Review – Big Finish Doctor Who #5: “The Fearmonger”
This is the next in line of my Big Finish Productions Doctor Who retro-reviews.
#5 – “The Fearmonger”
One would-be assassin is in a mental ward. Another’s on the run. Their intended victim is stirring up the mobs. Terrorists are planning a strike of their own. A talk-radio host is loving every minute of it. A Whitehall insider whispers about a mysterious UN operative, with a hidden agenda. Everyone’s got someone they want to be afraid of. It’ll only take a little push for the situation to erupt – and something is doing the pushing. But you can trust the Doctor to put things right. Can’t you?
Written By: Jonathan Blum
Directed By: Gary Russell
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor); Sophie Aldred (Ace); Jacqueline Pearce (Sherilyn Harper); Mark Wright (Stephen Keyser); Mark McDonnell (Walter Jacobs); Vince Henderson (Mick Thompson); Jonathan Clarkson (Paul Tanner); Hugh Walters (Roderick Allingham); Jack Galagher (Alexsandr Karadjic); John Ainsworth (Hospital Tannoy Voice); Alistair Lock (Hospital Doctor / Heckler)
*** minor spoilers ahead***
Sophie Aldred makes her Big Finish debut, reprising her role as the 7th Doctor’s companion, Dorothy McShane, aka Ace. Unlike with the previous companions, for whom it’s as though they never left the TARDIS, in this case, Ace has clearly advanced over the years, likely as a result of all those Virgin New Adventures books and such. Too obvious? Perhaps, but this Ace is a far more seasoned professional than we left her in the late 80s. This is one of the truest examples of a partnership I’ve ever seen between the Doctor and a companion.
What’s truly interesting for me is that when I think of the 7th Doctor, I almost always expect him to be 25 moves ahead, even if he’s acting like he’s improvising. The other Doctors, I expect improvisation at any time, but McCoy’s Doctor takes Batman to school when it comes to playing the long game. A story like this blows that perception out of the water. Not only is the Doctor improvising at nearly every turn in this story, he admits it, and Ace is right there to back him up on every play because she believes in him. You can’t ask for a better team dynamic than that. The Doctor has seemingly grown along with Ace, so while he’s capable of brooding, he’s also capable of laughing and alleviating the tension in just the right moments. If there’s anything I could ever say about Sylvester McCoy, it’s that he makes you all-too-aware that his Doctor is anything but a one-dimensional caricature. He walks that line between avenging angel, master manipulator, and potential best friend so well that you just take it for granted that this is who he is, even when he’s not playing the Doctor. And he might be, I don’t know. I haven’t met the man, so I can’t say for sure.
So what is the story really about? Big Finish’s blurb hardly says. Basically, there’s a political campaign in progress, and an entity is generating and feeding off the fear of the candidate’s platform. One man can hear the entity in the candidate’s voice, and he’s been driven insane, but nobody will believe him… until the Doctor hijacks a radio broadcast to put in his two cents. From there, the race is on to stop the Fearmonger.
I love this story, but mostly I love the departure it takes from the previous stories. This sets itself up in media res, and the audience has to catch up. It’s not a completely direct kind of threat as with other Doctor Who stories, and the philosophical counterpoints about fear and faith are played very well. There’s plenty of quality quotables to be had. And more than that, there’s plenty of solid story and characterization to be had. I say this about a great many Big Finish audios, and I probably always will: I highly recommend it. It’s a great listen for the well-entrenched fan and the newbie alike.