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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
Signs and Wonders


Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 332 0
Release Date: 30 September 2014

The end of the world is nigh. That’s what everybody is seeing in their nightmares. That’s why they are congregating in Liverpool for the party to end all parties, hosted by Rufus Stone, a celebrity turned doomsday prophet. He claims that he’s the only one who can save them when the day of judgement comes, because he’s on the side of the angels. The Doctor, Ace and Hector arrive to find the city in the grip of apocalypse fever. There are lights in the sky, earthquakes and power cuts. The Doctor is determined to investigate, while Ace is more concerned about finding a way of restoring Hector’s lost memories. Meanwhile, in the River Mersey, hideous, slug-like creatures are stirring…

I have to admit, it was with a degree of trepidation that I began listening to this two-disc release, the last of the current Sylvester McCoy trilogy. The previous two tales had not moved the Hector / Hex arc forward to any great extent, and indeed might be regarded as undoing the work of setting up Hector (Philip Olivier) as a new and different version of Hex in last year’s Afterlife. Why bother in the first place? I was also worried by the title, which sounds like another of those stories involving the Seventh Doctor’s recurring enemies the Elder Gods, villains that have already been done to death.

Fortunately, there is a lot more to Signs and Wonders than that. The opening episode grips the listener with a palpable sense of danger to our world. Though the time period is the grim and not-so-distant future of the 2020s, the use of fake news reports to establish information, a cult of celebrity, and the Merseyside setting – in particular the accent of doomsday prophet Rufus Stone, played by Warren Brown – all help to keep things real. Bolstering the threat are some big sounds from musician Jamie Robertson, whose work here comes across like Murray Gold with a dash of Jerry Goldsmith. The 12-minute suite of isolated music at the end of the first CD is well worth a listen or three.

Writer Matt Fitton, who previously penned Afterlife, mitigates the lack of exploration of Hector as a personality in his own right by explaining that not only has the lad forgotten who Hex was, but his memories of his existence as the gangster Hector Thomas are now also fading. Hector fears that he will soon be a completely blank slate, an empty vessel. Though I am still disappointed by this casual dismissal of the Hector character, this development may be interpreted as an explanation for why the young man has been reverting to a form very like the Hex of old – this could be his default setting. Though Jean Boht does not reprise her role as Hex’s nan Hilda, Fitton provides a direct link back to Afterlife with the welcome return of Amy Pemberton as Private Sally Morgan.

Following a terrific Part One, the second episode unfortunately dispels some of its intrigue by quickly providing a scientific (alien) explanation for the apocalyptic events. And my heart sank when the Elder Gods entered the frame once again during Part Three. The later episodes also fall foul of the dreaded descriptive dialogue that sometimes afflicts audio drama, with characters telling us that “I’m in the Mersey”, “I’m drowning” and “Look, she’s shooting energy from her hands!”

All is forgiven, though, in the wake of the final episode, in particular its conclusion. The writer gives us an interesting new angle on an Elder God, one that surprisingly has never been done before. After all the false resolutions of the Hex and Elder Gods plot arcs, this really does feel like an ending – not just for Hex and Sally, but also for Ace (Sophie Aldred) and the Doctor. With the ‘resetting’ of Ace’s characterisation that I have observed during the previous two releases, an overt rebooting of the TARDIS’s interior in this one, and the companion reminding the Time Lord of his closing speech from Dragonfire (about having “work to do” in places where rivers dream, places where there’s danger, and places where there’s injustice), this would be a fitting point to end the audio exploits of the Seventh Doctor and Ace, or at least those set during their ‘early years’, prior to the New Adventures novels and audios.

Perhaps the plan is to henceforth restrict Miss McShane’s activities to the later New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield era. Alternatively, maybe the producers just want the next Seventh Doctor and Ace stories to be free of baggage. References to several possible futures for Ace do suggest that they want to keep their options open. Whether this is a final end or just a clearing of the decks in preparation for further action, Signs and Wonders is a landmark release.


Richard McGinlay

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