Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE DEAD STAR Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE DEAD STAR Review

Matthew Kresal discovers an audio event horizon.
The 1960s were the formative years of Doctor Who. They were a time when the series, and its seemingly ever-changing production teams, were figuring out what this then-young series was capable of, even changing its lead actor when needs must. And, arguably, just as formative were the wilderness years of the 1990s and early 2000s when the series, now off-air, found a new voice and life via a new generation of writers. One of whom was the Australian Kate Orman, whose works would be among the highlights of that era. Now, as Doctor Who prepares to celebrate its sixtieth anniversary later this year, the two have come together in The Dead Star, Big Finish's latest audio novel and their first release of 2023.

Orman's The Dead Star features the underused (never mind underrated) TARDIS team of the Second Doctor, Ben, and Polly. And Orman drops them into a tale that evokes the different facets of this Doctor's incredibly varied tenure on-screen. Opening with surrealist imagery evocative of The Mind Robber but on a scale that would have been well beyond the BBC's capabilities in the mid-late sixties. From there, The Dead Star shifts into a sixties-based thriller such as The Invasion as the extent of the threat uncovered become abundantly clear with an Earthbound connection. Then, to round off the tale, the TARDIS trio find themselves off into the late 21st century with a setting that manages to evoke serials like The Moonbase and The Seeds of Death but with more up-to-date science.

It's a heady brew of a story. But one which Orman, writing her first Doctor Who novel in twenty years, handles beautifully. The various plot strands neatly weave in and out of each other, despite their seemingly contradictory styles, even when they eventually come up against one another as the plot unfolds. Indeed, the greatest compliment a fan of this Doctor's era can give is to say that the focus on these elements with hard science makes it feel like a 21st-century update of Kit Pedler's efforts back in the sixties.

And beyond that, to compliment the author on how well she captures the quicksilver characterization of Patrick Troughton's incarnation of the Doctor. If there is a Doctor that writers have struggled to bottle on the page, it's Troughton's, with his ever-changing and unpredictable reactions to events. Once more, Orman does with ease this reviewer hasn't encountered in prose since David A. McIntee's The Dark Path, letting the Doctor slide from playfulness to serious stakes in a few lines, just as Troughton did on-screen. Orman also gives Ben and Polly plenty to do, using them to explore the implications of what's uncovered in their own very near future and asking what the life of a time traveler must be like. The result fleshes out a solid plot and makes it stronger.

It's also in Big Finish tradition well-realized as a production. Michael Troughton, who has been playing his father's role for the company in addition to his own acting career, serves as narrator to superb effect. That he captures his father well goes without saying, with the results being downright uncanny at certain moments. Troughton's Ben and Polly are distinct and recognizable, though by no means an imitation of Michael Craze or Anneke Wills, even though his voices for various female characters become less distinctive as the audiobook wears on. Steve Foxon returns once more to offer sound design and music for the production, managing to top his previous work for the range in the process, particularly with the underscore, which, like Orman's plot, runs the gauntlet of musical styles employed across this Doctor's TV tenure.

Being the latest Big Finish Audio Novel and the company's first release of Doctor Who's sixtieth anniversary year, The Dead Star is nothing short of a triumph. And how could it not be? From the return of one of Doctor Who's best prose writers capturing the Second Doctor's era in all of its glory to narration and atmospheric underscoring that highlights what Big Finish does so well. If you only get one of the Audio Novels, The Dead Star would be this reviewer's recommendation as the must-buy of the range to date.

Not to mention a heck of a way to launch another year of Doctor Who on audio.

Doctor Who: The Dead Star is available to purchase from the Big Finish website.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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