Tony Fyler finally catches up with a classic.
The Scream, by Edvard Munch, is a creepy painting. A very good creepy painting, but a creepy painting nonetheless. As such, it’s ripe for the Doctor Who treatment, and in Dust Breeding by Mike Tucker, it well and truly gets it. The story links The Scream with a planet of dust in the far future, delivering a cogent essay on the power and the danger of art. But more than that, fourteen years on, it’s possible to say that Dust Breeding occupies a unique place in the Big Finish archive, directly linking the on-screen past with the in-audio future adventures of the Doctor. It links the on-screen chronology of the show with the early convolutions of the Seventh Doctor at Big Finish and a still young-sounding Ace. So – a pretty important, now classic story from 2001, then.
The point though is that I had managed to go fifteen years without listening to this absolutely seminal story and right here and right now in 2015, it sounds fresher and more vital than much that’s come out of the Doctor Who main range this year. Harsh? Maybe. True? Yes. There’s an energy to Dust Breeding that delivers proper creepy, building tension, with shots of solid, thudding terror where they’re needed. It features a cast of characters that includes at least one grotesque, one character who shouldn’t be allowed near anything sharp, and one with a stolidity and patience of purpose that’s admirable, bordering on terrifying. All of them though are clearly defined, vocally individual characters that would allow the story to be told in primary colours. The background of the dust planet Duchamp 331 though has a shifting malevolence all its own, which in itself is surprising as there’s a general absence of the shifting sand soundscape you might expect of such a world. What it sounds is dry. Dry, and exhausting, draining the hope and the brightness out of all those primary characters, muting everything to whispers or growls.
Everything but the wind and the screams.
There are several deeply nightmarish moments, including at least a couple of really first class cliffhangers, and there’s at least one voice that will be, now, so familiar that even to mention the actor’s name counts as a massive spoiler. Let’s just say that when you hear that voice, you’ll know immediately who you’re dealing with. Pleasingly, it’s one of their much better stories in the Big Finish range, with the sort of plotting that makes them an enduring favourite.
Everything is tied together with what feels, as you listen to it, like perfectly reasonable logic, despite in actuality being barking mad in the best traditions of Doctor Who – the creepiness of The Scream is explained, its connection with a dust planet far in the future makes sense, its connection to existing Seventh Doctor Big Finish history is made clear step by step, and its part in the resurgence of an on-screen favourite character is an exquisite, explicit Easter Egg of joy that will, if you haven’t actually heard this story yet, make you go ‘Oh so that’s why…’ – yes, there’s quite a big chunk of audio canon handed to you on a dusty plate here. If you’ve been going along without it till now, you’re going to want to listen to this. It won’t necessarily change your world, but it’s a lovely little nugget to finally have in your possession.
There are some great performances here too – Louise Faulkner as Bev Tarrant is a revelation, feeling almost like a cousin of Bernice Summerfield. Caroline ‘Liz Shaw’ John is almost unrecognisable as Madame Salvadori, the hideous patron of the arts on Duchamp 331. Johnson Willis, giving an almost dual performance, goes the full nine yards and then an extra yard for luck, (possibly, just possibly, half a yard over the top?). And of course there’s… the spoilerific actor who shall not be named, giving a revelatory, assured performance that while allowing everyone else the room to breathe and be, grounds every scene they’re in and makes them unforgettable.
Do you want to know the most absurd thing about all this? Now that Big Finish is rationalizing its stock, the early releases are only available as downloads, but they’re available for less than the price of a Big Mac and fries.
You can afford to miss a Big Mac and fries. Learn from my mistakes - don’t wait any longer, and don’t miss Dust Breedin; it’s a truly superb, surprisingly polished early slice of Big Finish joy that will grace any audio collection and give you nearly two hours of creepy, almost balletic, scary pleasure.
You can purchase Dust Breeding for the insanely cheap price of £2.99 here.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk