Doctor Who Big Finish Audio Book Review: #2 – The Fearmonger (2000)

Written By: Jonathan Blum
Directed By: Gary Russell
Featuring: Seventh Doctor and Ace

Big Finish Summary:
One would-be assassin is in a mental ward. Another’s on the run. Their intended victim is stirring up the mobs. Terrorists are planning a strike of their own. A talk-radio host is loving every minute of it. A Whitehall insider whispers about a mysterious UN operative, with a hidden agenda. Everyone’s got someone they want to be afraid of. It’ll only take a little push for the situation to erupt – and something is doing the pushing. But you can trust the Doctor to put things right. Can’t you?

After gaining my first exposure to the Big Finish Who series in a lacklustre and frankly disappointing Fifth Doctor adventure, I must admit that I was hugely impressed by this one. Despite never seeing an episode of Sylvester McCoy’s tenure as the Time Lord, I was struck by how layered his characterisation is, going from class clown to mysterious and omnipotent in a flash. I was also hugely impressed by Ace and how Sophie Aldred manages to convey the emotions of this street-wise companion who has unlimited faith in The Doctor, which directly impacts on the conclusion to a cracking plot.

While I was listening, sprawled out on a deckchair in the glorious British sunshine (which doesn’t happen often), I was struck in the opening scenes by how relatable I found it to aspects of contemporary Britain. The acts are book-ended by radio show segments featuring a talk show host straight out of LBC, trying to provoke individuals by using the terms “left loonies” and “non PC”. The narrative centers around a populist far right politician campaigning for ethnic cleansing to remove criminal activities from the streets of London and to gain back control from Europe and Asia, mobilising groups of people and eventually resulting in protests and riots. Though one could argue that these have been a fundamental part of British society for decades, the fact that this was released in 2000, before even 9/11, means this has an eerie quality in how extreme yet believable the representation of Britain is.

It makes me wonder about the potential the Big Finish audio series has in directly tackling current world issues compared to the censorship and family friendly entertainment provided by the BBC on the TV series. Would the main series have got away with portraying a far-right politician directly, violent mobs or politically motivated acts of terrorism? Honestly though, this backdrop suits the TARDIS team, particularly Ace, who grew up on a council estate and has a rebellious streak to her personality. Fans of the show will know that the Seventh Doctor has been seen in an urban setting, in the last story of the classic series, Survival, and though it may seem strange having this goofy character in a serious and working-class environment, the juxtaposition works. The cliffhangers at the end of each part is imaginative and gritty, not just the same thing over and over again.

The backing cast also works well and provides a good contrast to the protagonists. Jacqueline Pearce combines a hateful vendetta with a lot of charisma to create a far-right politician who is quite believable (take note Aliens of London); Vince Henderson likewise could well have been a real-life talk show host, when the words coming out of his mouth weren’t totally ridiculous. The effects of the Fearmonger is also translated well with Mark McDonnell and Mark Wright as the two assassins attacked by the creature. It is never completely explained what the Fearmonger is and where it comes from, which adds to the mystery of it; something is always more unnerving when you can only really see the effects.

In complete contrast to my first experience of Big Finish, The Fearmonger manages to highlight the potential that the audio series has with regards to the more darker and gritty elements that can be seen in the show. The Seventh Doctor and Ace are on great form here and the narrative goes along at a fair old pace. I would definitely recommend this if, like me, you are curious about how the beloved sci-fi drama translates to audio.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Link to the Big Finish page for The Fearmonger – Download for just £2.99. 

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