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Andrew East enjoys a Paternoster Gang adventure...

Devil in the Smoke was originally an ebook released after the success of the ‘Melody Malone’ ebook: The Angel’s Kiss; and subsequently included in print along with that story and the latterly released ‘Summer Falls’ (the least ‘Doctor Whoey’ of the three). As is the BBC’s habit, Devil in the Smoke (and The Angel’s Kiss) were also released as talking books.

And that is the most accurate description. This is not an audio adaptation. It isn’t enhanced with music and sound effects. It’s just the text and a reader. In this case it’s Strax himself, Dan Starkey, and very good he is too. I dare say any other reader would not have made this as entertaining and this is principally because we wouldn’t have had the ‘proper’ Strax voice. Justin Richards, the writer, has given Strax all the funniest lines, as per his television appearances, and Starkey revels in delivering them. His voices for Vastra and Jenny are good too: Vastra has a gentle, vaguely Scottish tone whilst Jenny is all Cockernee and working class; and possibly a bit too caricatured – but it’s a minor complaint. His other voices are well differentiated and there are a couple, particularly the main villain, which sounded like a completely different actor!

The story is an interesting amalgam of previous Victorian Doctor Who stories. Some is accidental, some surely can’t be. The opening with a bleeding snowman immediately reminds you of the Paternoster gang’s first TV outing: The Snowmen. The alien menace’s nebulous nature and habit of imitating/possessing humans immediately brings to mind the Gelth of The Unquiet Dead. One similarity which is no fault of Justin Richards is the climactic battle at Crystal Palace. Having just read The Crystal Throne comic strip featuring the same trio it all seemed a bit familiar. The ending even involves the roof of the Crystal Palace being shattered just as it does in The Crystal Throne (although at the hands of Strax rather than Vastra). It makes me wonder why the DWM editorial team didn’t seem bothered about the rather obvious similarities when planning the comic strip to bridge the gap between 11th and 12th Doctors.

The plot itself is a traditional, and relatively unoriginal ‘aliens plan to take over the Earth’ and the main entertainment principally comes from the characters and the novelty of this being a Paternoster Gang story, rather than from the Gelth-like modus operandi of the smoke monster.

The list of Victoriana is ticked off throughout the story: fog and snow, wealthy factory owners; intimidating thugs; workhouse orphans; horse-drawn carriages. It all serves to create an atmospheric trip into Victorian London, echoing The Unquiet Dead, The Next Doctor, The Snowmen and Deep Breath (although that, of course, had yet to be filmed when this was written). Historically there isn’t much grounding in fact. Madame Vastra being ‘the Great Detective’ alluding to Sherlock Holmes (and as referenced in The Snowmen) is about the closest it gets.

One interesting aspect of the story is the way the smoke monster works as an allusion to the encroaching industrialism of England. This is something that has already been explored in Industrial Evolution. That story showed the machinery itself as the monster whereas here we have the smoke pumped out by the factories represented by an alien menace which intends to envelope the Earth in their smokey evilness. What’s also clever is how the smoke is defeated by nature; in the form of snow emphasising the conflict between industrialism and the natural world. I find it interesting how these different Victorian set stories have examined various fascinations of the era: industrialism, spiritualism; through the prism of the good old Doctor Who monster.

This was a really good listen. My mind can wander a little with single voice audios but I didn’t find that happening with this one aside from the more action heavy sequences. Dan Starkey’s variation of voices kept the dialogue scenes snappy and vibrant meaning they held the attention far more than with previous solo reader stories I’ve listened to. Some music and sound effects would have been a nice enhancement to the story but aside from that, The Devil In The Smoke is a good story that I would recommend, especially to fans of the Paternoster Gang.

A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the chance.

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