So, the Eighth Doctor hits the main range with a new companion (Mary Shelley discussed here and played by Julie Cox pictured from the Big Finish website) and a new theme tune (somewhat controversial on the forums but I like it) and three adventures which I discuss below.
In terms of continuity these occur early in the Eighth Doctor’s time line long before he met Lucie Miller (see here for my timeline take).
Overall this has been a tremendous return to the main range with some rock solid production and the best story of the year. Julie Cox is wonderful as Mary Shelley and ..
That Theme Tune
When you first play The Silver Turk you get a very modern (i.e. Murray Gold -esque) theme tune that then brings out an electric guitar. Whilst you debate whether or not you like this treatment it quickly reaches a great crashing three-chord hook to let you know to start listening to the story. I like it (though it sounds oddly edited at one point to me) but many others are less positive
The Silver Turk
I believe this to be amongst the best releases of 2011 for Big Finish, up there with the end of the Eighth Doctor Adventures (see here). Julie Cox gives a great performance as Mary Shelley and the relationship with the Doctor is interesting in that she is very unclear as to why she should trust him over an apparently suffering cyberman! The story very much resonates with Frankenstein (as interpreted by cinema) and is compelling. It also ties into the Mondas / Spare Parts line of cyber-history.
The continued – “You’re the Mary Shelley” is maybe overdone but that is a minor quibble.
The Witch from the Well
Although we now have Mary under her correct name (for this point in history – see here) I felt that this tale tried too hard to move around in time without thinking things through. A pity as the usual rules of great acting and production apply. Mary is shown to be a completely viable character here as she goes off and almost reads a copy of her own biography (which she could have done in the TARDIS before now). I also didn’t like the way the alien enemy (the twins) were easily able to capture the control device from a desk when the story needed yet had never been able to do this in the 100s of years they waited between appearances of the Doctor.
I may be being harsh.
Army of Death
It almost goes horribly wrong here; I found the pseudo-science (psionic elements making skeletons live again)ending dreadful and some of the production didn’t work for example almost no cliff-hanger at the end of episode 2. Some of the music seemed out of place as well and the story struggled (to my ears) in establishing a feel. The plot has some shades of earlier works (such as Flip-Flop in the set up of the ruling presidency) and a decent line on propaganda and (almost) genocide. Paul McGann gets some wonderful dialogue (including the Flash Gordon-esque ‘Send out the flybots to bring back his body!’. In fact, as ever, we get great cast and performances.
In the midst of an overall disappoint tale Julie Cox / Mary Shelley are great. There has been a gap since Witch (e.g. the visit to the planet Mayhem) and Mary faces challenges in terms of her relationship with both Percy (her husband-to-be and father of her dead child) and the Doctor. There is a good use of the journal to reveal Mary’s inner dialogue and at the end Big Finish tease us that Mary might leave!
Even if this is not the best set of stories, the Turk is for me one of the best of the year (see my long set of comments on this year’s reads here) and the idea of Mary Shelley in the TARDIS is brilliant and Julia Cox helps give Mary a unique voice. Long may she stay in the TARDIS!