Zeppelins in Space!
My First Big Finish
For my first foray into the world of Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas, I chose Storm Warning (2001).
It was the first Big Finish production to feature the Eighth Doctor, ever so charmingly played by Mr. Paul McGann, as well as new Companion, Charlotte “Charley” Pollard, inhabited by Ms. India Fisher.
Starting at number 16 of the Main Doctor Who monthly range might seem an odd jumping off point for a first timer. Why not #1, The Sirens of Time, released almost two years prior and featuring the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors?
Why Start Here?
Alas, I must admit I am a completionist—at least about Doctor Who stories, that is.
I have seen most everything from the 1996 TV movie forward (excepting Scream of the Shalka and Dimensions in Time), but I’m still only at the very end of the First Doctor’s run as far as Classic Who is concerned. (There have been a couple of mourning pauses post-Barbara + Ian and Vicki. Oh, and one post-Susan pause of indignation.)
I can’t, in good conscience, develop a fan relationship with the Second through Seventh Doctors without first absorbing their silver screen narrative arcs. I am strangely concerned with following the proper timelines of a show largely about time travel and disrupted timelines. Go figure.
Beyond that, though, is the fan wisdom that the Eighth Doctor is the perfect bridge between Classic and New Who.
With this, I must agree. If you’ve only started watching Doctor Who since the 2005 revival but would like to test-drive some audio stories—start with the Eighth Doctor. His stories will be modern enough in tone yet still exciting because, well, it’s a new Doctor to discover!
As far as an introduction goes, this one is pretty unremarkable.
Don’t get me wrong—it’s fine. The plot’s all over the place, a few side characters are noticeable caricatures (Rathbone, Tamworth), and we barely learn anything about Ms. Charley Pollard, the Doctor’s new companion, other than she was craving adventure in her presumably patrician life. But it’s entertaining enough.
I adore dirigibles, and the setting of pre-WWII Europe casts a lovely sepia feel over the story.
The Doctor is well written and his conversations suitably quick and lively. Though I’d have liked more background on Charley, she definitely comes across as someone I could see traveling with the Doctor—fast on her feet and insatiably curious.
Being a historicals fan, this should be right up my alley; the R101 was a real airship of the British Empire that tragically crashed on its maiden voyage over France. I find there’s a lack of real emotional tension, however, and I am not at all convinced by the aliens, the Triskele. (Are they Celtic Reconstructionists?)
I do not feel threatened by them one bit, nor am I worried for the Doctor or Charley or anyone else.
Actually, no—I am concerned for two characters: Ramsay the Vortisaur, and the alien passenger, Engineer Prime.
Both of these creatures’ portrayals elicit more sympathy and emotional investment, I believe, because their stories are fraught with misunderstandings and persecution based on their appearance and status as an “other.”
And based upon how shitty the humans in Storm Warning treat them. Hell, Ramsay is basically a time vortex pterodactyl who flies around and bites a lot, no lines other than screeches, and yet I was so thrilled at the end he was going to get home.
The same with the Engineer Prime. So glad he got out of captivity and away from being a pawn of the British Empire.
I had no such enthusiasm, good or bad, for the other characters’ destinies. Of course, I was happy the Doctor was unscathed, although we pretty much knew he would be, this being his very first story (in this format) after all.
As for Charley, I liked her well enough, or really felt rather neutral towards her. I can only assume her characterization becomes more layered as her story progresses. This I heartily look forward to.
Overall, this is a breezy, milquetoast beginning to what I hope becomes a glorious run of Eighth Doctor adventures.