One would-be assassin is in a mental ward. Another’s on the run. Their intended victim is stirring up the mobs. Terrorists are planning a strike of their own. A talk-radio host is loving every minute of it. A Whitehall insider whispers about a mysterious UN operative, with a hidden agenda. Everyone’s got someone they want to be afraid of. It’ll only take a little push for the situation to erupt – and something is doing the pushing. But you can trust the Doctor to put things right. Can’t you?
The Fearmonger marks the start of the Sylvester McCoy era in the monthly range – if we exclude his initial appearance in The Sirens of Time – and it is a story that really stands out amongst the early offerings. With a story about a far-right politician standing in an election on grounds such as race purity, it is a story that has perhaps become more relevant than it was on its original release, but it could be argued that it could always be relevant.
You made the mob and now they’re coming after you.The Seventh Doctor
Jonathan Blum’s script is a particularly good one, presenting a situation which feels quite realistic. Blum presents us with the Fearmonger, an alien psychic entity designed to enhance feelings of fear and hatred amongst those it chooses to inhabit, and gives us an explanation of its origins that is both succinct and clear. There are some lovely bits of dialogue in here, like the conversation about how common people like Sherilyn Harper were forty years ago, which leads to Ace bemoaning the fact that nothing really changes and a lovely digression about the nature of how things change over time. Blum creates a story that isn’t really motivated by the Doctor trying to topple a despotic leader, and Harper isn’t in control, instead trying to find the alien entity that is creating problems on Earth. I really like the twist here that the Fearmonger was never inside Sherilyn Harper, meaning all her racist diatribes are not the result of alien intervention but all within her all along.
The sound design is really good and the music really helps to keep this story moving in a well-paced fashion. Having a more down-to-Earth story means that the noises are more mundane but no less effective at creating a realistic atmosphere, from the noises of the rioting crowds to the noise of emergency sirens. The distortion used for the Fearmonger is really effective in creating fear, making Walter’s reaction to Harper really understandable, and equally works really well when it comes to the terrorist messages from the United Front.
Are you looking for the butterfly?
What, the one who beats it’s wings and changes the balance so the hurricane forms? There isn’t one, is there?
Not often. We just tell the butterflies that to keep them happy.
Should have known.
No, mostly they break the butterfly on the wheel of time. But over decades, the millions of butterflies, the weather still changes somehow. A million multi-coloured pieces of time.The Seventh Doctor and Ace McShane
Jacqueline Pearce is undoubtedly the standout performer here amongst the guest cast. With her throaty voice, she brings to life the populist politician Sherilyn Harper, who falls more into the central villain role than the titular Fearmonger, and Pearce is a perfect choice to play her. She is superb whilst she taunts Walter on the radio phone-in, jibing him about the fact that he has been unable to face her directly due to his fear of her. Pearce’s voice often feels acidic, a trait that Big Finish have used to full effect when casting her in roles like Ollistra in subsequent years, and it makes Sherilyn Harper feel much more realistic, unsympathetic and lived in. This means that when the Doctor eventually leaves her to the mercy of the mob her toxicity has created, it is a really satisfying conclusion. The character’s relationship with Allingham, a former member of the Ministry who knows the Doctor by reputation, is an interesting one, as Allingham is the figure sneaking around in the background, and Hugh Walters does a good job as this character. In fact, there’s not a weak link in this guest cast, from the bullying radio presenter, Mike Thompson, who gives the story a good way of conveying the story, to Jonathan Clarkson as Ace’s friend Paul who reluctantly gets drawn into their plans and is one of the most convincing turncoat characters, to Jack Galagher as the leader of the counter-movement, the United Front.
Have you listened to a word she’s said?
No, I’m listening to the noise.
