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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Silver Turk


Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 84435 601 0
Available 31 October 2011

Roll up, roll up... to the great Viennese Exposition, where showman Alfred Stahlbaum will astound you with his most wonderful creation, the Silver Turk. This mechanical marvel will not only play for you the fortepiano, the spinet and the flute, but it will play you at the gaming table too! When the Doctor brings his new travelling companion Mary Shelley to 19th-century Vienna, he soon identifies the incredible Turk as one of his deadliest enemies - a part-machine Cyberman. And that’s not even the worst of the horrors at large in the city...

The Silver Turk is a culmination of elements that we haven’t heard from for far too long.

It’s been two years since Paul McGann’s Doctor starred in a double-disc release. That was the anthology The Company of Friends, the final episode of which, Mary’s Story, ended with Julie Cox’s Mary Shelley stepping aboard the TARDIS. She may seem like an unusual choice for a Doctor Who companion, but Mary is a good match for the Eighth Doctor, who always had the look of an English Romantic poet about him - though Mary points out that the Time Lord is staggeringly ignorant on the subject of love.

It’s been twice as long since McGann’s Doctor appeared in a regular, full-length story (by which I mean four episodes at a time), The Girl Who Never Was. For much of the intervening time he’s been having single-disc adventures with Lucie Miller, though that era has now come to an end, as Big Finish clears the way for Tom Baker to take over as its prestigious single-disc Doctor, commanding a mini-range of his own. Welcome back to the two-disc main range, Paul!

And it’s been a staggering nine years since Marc Platt wrote about the creepy Tenth Planet Cybermen in the classic Spare Parts. In my review of that release, I likened the Mondasian Cybermen to Frankenstein’s monster, as does Platt in this serial. In common with Mary’s Story, we are witness to an imagined inspiration for Mary Shelley’s most famous novel. She feels compassion for the creature, which, like the Doctor in Mary’s Story, is revived by electricity. Cover illustrator Alex Mallinson adds to the horror with his interior illustration of a Cyberman’s hand, with metallic tendons piercing discoloured flesh. Happy Halloween!

Mary’s sympathy for the Cybermen invites comparison with another Big Finish masterpiece, Jubilee. Instead of a lonely, damaged Dalek, we have the injured remnants of a lost Cyber-expedition. Once again, Nicholas Briggs convincingly expresses the pain of a usually implacable foe, without ever becoming too schmaltzy.

Essentially, though, this is a highly unusual and innovative tale, inspired by the real-life Turk, a supposed chess-playing automaton exhibited by various owners during the 18th and 19th centuries. About the only truly traditional aspect of this Who serial is the revelation of the monster at the end of Part One. Of course, the listener already knows the identity of the creature from the CD’s front cover, even if one hasn’t read the back-cover blurb, but the tension lies in the wait until the Doctor realises.

The jury is still out on Jamie Robertson’s surprising new theme tune. Combining elements from the terror of Delia Derbyshire’s original rendition with the more triumphal tones of John Debney’s orchestration for the 1996 TV movie and lots of electric guitar, it is growing on me... but part of me thinks like that caller from Down the Line: why do they have to keep mucking about with it! Why does the Eighth Doctor get so many different themes?

As usual, Platt’s scripts are overwritten, each episode running between five and ten minutes longer than usual, leaving little time for CD extras. In fact, there are only two minutes of interviews. Hopefully we’ll get more during the rest of this trilogy - which I’m looking forward to enormously.

I may quibble about trimmings such as the theme and the lack of interviews, but in terms of drama, this is silver service from Big Finish.


Richard McGinlay

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