Doctor Who Audio Book Review: #17 – Sword of Orion

Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Broadcast Date: February 2001
Featuring: Eighth Doctor and Charley

Big Finish Summary:
The human race is locked in deadly combat with the ‘Android Hordes’ in the Orion System. Light years from the front line, the Doctor and Charley arrive to sample the dubious delights of a galactic backwater, little suspecting that the consequences of the Orion War might reach them there. But High Command’s lust for victory knows no bounds.

Trapped aboard a mysterious derelict star destroyer, the Doctor and Charley find themselves facing summary execution. But this is only the beginning of their troubles. The real danger has yet to awaken.

Until, somewhere in the dark recesses of the Garazone system, the Cybermen receive the signal for reactivation.

One of the strongest Doctor Who audio adventures in this series so far, ‘Sword of Orion’ highlights the best parts of the show by combining a great story with solid character development, and promises much for the future stories in Paul McGann’s reign as the Doctor.

This is the first Doctor Who audio adventure by Big Finish that features the Cybermen, one of the longest-running enemies of the Doctor on the television series. Surprising, you may think, given that the other main antagonist race, the Daleks, have already appeared in three audio books to date. However, it was a much better debut appearance for the Cybermen in this adventure, harking back to their classic series tropes of cyber-conversion and being held in cryogenic stasis. It was also really great to see the appearance of the Cybermats; they are definitely underused in the revived TV series. The final part of ‘Sword of Orion’ actually looks into how the Cybermen have actually made themselves weaker by removing their humanity, as new regular companion Charley Pollard (India Fisher) notes, with them juxtaposed with androids in the Orion system fighting their human creators and actually becoming stronger by taking on those human instincts and emotions that they were not created with.

Speaking of the final part, it completely delivers with a series of fantastic scenes that showcase the best of Doctor Who. There is an uncomfortable moment where some of the crew of the Vanguard, the ship the TARDIS lands on, face excruciating pain as they begin to be converted into Cybermen. There is also a powerful and devastating speech by one of those selected for conversion, the character’s anger and inflated self-worth making it all the better. One of the crew is revealed to be an android who initially was looking at the Cybermen in the hopes of an alliance that will destroy the humans in the Orion War, before they learn one of the most powerful human emotions from being with the Doctor (Paul McGann) and Charley: trust. Finally, there is an amazing sequence where the characters, both protagonist and antagonist, are eerily floating in the dead of space, seemingly unable to survive.

Even though this is only the second audio adventure in this series to star the short-lived Eighth Doctor, listeners can already get a sense of the differing flavour of his stories when compared to those of the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. There is a large increase in action that directly impacts the characters, rather than just explosions that are happening in the background of the audio. Scenes feel more hard hitting, with snappier dialogue that doesn’t shy away from looking deep into human instinct and emotion; the motivation behind character’s attitudes and behaviours were definitely looked into in ‘Sword of Orion’. But there is also a taste of fun, even within dark episodes like this one. The re-appearance of Ramsay the vortisaur, one of the pterodactyl-like creatures (at least what I gathered they looked like) that fed off scraps in the Time Vortex in the previous audio adventure, ‘Storm Warning’, was a welcome return, though it appears that this creature may be more dangerous than the Doctor had realised, judging by the horrific noises it was making at the start of the story.

Other items to note within this audio book is that these Paul McGann adventures prelude the revived TV series by having short scenes before the opening credits, which really gives listeners a sense of being thrown into an adventure. As for the theme music itself, it definitely sounds more modern than the 80s remix of the iconic theme tune, even hinting at a bit of darkness that compliments the Doctor’s general appearance and stories, going by these audio books and the TV movie. I am not quite sure whether I am warming to the theme song yet. In contrast, the pacing of this story is nearly perfect throughout, going from a backwater alien market to the TARDIS crew becoming stowaways on a salvage ship, to facing death and destruction at the hands of Cybermen and Cybermats on board the salvage ship and star destroyer.

Verdict: Packed with exciting sequences and well developed characters, ‘Sword of Orion’ is a marked improvement on Paul McGann’s previous audio adventure. The Cybermen are a real presence in this story, not just as villains but also as a good juxtaposition to the androids of the Orion system who have taken on the best parts of humanity.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆½

‘Sword of Orion’ is available to listen to for free on Spotify. It is also currently only £2.99 to buy and download from the Big Finish site. You can find the link to the audio book 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). The pair land in Venice, as the famous city is about to sink into the water completely, though various individuals are going to make it’s swansong a night to remember. You can read my review of Audio Book #18 – ‘The Stones of Venice’ in a week’s time!

If you enjoyed reading this blog post, then please do like, and subscribe to The Blogging DJ to be notified via email when new posts are published. If you have any recommendations of audio books that you think I would enjoy, or anything Doctor Who related you would like to see in the future, drop me a comment in the section below. I will see you all very soon for my next audio book review in this series.

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