Hello friends and welcome back to Big Finishing Move, and boy do I have the 50th Anniversary fever! As I type this it is the 50th Anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who, and seeing as Doctor Who is my business here it’d be a shame not have have a review to go with this momentous occasion. This brings us to the audio drama in question today, Doctor Who: Storm Warning.
Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard
The hype for this story was intense, Paul McGann, who only had at this point played the Doctor only once in the 1996 TV movie (the movie was a backdoor pilot for a series that never materialized) was getting a chance to come back to the role. Eighth Doctor books, comics, and other media had existed, but this was a chance to see what that show that never was would feel like, and what more McGann could do with the role. Everything past the TV movie was up in the air, Big Finish could go anywhere and do most anything they wanted with this incarnation of the Doctor, so the thrill and the potential of this story had people excited.
The story of Storm Warning is framed around the real life tragedy of the R101, a British airship that crashed in France in 1930 killing almost all its passengers. The story here takes some liberties with the names (probably for legal reasons, as well as general respect) and a detail or two in terms of the actual tragedy, but much of the real life account is left in.
We are introduced to the Doctor rambling to himself inside the TARDIS as it zips through the vortex, when he comes across a crashing ship stuck in a time loop and being pecked away at by vortisaurs, creatures that inhabit the time vortex. Considering it the only humane thing to do the Doctor decides to ram the ship to free the ship from the loop and let the passengers finally die in peace. This act leaves the TARDIS vulnerable and he materializes the ship at that exact point in the timestream to prevent further damage. This point just happens to be inside one of the ballasts on the R101. While the Doctor is doing a quick reconnaissance of just where the hell he is, the crew jettison the contents of the ballast, stranding the Doctor on the ship.
The Doctor soon runs into Charlotte (Charley) Pollard, a fellow stowaway and they uncover that there is more to the this flight than meets the eye. The R101 is on a secret mission to make contact with an alien ship to return a member of that species to their people and hopefully get some tech or other advancements in return. Things as always start to go south, and the Doctor and Charley are soon trying to stop an interplanetary war before it starts.
The first thing you’ll notice is there is a very good reason that the Doctor has companions, not only because they are cool and interesting, but so the Doctor has somebody to bounce off of. The Doctor is babbling so much to himself, expositing and narrating everything that he does that even the script has him call attention to it! You’ll be jumping for joy when the Doctor has to start talking to other people because all his yapping is just about to cross the threshold between quirky and irritating. This isn’t to say that what the Doctor is saying while he’s alone isn’t interesting, in fact the first few minutes are loaded with information and hints of trips that it would take the fans years to see (well, I suppose in this case the word “hear” would be more apropos), it just lacks something to balance it out.
India Fisher as Charley Pollard is always a treat to hear. She is just so energetic and enthusiastic about life and travel that it is impossible for most people not to like her. In fact, Charley is one of the most popular characters Big Finish ever created and for many is the companion most associated with the Eighth Doctor.
The main problem here is that while most of the seeds this story plants lead to wonderful and intriguing stories down the line, but this one, it is kind of dumb. Who is known for stretching the bounds of believability all the time, but they offset this with a clever enough plot and supporting characters so that the audience goes along with the story, and this is where Storm Warning falls flat. The supporting characters are silly, the aliens are sillier still, and how they beat the aliens is one of the silliest things I ever heard. The whole piece is too light in tone considering the real life tragedy that was the crashing of the R101. The Tenth Doctor story The Fires of Pompeii, which has many of the same ideas as Storm Warning and dealt with a real life disaster was also a very silly, but they knew how to stop and give the real life event the gravitas it deserved.
Storm Warning is one of those entries that is essential to a fascinating overall arc while not being very strong by itself. The Doctor and Charley are one of my favorite parings in all of Who, the chemistry McGann and Fisher have together is undeniable, but that alone does not a good story make. There isn’t anything offensively bad here, it is just fluffy and insubstantial. Pick it up so you can appreciate the greater arc, which is worth your time, but temper your expectations for this one.
Buy Doctor Who: Storm Warning here
As always, let me remind you that we have our own audio drama called Infinite Variations that you should give a listen to. So many cool people come together to make that show happen, so please do check it out if you haven’t already.
For next time, we’re going to get a little messy with: