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Audio Drama Review
Trapped underground, the Doctor and Mrs Wibbsey encounter a boy who claims to be Aladdin, searching for a fabled lamp. He joins them on their own quest, to find a power source in this weird domain and switch it off. Many obstacles lie in their way. Vast rooms stuffed with exotic items give way to torch-lit tunnels and deadly precipices. Creatures of mythical proportions lie in wait. Peculiar atmospheres take their toll. Perhaps strangest of all, the Doctor’s multi-coloured scarf takes on a life of its own. As friends are separated and uneasy alliances are formed, the strange environment attempts to claim them. Will the Doctor and Wibbs ever get back to Hexford, and will Aladdin discover who he really is...?
There aren’t many surprises in the plot of this, the third instalment of Paul Magrs’s Serpent Crest saga. We already know that the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Mrs Wibbsey (Susan Jameson) have been dragged inside the Shkishtari egg, which has been fuelled by a child’s imagination. Given the title Aladdin Time, there are no prizes for guessing the nature of the illusory realm they encounter within the egg, nor the identity of the lad in question.
No, the true charm of this audio drama lies not in what happens - which isn’t actually all that much, to be honest - but in how the story is told. This time the narrator is Scheherazade herself (Sophie Ward), whose single-voice storytelling fills in some of the details about what the characters see and think, and also punctuates and reinforces the dangerous situations in which our heroes find themselves. In a way, it’s a shame this release isn’t divided into episodes, because some of these punctuations, such as during track 6 and at the end of track 9, would have made great self-referential cliffhangers.
So far, the Serpent Crest series seems to be holding together better than previous ones. Each story has had its own distinct identity, while also remaining strongly linked to the whole - as evidenced by discussions about the child and the egg during track 13. Admittedly, the drama of this scene is augmented by a particularly Murray Gold-esque music cue from sound designer Simon Hunt.
Having said that, the end of this audio drama has a curious note of finality about it, despite this being the middle of the saga. As the Doctor departs, Mrs Wibbsey feels a palpable sense of abandonment, and wonders whether she will ever see him again - which had me worrying that we might never hear from her again. However, having read the blurb for the next instalment, The Hexford Invasion, I am relieved to report that she will be coming back.
Aladdin Time is the least engaging segment of Serpent Crest so far. However, judging by the cover illustration and blurb for The Hexford Invasion, it looks as though things are about to get a whole lot more exciting...