Written By: Paul Cornell
Directed By: Gary Russell
Featuring: Seventh Doctor, Ace and Benny
Release Date: October 2000
Big Finish Summary:
The Pinehill Crest Hotel in Kent is host to three very different events: a cross-stitch convention, an experiment in time travel and… the summoning of the scourge.
The Doctor, Bernice and Ace find themselves dealing with a dead body that’s come back to life, a mythical symbol that possesses its host, and a threat from another universe that’s ready for every trick the Doctor’s got up his sleeve.
This time, has the Doctor gone too far?
Possessing some well conceived villains, great performances from the primary cast and twists that take the narrative in a different direction than has been seen in this audio book series before, ‘The Shadow of the Scourge’ is an enthralling, brilliant listen from start to finish.
On the whole, I liked the Scourge as the villains of this episode. The fact that they are revealed as the demonic entities that haunt people in their dreams and that they leave the mark of the pentagram on the palms of those they are possessing. There is a particularly unpleasant and disturbing sequence where a woman looks between the hands of one of the Scourge and her soul gets transported to another dimension, thought of as hell by humans, to have her soul ripped apart and eaten away by the rest of the species. The transformation sequences where the form of the human host is literally torn apart and replaced by a Scourge provided some disgusting sound effects also. But the most memorable thing about this race to me was the fact they could invade the minds and subconscious of the hosts, willing humans around them to perform nasty tasks for their pleasure. The fact that nowhere was safe provided the narrative with a real ‘nowhere is safe’ feeling, which made the story all the stronger.
The narrative also does something very few attempt – and successfully pull off – and that is pushing the Doctor to his mental limits. Viewers of Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor will know that his incarnation likes to manipulate others, whether his companions or the monsters of the stories. It was no surprise then that the Doctor was the one to seemingly invite the parasitic Scourge to take control of Earth, and give them a way to do so. The Scourge though are a highly intelligent hive mind race so they easily saw through the Doctor’s arrogance and, not only prevented his plan from coming to fruition, but also took control of his body and trapped his consciousness within his own mind. This also meant that the writer could include some memorable sequences within the Doctor’s own mind, as the Scourge tried to gain complete control. McCoy’s voice acting is brilliant in this story, to show so many emotions and facets of his Doctor’s personality all at once, and is his best performance in this audio book series to date.
‘The Shadow of the Scourge’ also gets a massive bonus by including the character of Prof Bernice Summerfield, an archaeologist from the future who travelled with the Doctor on many occasions in the New Adventures book series, even gaining a spin-off series of her own. Played in this story by Lisa Bowerman, the character is the glue that holds the TARDIS team together, both in her keen eye for details and in her dry sense of humour. As Ace (Sophie Aldred) is highly reckless in the way she tackles the Scourge, by firstly getting a terrified secondary character to make her deaf, and then climbing a lift shaft to reach the TARDIS, Benny is more level-headed. This level-headedness, in spite of the situation, is what ultimately helps persuade the Doctor to keep on fighting to defeat his demons. I am not sure whether her character will be returning for any future Doctor Who Big Finish audio books, but after her performance here, I want to look into her spin-off audio series.
Big Finish are certainly improving on how they create an atmosphere in an audio book and it can be seen well here. I loved the opening of the story, when the TARDIS team are booking into the Pinehill Crest Hotel and the music in the background is stereotypical of a hotel lobby. The characters that are included in this story are largely reminiscent of middle-class England, exactly the type of people you would expect to go to a seance contacting a divine being from across the stars, or a cross-stitch convention. I have already mentioned above the brilliant sound effects when the Scourge transformed bodies or sent someone’s soul to their pocket universe. The only thing that was slightly off for me was the panicked screams of the guests running about, as I am not sure whether it was intended as a comedic touch but it did come across as that after several uses. Overall though, I can see the improvements that Big Finish have made in creating an atmosphere, particularly a contemporary one.
Verdict: ‘The Shadow of the Scourge’ has some very interesting differences from previous Big Finish audio adventures in this series. With the appearance of a great companion from another medium and intriguing plot swings when the Doctor’s manipulations doesn’t come off well for him and listeners venture into his mind, this story was an enthralling listen from start to finish. I can only hope that Big Finish continue to make Doctor Who adventures of this quality in the future
Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆½
‘The Shadow of the Scourge’ is available to listen for free on Spotify. It is also currently only £1.49 on the Big Finish website, until the 22nd April, which you can access through the link below.
The next audio book adventure in this Doctor Who Big Finish series sees the appearance of another non-TV companion in the shape of Frobisher, as he and the Sixth Doctor land in a castle in a time of religious upheaval. My review of Audio Book #14 – The Holy Terror, will land in a week’s time.
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