Big Finish: Doctor Who - MAX WARP Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - MAX WARP Review

Matthew Kresal is this week's star in a reasonably priced car.

Across more than a half-century of storytelling, Doctor Who has found time to homage and spoof a little bit of anything and everything. From Gothic tales like Frankenstein to Quatermass and James Bond to a couple of semi-musical tales, there seems little the series can't do. So it comes as no surprise then that it found time a decade ago to spoof Top Gear, another venerable BBC franchise, via one of the Big Finish audio adventures.

Written by Jonathan Morris, Max Warp finds the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith) arriving at the Sirius Exhibition Station in time for the Inter-G Cruiser Show. Broadcasting from there is Max Warp, the hugely popular show about spaceships. It's in the middle of a test flight of one of the ships built by the sponge-like alien race the Kith that something goes wrong, apparently killing a presenter. With tensions still boiling between the Kith and Varlon Empire despite decades of peace, it's up to the TARDIS crew to solve who was responsible and stop a war for re-igniting.

As that plot summary may suggest, the Top Gear spoofing show of the title isn't all there is to the story. It is, on the other hand, a big part of it and Morris does a superb job with it. Viewers of that program will likely recognize the basis of the various hosts: Geoffrey Vantage (Graeme Garden) the "outspoken columnist and media personality," who fronts it, the technically minded O’Reilley (James Fleet), and the seemingly overeager daredevil pilot Timbo ‘the Ferret’ (Duncan James). If you're a fan of that series as well as Who, there will be plenty to enjoy in listening to the banter between the various hosts, what happens when Lucy goes undercover at the program, and just how everything ends up at the climax of the episode. Indeed, you'll likely get a few chuckles and laughs out of it. While it isn't necessary to know Top Gear to enjoy Max Warp, you'll likely get more of it if you do.

It's also a fun little detective story. There's something about the Eighth Doctor and such tales as evidenced by stories like Invaders From Mars and it's something that both writers and McGann alike seem to relish. Given the format of these stories emulated New Who rather than Classic Who's four-parters, it's neat to see just how many suspects and plot twists can be included into less than an hour's worth of story. And yet, unlike when TV Who did it's on semi-spoof of the genre with The Unicorn And The Wasp, the same year as Max Warp's release, this one feels immensely satisfying in its conclusions and tone. Hats off to Morris for that.

The story's also helped by having all the hallmarks of Big Finish's output. There's the strong cast from McGann and Smith with their excellent chemistry, to the trio of Max Warp presenters who all bring their A-game to proceedings. The sound design and music from ERS is top rate as well. Whether creating a take on the Top Gear theme or building spaceships out of sounds, they prove more than up to the task. It's another example of just why the company's work has become so renowned in the audio drama community: they do things well.

Max Warp is a neat example of the kind of storytelling perhaps unique to Doctor Who. Where else can you have a spoof of Top Gear inside a murder mystery with the fate of planets at stake? It's a romp of a story, one that should put a smile on the listeners face while engaging them in a little detective work. In short: it's a bit of Doctor Who in a nutshell.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places. 

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