Breathe in deep, Lieutenant Commander. You too, Charley. You feel that pounding in your heart? The tightness in the pit of your stomach? The blood rushing to your head? You know what that is? Adventure! The thrill and the fear and the joy of stepping into the unknown. That’s why we’re all here and that’s why we’re alive!
In October 1930, His Majesty’s airship, the R101, sets off on her maiden voyage around the British Empire. Among the passengers are a spy, an Edwardian governess, a mysterious passenger who doesn’t appear on any of the ship’s manifests…and a Time Lord from Gallifrey.
The first story to feature the Eighth Doctor since the TV Movie, Storm Warning kicks off this Doctor’s era in confident and bombastic style. Alan Barnes confidently tackles the task of reintroducing a relatively fresh out of the packaging Doctor and a new companion in the shape of India Fisher’s Charlotte “Charley” Pollard, an Edwardian lady desperate for adventure, along with an interesting story. Gareth Thomas’ performance as Lord Tamworth, the Minister for Air with ambitions of becoming Viceroy of India, is a particular highlight.
The main strength of this story comes from the two central characters of the Doctor and Charley. Paul McGann delivers a performance that makes it hard to believe that five years have passed since he last played the role as he manages to recapture the enthusiasm and charm that we saw in his debut. He also perfectly captures the Doctor’s compassion for all living things, especially in his outraged reaction when Weeks suggests killing the Vortisaur. His Eighth Doctor seems perfectly suited to hunting Vortisaurs, maybe due to the parallels between this incarnation and Jules Verne. Barnes makes quite a bold decision by starting off the story with essentially a four-minute monologue in which the Doctor talks to himself regarding the Vortisaurs attack on a time vessel, which in the hands of a less engaging performer could fall flat, but McGann delivers it fantastically. After attempting to uphold the integrity of the Web of Time for the whole story, the Doctor berating himself for tampering with it by allowing Charley’s survival is also great. India Fisher’s Charley comes across as the perfect companion, demonstrating very early on her resourcefulness in stowing away on the R-101 having previously got the real Murchford drunk in a pub in Hampshire. She also has the required spirit of adventure to be a great companion and she has great chemistry with the Doctor, striking up an immediate rapport, despite her initial misgivings about him given the stories he tells when they initially meet. The moment of realisation hat the Doctor is telling the truth is one of the story’s best examples of sparkling dialogue. Charley also is able to keep a cool head in a crisis, evidenced by her spotting the parachutes as a potential way to save the passengers of the R101.
Doctor, does this mean there are other worlds past the the Sun?
A million planets circling a million suns, Charley. Where starlight makes colours which human eyes have never seen.
You’ve been there, haven’t you? You’ve really been there. Like you really have met Geronimo and Lenin. Just think, yesterday the furthest place I could imagine was the terrace of the Singapore Hilton.
Charley Pollard and the Eighth Doctor.
The two aliens of the piece are also quite good. I especially like the idea of the Vortisaurs and the way that their attacks leaving five-dimensional wounds – thus aging Rathbone’s arm by thirty years – is a really cool idea. As they are essentially pterodactyls, they seem to fit into this era quite well. The major alien race introduced here are the Triskele, a previously much-feared race who then decided to change their nature by dividing themselves into three parts; the Engineers, representing logical thought, the Uncreators, the impulsive and brutish part of the race, and the Law Giver, who mediates between the two sides. This concept intrigued me and put me in mind of the systems of checks and balances prevalent in Western democracy as well as having explicit comparisons in the story itself. When the R101 ascends to meet the Triskele ship, the Doctor, Lieutenant Frayling and Tamworth are seen to be the three closest equivalents to these parts of the race. While quite an intriguing idea, the story does get a bit too bogged down with exposition in Part 3, which is a problem that does regularly befall Doctor Who stories. It does affect the urgency of the pace but does explain some of the intricacies of the story and didn’t completely take me out of the enjoyment of the story, so Barnes manages to make this part work, but it did feel longer than the other three parts. I do like the R101 being repurposed for meeting the Triskele though and the plan to claim a spaceship for Great Britain is an interesting idea if pretty foolhardy.
The Doctor. Of most things, and some more things besides, before you ask.
Of most things and some besides? Steward, what do you mean by bringing some long haired stowaway into the VIP lounge?
I’m wearing a tie!
Eighth Doctor and Lord Tamworth
I feel I must talk about Gareth Thomas’ performance as Lord Tamworth, as it is a real standout. He delivers his lines with such gusto and aplomb and really embodies the character of Tamworth, who does not suffer fools gladly. He also has a large ego which the Doctor plays to his advantage, finding it easy to convince Lord Tamworth that he and Charley are in fact German spies (incidentally, I love the fact that the name he chooses for this alibi is Johann Schmitt). The scenes with McGann, Thomas and Pegg playing off each other are fantastic and it seems that all three actors are having a great time. I will make a passing mention of Barnaby Edwards’ Rathbone. Whilst his South African accent is unconvincing to say the least, the fact that this does not distract from him being a menacing and effective human baddy does him a great deal of credit.
Verdict: A good and welcome return for the Eighth Doctor, with the only problem coming with the exposition dump in Part 3. The Eighth Doctor and Charley have some great chemistry and the performance of Gareth Thomas as Tamworth is great to listen to. 9/10
Cast: Paul McGann (Eighth Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Gareth Thomas (Lord Tamworth), Nicholas Pegg (Lt-Col Frayling), Barnaby Edwards (Rathbone), Hylton Collins (Chief Steward Weeks), Helen Goldwyn (Triskelion), Mark Gatiss (Announcer)
Writer: Alan Barnes
Director: Gary Russell
Behind the Scenes
- The R101 was a real airship that crashed in France in 1930, however, there were six survivors as opposed to everyone onboard dying as happens here. All the characters featured in this story are fictional, despite the story’s basis in real-world events.
- This story features a new version of the theme tune composed by David Arnold, replacing the Delia Derbyshire theme.
- This is the first Big Finish story to take place after the events of the TV Movie, and the first to star Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. Additionally, it was the first Big Finish story to feature the sonic screwdriver.
You know nothing about time. Do you know about the Web of Time? Do you know how history cant be changed? You take an alien energy weapon back to England now, in 1930, and then what? Of course, you strip it down, you study it’s design, master ion beam emission in a few short years. By 1940, you have Spitfires mounted with laser cannons, fight the Battle of Britain that way. The British Empire is supposed to be falling apart, her colonies gaining independence. With weapons such as these, no-one will dare oppose her. And you haven’t, have you? You’ve learnt nothing today.