided, covetous humans; and a few little nods to decades-long continuity. For example, at one point the Doctor is taken for a German, and when pressed for a name, gives "Johann Schmidt" (and then proceeds to make intentional errors with "colloquial" English). Those who love the pre-Hiatus serial format will feel at home, too, as the story is divided into four parts (the first two of which run ~25 minutes, the third ~36 minutes, and the fourth ~29 minutes).

On the down side, some of the plot twists were easy to see coming (and not merely because I'd heard the adventure before; anyone familiar with Doctor Who or with SFF storytelling in general will recognize a few tropes). They are, however, resolved in a satisfying enough way to keep them from grating.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Rathbone's accent. Knowing the quality of work Big Finish does, I'm sure it was actually impeccable, but as a South African accent is unfamiliar to my ear, I found it jarring. Instead, it sounded like the actor was sliding between two (or even three) different accents, at least one of which was of a non-native speaker. I recognize that reaction may well be unique to me, so I'll insert a standard YMMV caveat here.

As the story wraps up, and the Doctor finds himself saddled with a new traveling Companion, we finish with some timey-wimey goodness that promises to come back to haunt our hero. It's a fine start for the Eighth Doctor's long, successful run in audio, and sounds like a story arc that might actually live up to its potential. I can hardly wait to find out how!

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