Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE SILVER TURK Review

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Andrew East revisits the Eighth Doctor audio adventure, The Silver Turk.


I have already discussed my feelings about Mary Shelley’s position as a companion. Throughout her audio adventures I never really ‘got’ Mary. Big Finish constantly talk about how her outing in Mary’s Story (part of The Company of Friends) was so popular it was a no-brainer to feature her as a proper companion for a trilogy of stories. Up to now, I haven’t seen the appeal. I find Mary, frankly, a bit dull. Julie Cox’s voice is quite generic and I’m not particularly convinced by her performance in her full-length adventures. There isn’t a huge amount of energy in them. My memories of The Silver Turk contributed to this opinion.

A relisten has, to be fair, led to a degree of reassessment. The Silver Turk is Mary’s best story and showcases her character the most successfully. I still find Julie Cox’s performance lacklustre but there is more energy on show in this story and she, as character and companion, is given stuff to do, is contrasted with other companions’ attitudes and contributes to some interesting thoughts for the Doctor.

My memories of the plot of The Silver Turk centred around the two stranded Cybermen. Whilst this is, indeed, the crux of the plot, I had completely forgotten the additional plot of Dr Drossel’s puppet show. This lends the story a nightmarish quality which meant I enjoyed it far more this time. I had remembered being underwhelmed and, although I still not a massive fan of this story, I did find more to appreciate second time around.

Marc Platt, the writer, is an imaginative man when it comes to what to do with the Cybermen. His Cyber-origin story, Spare Parts, is rightly lauded as one of the Big Finish’s jewels in the crown. The Silver Turk takes the concept of the Cybermen and does something new with it. To be honest, a Frankenstein-inspired story featuring the Cybermen is a bit of a no-brainer when you have Mary Shelley as a companion, but it is well told and has some pretty scary images.

The best element is definitely the automatons and puppets. Putting a damaged Cyberman into the role of the famed Turk, an automaton from history, is clever and Drossel’s lifesize puppets reminded me of a children’s novel by Justin Richards: The Paranormal Puppet Show (the first in a series called The Invisible Detective – great stories and some strong Doctor Who vibes going on - a giant rat in the sewers; time travel; and a story called Faces of Evil amongst other things). The reveal that Drossel himself is a puppet is chilling, as are the puppet versions of the Doctor and Mary (visually, this would be a horrific image for the TV series).

Platt also examines Mary quite well. Making her compassionate towards the Cybermen works well as the Mondasian style Cybermen are the most human of the all the models. Her delayed shock at what exactly travelling with the Doctor means also works well, although, as I’ve said, Cox’s performance doesn’t quite sell it to me. The Doctor’s worries about taking a historical figure out of time are also touched upon, although I don’t quite feel he fully appreciates his impact on people (although this is a criticism of the character rather than the writing or the performance. The Doctor, as a person, rarely considers his impact on the humans he encounters and this is something the new series has done very well at examining in a little more detail through characters such as Sarah Jane, Martha, Donna and Craig).

The guest cast are serviceable; the Count and Countess and Alfred (the ‘owner’ of the Silver Turk) don’t make a massive impact. David Schneider’s cabbie and Gareth (Masque of Mandragora) Armstrong’s Dr Drossel are more fun although Armstrong does tend to chew the recording booth in quite a few scenes.

I can’t really put my finger on what doesn’t quite work for me with this story. I think it is the atmosphere. A little like my issues with The Beast of Orlock, the 19th century Austrian setting doesn’t come through well on audio. The lack of accents, aside from plummy British ones, makes it difficult to ‘feel’ the story’s setting (something which, on TV, would be countered by the sets and costumes). On audio, the voices are everything and whilst the sound design and music help a little, it doesn’t quite feel as absorbing as other soundscapes Big Finish have presented.

Historically, Drossel makes a puppet version of Empress Elisabeth of Bavaria (the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary at the time of this story). Mitzi, the Countess, and Alfred claim acquaintance with her, referring to her as Cissy. Of course, we also have the Silver Turk which is a play on ‘the Turk’ – an actual automaton which toured around Europe through the 18th and 19th century. It played chess and was famed throughout Europe. What’s intriguing is that the automaton’s amazing chess playing abilities were revealed to be a hoax. A real person was hidden below the Turk and was moving the puppet above. With the Silver Turk of the story being revealed as a hoax of sorts, in reality a Cyberman, Platt has mirrored the original history. It’s such a good idea, the new series did it again in Nightmare in Silver where a Cyberman became a version of the Turk and was revealed to have a human (in the form of Warwick Davies) hidden inside the machine.

I’m pleased I enjoyed this story more the second time around, but the Mary Shelley trilogy is something which will never rank highly in my personal ranking of Big Finish products due to my disinterest in the character of Mary as a companion.

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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