The way she’s speaking, the roar of the crowd, the rhythm, the repetition, all designed to stop people thinking and start them feeling. Sound without sense.Ace McShane and the Seventh Doctor
This story presents us with a Seventh Doctor much more in keeping with his appearances on television than a story like The Sirens of Time and as such Sylvester McCoy seems to be in fine fettle here. He manages to effectively portray all the emotions that the Seventh Doctor is going through, especially in the scene where the Fearmonger appears in front of him in the hospital waiting room, where he comes across as truly defeated. On the other side of the coin, this Doctor has moments when he is juggling on top of cars in the middle of a riot and is quite witty when the mood takes him or taunting Walter outside Harper’s house with the bomb. This Doctor feels really at home in this political thriller and it is perhaps difficult to imagine another incarnation fitting in quite so well. McCoy’s Doctor skulks in the shadows, making snarky comments towards the shock jock Mick Thompson and his show, needling him to the point of being thrown out, but moving pieces around on the chessboard like Paul into the New Brittania party, but he does this with a lot of the guest cast as well.
Equally, this is a strong story for Ace. The story not only shows her what she could have been if she had never taken up with the Doctor, but also how far her character has grown since we last saw her on screen in Survival. She has picked up on a lot of the Doctor’s tricks, almost like Clara would do on television, managing to talk down Walter twice from dangerous situations, but the third time he attempts to do so, she does get shot, showing that their travels together are still fraught with danger. This is especially important considering that no one dies in this story. Ace is still afraid of the Doctor to a degree, with the Fearmonger playing on that fear later on in the story, which will eventually lead to its demise.
Verdict: The Fearmonger is a really confident entry in the early Big Finish cannon. A strong guest cast really helps keep this political thriller with an alien influence keep moving and the audience engaged. 8/10
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Jacqueline Pearce (Sherilyn Harper), Mark Wright (Stephen Keyser), Mark McDonnell (Walter Jacobs), Vince Henderson (Mick Thompson), Jonathan Clarkson (Paul Tanner), Hugh Walters (Roderick Allingham), Jack Galagher (Alexsandr Karadjic), John Ainworth (Hospital Tannoy Voice) & Alistair Lock (Hospital Doctor/Heckler).
Writer: Jonathan Blum
Director: Gary Russell
Behind the Scenes
- This story marked the first time that Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred had worked together since Dimensions in Time.
- This story marked the first time in performed Doctor Who that Ace’s full name was confirmed as Dorothy McShane. This had originated from the Virgin New Adventures Novel Set Piece.
- This story uses the Delia Derbyshire version of the theme, rather than the usual Keff McCullouch version made for the Seventh Doctor’s televised era.
- Jacqueline Pearce had previously appeared as Chessene in The Two Doctors, and would go on to play Cardinal Ollistra in the War Doctor, Eighth Doctor and Classic Doctors, New Monsters ranges.
- Mark Wright has played several characters for Big Finish and has appeared in titles such as The One Doctor, The Church and the Crown and The Eye of the Scorpion. Wright is also a writer and frequent collaborator with Cavan Scott, a production assistant for Doctor Who Magazine and a producer for Big Finish.
- Mark McDonnell has appeared in a number of Big Finish Productions, probably most prominently as Alby Brook in Dalek Empire.
- Hugh Walters previously played William Shakespeare in The Chase, Runcible in The Deadly Assassin and Vogel in Revelation of the Daleks.
- Jack Galagher would go on to appear in Big Finish plays like The Eye of the Scorpion, Jubilee and Valhalla.
- John Ainsworth is more prominently involved in the production side of Big Finish audio stories, but also appeared in Nekromentia.
- Alistair Lock is also more involved in the production element of audio plays, but has played roles in The Marian Conspiracy, Dust Breeding and The One Doctor.
Do you want a dangerous fugitive staying in your flat?
Well, of course not!
Well then, don’t upset him and he’ll be a nice fugitive staying in your flat.The Seventh Doctor and Paul Tanner
Previous Seventh Doctor Big Finish Main Range release: The Sirens of Time