Written By: Paul Magrs
Directed By: Gary Russell
Release Date: March 2001
Big Finish Summary:
The Doctor and Charley decide to take a well-deserved break from the monotony of being chased, shot at and generally suffering anti-social behaviour at the hands of others. And so they end up in Venice, well into Charley’s future, as the great city prepares to sink beneath the water for the last time…
Which would be a momentous, if rather dispiriting, event to witness in itself. However, the machinations of a lock-sick aristocrat, a proud art historian and a rabid High Priest of a really quite dodgy cult combine to make Venice’s swansong a night to remember. And then there’s the rebellion by the web-footed amphibious underclass, the mystery of a disappearing corpse and the truth behind a curse going back further than curses usually do. The Doctor and Charley are forced to wonder just what they have got themselves involved with this time…
A charming and lighter story provides some sweet moments for the Eighth Doctor and his new companion Charley, as well as some unique plot points that I wish were taken much further.
The premise of this story, of the Doctor (Paul McGann) and Charley (India Fisher) going into Charley’s future and witnessing the destruction of the ancient city of Venice as it finally sinks into the water has several positive points. Most notable is the way that the production crew create a throwback mood with features of a classic Who historical story, even though the episode is set in the future. There is a weary head of the city, a sinister cult who meet under the streets and an underclass ready for a revolution when Venice finally sinks. Even the way that characters speak emphasise this vibe. This could be a statement about how elements of political unrest throughout human history are the same even in the future, but regardless it all adds to the flavour of the story.
The city of Venice was a great shout for a setting, with its gloomy passageways, dark catacombs and the crowded and narrow canals. The scenes that took advantage of the setting and utilised the canals were amongst the highlights of the story. The TARDIS lands the day before the city is due to sink into the water, destroying buildings and killing thousands. Therefore, the inclusion of hundreds of revellers, representing the decadence of the upper-class, was a nice touch, as it made a massive contrast with the lower classes. I do wish that there was more attention on this setting throughout the story as it was the most successful part when used right.
Another decent plot point was the inclusion of the under-class. The gondoliers, a fundamental part of Venice’s culture, have evolved from being on the water for centuries into human-amphibian hybrids. It was a good idea on the part of the writers to see the under-class rise up and take the city by force when it sinks into the water, as they would survive in the depths and the human ruling classes would not. With all of this said, this could have been given so much more detail and colour, especially given the pseudo-historical feel of the story. Other than Pietro (Barnaby Edwards), who made a largely likeable character, the rest of the gondoliers were portrayed as brutish savages with little redeeming qualities apart from feeling oppressed. The fact that this group had no presence in the conclusion says a lot about what a missed opportunity this plot point was.
The central focus that pulls time away from the above elements regards the mystery behind the disappearance of Estella, the beloved of the Duke Orsino. Orsino himself is old in mind but not in body for a human, having been waiting 100 years since Estella’s disappearance. This could have been really quite fun but ends up on the dry side, with a predictable solution to this mystery and a conclusion that felt played-out a hundred times. There is some sparkle in the shape of a cult who worships Estella as a deity and prays for her safe return in order to save Venice from its fate, but their scenes are too few. There was also a faux pas with the plot, when the Doctor and art curator Churchwell (Nick Scovell) investigates a casket and its contents are revealed, only for the end of Part Three to reveal what listeners have already been shown. The time investigating this could have been better spent elsewhere.
This is a quieter episode for the Doctor and Charley compared to the previous couple, though both have some nice moments, most notably at the start, where Charley is tired of being shot at and just wants a relaxing break, and the close of the episode, where Charley is adamant that the Doctor should start throwing away the bric-a-brac he has amassed in the TARDIS, while the Doctor spends the final moments punting a gondola and admitting that Charley is his best friend. This was a lovely end to the story and I wish that the general tone of the story was consistent with this – especially on the back of a very dark and melancholic one such as ‘Sword of Orion’.
Verdict: Compared to the previous story, ‘The Stones of Venice’ is a much lighter affair but still contains the elements that are starting to become quintessential to the Eighth Doctor. More attention to detail on plot points such as the revolution of the under-class, and a less predictable conclusion, could have made this story better, however the charming final couple of minutes was a very good close.
Star Rating: ☆☆☆
“The Stones of Venice” is available to listen to for free on Spotify or for £2.99 to download from the Big Finish site. The link to this audio book is below:
The next audio book in this series continues to follow the Eighth Doctor and Charley’s first few adventures together. The Brigadier has been asked to give expertise on the US’s newest state, only to find a man in a medical institute who travels in space and time in a TARDIS and an amnesiac woman out of time working as a waitress in a Hell Fire Club that is summoning demons. You can read my review of Audio Book #19 – Minuet in Hell – in a week’s time!
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