Written By: Alan Barnes
Directed By: Gary Russell
Featuring: The Eighth Doctor and Charley
Release Date: January 2001
Big Finish Summary:
October, 1930. His Majesty’s Airship, the R101, sets off on her maiden voyage to the farthest-flung reaches of the British Empire, carrying the brightest lights of the Imperial Fleet. Carrying the hopes and dreams of a breathless nation.
Not to mention a ruthless spy with a top-secret mission, a mysterious passenger who appears nowhere on the crew list, a would-be adventuress destined for the Singapore Hilton… and a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.
There’s a storm coming. There’s something unspeakable, something with wings, crawling across the stern. Thousands of feet high in the blackening sky, the crew of the R101 brace themselves. When the storm breaks, their lives won’t be all that’s at stake…
The future of the galaxy will be hanging by a thread.
Big Finish kicks of the Eighth Doctor’s audio adventures with a decent story that showcases the new Doctor and companion well but wastes its historical setting and its alien threats.
This is the first appearance of Paul McGann’s Doctor in this audio series and he took a while to warm up, with many scenes of him muttering to himself and not taking charge of scenes, which I remembered him most for in the 1996 TV Movie. This is until the final part, where the character is infused with energy and a charm that makes him seem far more human (luckily there were no follow-up references to the Time Lord being half human) and the climax showcased that, as I doubt any of the other Doctors featured in the Big Finish series would have fitted the script. I hope that writers creating future audio adventures for the Eighth Doctor play on this energy and create memorable moments unique to him, as TV viewers were not able to witness what the actor and character is capable of.
Whilst the Doctor comes into his own as the audio book progresses, the treatment of the antagonists is far less clean. The opening segment, with the Doctor saving a ship from an apparent time loop, introduces time scavengers called the Vortisaurs. Being described as having large wings and sharp teeth, I was immediately reminded of the Reapers from the TV episode “Father’s Day”; the climax of the first part certainly suggested that they were going to be difficult to defeat. Then they disappeared as quickly as they arrived, except for a singular Vortisaur who would cause havoc towards the end of the story. They were then replaced by the Triskele, a fascinating higher species who were biologically and mentally split into three classes: the cold and scientific Engineers, the monstrous, deformed and full of rage Uncreators, and a singular Lawmaker who held the balance of society together. The Uncreators in particular were certainly a dangerous threat and could easily destroy the whole of humanity once they went on the rampage. But once again these were vanquished easily in favour of a finale involving a power-hungry spy and a Triskele gun, which made for a great action sequence but also felt like the great waste of not one but two alien threats.
‘Storm Warning’ is a historical adventure based on the doomed maiden voyage of the British airship R101, who crashed in France en route to India, killing nearly everyone aboard. A brilliantly placed news bulletin segment at the start of the first part really raised my hopes that this would be a highly immersive historical adventure, which the TV show has been great at throughout its history. However, once we get on board, all we hear is characters with what seems like 1970s parody accents of the middle and upper-classes, including a South African spy who I thought was French for most of the adventure. There isn’t really a likeable character amongst them, which may have been the point, considering that the vast majority of them are doomed to perish on board in the crash.
As well as a new Doctor, listeners are treated to a brand new companion, in the shape of Charlotte Pollard (or Charley to her friends). Played by India Fisher, she certainly stands out for her fighting spirit and for the fact that she is the only human female in the cast for this story. Despite the fact that she is an adventuress looking to escape the repressive Western society in the 1930s is a bit cliched, it was a bold move to have a companion that wasn’t representative of the contemporary society for the early 2000s, in the way that Grace Holloway was in the TV movie. Her personal story arc is also very intriguing, as she was meant to perish on the R101 but, because of the Doctor’s meddling, survives and is something of an anomaly in time. It was a great twist when the Doctor realised what he had done in the final seconds of the story, and I hope that the writers revisit this at some point in future audio adventures.
Verdict: Big Finish kicks off the Eighth Doctor audio era with a satisfactory historical story, in the sense that it showcased the potential pairing of McGann and Fisher well. It does make a few faux pas along the way, with the ill treatment of two potentially powerful alien races, but the thrilling climax and questions raised afterwards on time being changed with Charley’s survival shows a glimpse into the promise that this pairing has.
Star Rating: ☆☆☆½
‘Storm Warning’ is available to listen to for free on Spotify. It is also only £2.99 to download on the Big Finish website, which can be accessed through the link below.
The next audio book adventure in this Doctor Who series by Big Finish continues to follow the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Charley (India Fisher). They arrive on a small backwater to experience the delights there, only to become trapped on a derelict star destroyer, their lives threatened by fighters in the Orion War and then by something far worse… My review of Audio Book #17 – ‘Sword of Orion’, will land in a week’s time, on the 10th May 2020.
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