Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Natural History of Fear

During my run of Big Finish’s Bernice Summerfield in 2010 I said once before that I struggled to review their main range of Doctor Who stories. This is because more than any other series the format of Doctor Who is so variable, so flexible, that pinning a consistent style in it is impossible. Doctor Who is unique in that though there are some stories I prefer over others, I struggle to call many of them truly ‘bad’, just ‘different’. Every other series I can try to judge what they’ve achieved compared to what I thought they were meant to, but the intention of Doctor Who varies so wildly from one moment to the next that this becomes almost impossible. The Natural History of fear represents this, and so much more. More than anything else it is ‘different’. In truth the reason you are seeing this review is because it is not, in any sense of the word, a traditional Doctor Who Story.

There have been tales of the Doctor and his companions loosing their memories and living new, alternate lives, slowly recovering their pasts. Despite first appearances this is not what is happening here. This is no standard sordid tale of the memory cheating, although that is a part of it. Jim Mortimore; both author, composer, sound designer, delights in confounding audience expectations. The first episode introduces us to ‘Light City’, a place like no other, although if I compared it to anything it would be George Orwell’s 1984. The voice of Light City directs the citizens about their daily lives, the citizens in question at first played by what sounds by familiar voices, but slowly things change.

In the cast list none of the actors are given roles. That is appropriate as with the exception of the DJ and the Editor there are no definite characters. The first is the haunting voice of Light City, director of the proletariate, and the programme creator who puts together television shows which citizens are required to watch by law. This show, which bears such similarity to the old television show Doctor Who, has been perverted to become a method of control, teaching people messages and rules that the original never intended to come out. The second character, the Editor, played with much gusto by Paul McGann, turns into the plays central character, and his quest to save or destroy Light City is truly gripping. One of the best moments of the play is the end of episode three, a moment which truly changes everything. India Fisher and Conrad Westmass also impress, though their characters change over time.

This is one of the most ambitious productions from Big Finish to date, both within their Doctor Who ranges and beyond. Although certainly not to everyone’s taste it manages to convey a soul destroying emotional journey, a psychological nightmare and journey to the centre of what it means to be alive. Full of references to the old television show to keep fans happy, yet with a strong central message of its own, this truly is the epitome of storytelling.

10 / 10

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