Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE MARY SHELLEY TRILOGY - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad


Moo goes off on a tangent with the creator of sci-fi horror.

Back in 2011, Big Finish celebrated the temporary return of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor to the monthly series. They randomly made the decision to team him up with historical writer Mary Shelley, played by Julie Cox. It’s not an idea that makes much sense, besides the obvious comparison of this Doctor to the New Romantics, themselves contemporaries of Shelley.

The pairing actually goes back to 2009 with Mary’s Story from anthology The Company of Friends. This story sees the Doctor from his future injured horribly and the Doctor from early in his eighth life come together at Villa Diodati. Here he meets Mary Shelley and she helps the younger Doctor nurse the older one back to health. It’s mostly an excuse for a harmless historical runaround and that’s no bad thing.

This was building on hints (going back to Storm Warning) that he had taken on Shelley as a travelling companion. There was never any obvious reason why they should ever actually tell that story, but you do you Big Finish! Indeed, Mary’s Story has her join the younger Eighth Doctor in the TARDIS and leads in to the 2011 trilogy.

Kicking us off we have The Silver Turk, which has Mary Shelley meet a lone Cyberman. (This premise and Mary’s Story combined together would make a good TV episode, no?) The Doctor and Mary end up in 1873 Vienna where a Cyberman, of the original Tenth Planet variety, is being held as a slave and made to perform piano shows for Viennese upper class socialites, supposedly an automaton to make money for his owners. Of course the Doctor sees right through it and this is where the story’s heart lies.

It transpires that a series of gruesome murders have been happening and the Doctor suspects the Cyberman is responsible. He is wrong and Mary insists that there must be something else happening. From there the story spirals off into all kinds of dealings with automata and the Cybermen fit so perfectly into it. The Gothic imagery and the setting combine to an aesthetically beautiful story that actually makes you feel genuine emotion for the Cyberman at its centre.

Presenting them as human-sized marionettes is genius. There’s a lovely sense of foreboding atmosphere dripping from this story every second of the way through. It’s a classic Doctor Who story and if you only hear one of these, pick this one.

Up next is The Witch From the Well. This story has a lot going for it but leaves the least impression of the trilogy. The plot of this one does what it says on the tin – there’s a witch and the Doctor and Mary must sort things out, simple really – and once again it’s all about the Gothic imagery.

The witches themselves turn out to be aliens from a parallel dimension who have found a way to cross through. There’s all the usual trappings, with curses and possessions and all the rest, with a sci-fi explanation that just about explains it. It’s basically a Hinchcliffe story done by Moffat, though not quite as good as either. It’s exactly what you expect for the first half.

The use of multiple time periods is the highlight, coming in halfway through. The Doctor in the past and Mary in the relative present both trying to solve the same plot in different periods is a great set-up. The creepy twins are also great fun villains. It’s nothing special, but good for what it is.

Army of Death concludes the trilogy, and on paper it’s a glorious story of Doctor Who horror at its best. The set up has the Doctor and Mary show up on some planet where two cities are at war, one has been wiped out, and now the skeletal remains of its dead citizens are advancing towards the city that survived. The Doctor and Mary decide to set off to investigate who or what is responsible.

There’s a lot to like with the imagery in play here. If you’re into that sort of cheesy b-movie low-budget horror then you’ll probably have a good time with that set-up. Unfortunately it mostly sidelines that element of things in favour of stuffy political drama.

That political drama subplot isn’t bad or anything, it’s just that if you’re doing a trilogy based on Mary Shelley then I’m going to expect that Gothic imagery to be front and centre, not a sidelined afterthought that could easily be switched out for anything else. Luckily it does feature a strong guest performance from David Harewood to keep things moving along, and, if nothing else, you’ve got a reliably good actor doing a reliably good performance and that’s a welcome inclusion.

Army of Death is a story that I thoroughly enjoyed for what it was, but the fact of it being what it was is also its biggest flaw. If that makes sense.

The great thing about this trilogy is that it’s fully aware it’s only going to be a self-contained experiment. This allows all three stories to embrace the ideas they contain and see what they can do with the setting and characters in them.

These come chronologically before any other Eighth Doctor audio stories and so you’ve got a truly unique setting within the wider “canon” to play around in. There’s a lot to like as a fan in getting to visit the gap between the movie and Storm Warning and see some of what the Doctor got up to during that time, and these remain the only official stories in performed media that are set here.

So to conclude my thoughts on the Mary Shelley stories. It’s an unusual cul-de-sac for the Eighth Doctor that on the surface doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do but that in practise works so much better than they should. They’re well worth checking out if you get the chance.

It would be worth it for The Silver Turk alone honestly.

“Moo” is the pseudonym used by this Doctor Who fan. He can usually be found procrastinating by thinking about Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @z_p_moo for more of his unusual takes, but do so at your own risk.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad