❉ This double feature is a strong showing for the Season 24-era Seventh Doctor and Mel, writes Ezekiel Thorp.
Fans of the Seventh Doctor have had a tough time of it lately, with obvious real-world events meaning Sylvester McCoy hasn’t been able to record a story for over two years (barring a cameo in the last story of the monthly range The End of the Beginning in 2021. Thankfully, Silver and Ice brings the Seventh Doctor back to audio once more with Bonnie Langford as Mel, for two stories set during 1987’s Season 24.
Originally broadcast at a time of instability for Doctor Who, the four stories making up Sylvester McCoy’s first year were derided at the time, with fans feeling the almost pantomime-like take on the show was sure to have it cancelled for good. But in recent years, and especially with a new box set release last year, the stories have been re-evaluated and it’s good to see Big Finish giving some love to this now much underappreciated era.
Surprisingly only the Seventh Doctor’s third audio encounter with the Cybermen, Bad Day in Tinseltown is the first story here, and perhaps even more surprisingly it’s penned by Dan Starkey, a writer and actor more associated with the Sontarans.
It’s definitely a story which evokes the era almost perfectly, with high camp crocodiles and larger-than-life characters in a Wild West town but also something suspicious hiding underneath, in this case the Cybermen as teased on the cover. It even spends its whole first part essentially building up to that classic companion-finds-the-Cybermen-hiding-somewhere cliffhanger.
Given that it’s only two parts long, this does mean that the Cybermen are a little under-utilised, which is a shame as the Cyber civil war teased in its later parts has potential. But there’s plenty else here to keep your interest, from the authentically-accented citizens of the western town, to Dan Starkey himself perhaps providing the most laughs of the episode.
It also takes time to improve on some elements of the era that weren’t quite right the first time, notably giving Bonnie Langford’s Mel something intelligent to do rather than scream and shout. Although it might disappoint fans listening solely for the Cybermen, there’s rich stuff here, and probably unique for being a Doctor Who story where tinsel is the villain!
Second story The Ribos Inheritance is Jonathan Barnes’ unexpected, but welcome sequel to 1978 story The Ribos Operation. From its opening voiceover onwards, there’s the sense that a genuinely epic story is being created. It’s good, deeper than usual stuff for the Seventh Doctor, using the more introspective version of this Doctor from his later seasons, rather than his more clown-like Season 24 portrayal, and again treats Mel with a lot more respect than she got on TV.
Although it’s very strongly linked to that original TV story, new listeners shouldn’t feel intimidated by any foreknowledge. References to the Seeker and the Shrivenzale are dropped in liberally in its later parts, but the first episode is wisely spent allowing you to get acquainted with the world of Ribos. With a rich setting evoking the best of Game of Thrones, and a strong set of supporting characters, it’s engaging stuff, and surprisingly relatable for a story about royalty.
Of course, the heaviest link to the original TV story comes in the form of Garron, the characteristic con man played in the original by Iain Cuthbertson. Now played with the same pomp and cheer by David Rintoul, his appearance here is genuinely necessary for the plot and not just a shoe-horned nostalgia cameo, although it’s a shame he’s now without his sidekick Unstoffe from the TV version. His underhanded plot the second time around is somewhat genius and makes perfect sense given the nature of Ribos, and again makes for fascinating listening.
Also on good form here is Paul Bazely, better known to most Who fans as one of the harvesters in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, but here playing the young and inexperienced ruler of the planet. Evoking David Troughton’s new king in The Curse of Peladon, unconsciously or not, it’s a deep role and one he very much rises to, and it says a lot that he’s just one of many great players in this story who very much helps to bring the world to life.
With sparkling dialogue and some of the best audio cliffhangers, this is that rare thing of a sequel being almost as good as the original. Sustaining the interest throughout its two hour running time, its an engaging listen and a treat for the ears, with great performances all round. Highly recommended.
Also included with the set is Georgia Cook’s The Haunting of Bryck Place, part of the recent Short Trips-Interludes range read by Sophie Aldred. Although starting out sounding like a typical ghost story, it soon transforms into something very unique, and with atmospheric writing and reading, it’s another interesting listen. Audiobooks aren’t for everyone but at an entertaining hour, this is perhaps a good place to start a new hobby.
DOCTOR WHO — THE SEVENTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES: SILVER AND ICE
Duration: 217 minutes approx.
Director: Samuel Clemens
Producer: Emma Haigh
Script Editor: Matt Fitton
Senior Producer: David Richardson
Written by: Dan Starkey, Jonathan Barnes
Executive Producers: Nicholas Briggs, Jason Haigh-Ellery
❉ ‘Doctor Who — The Seventh Doctor Adventures: Silver and Ice’ was released 29 June 2022, and is available to own for just £19.99 (collector’s edition CD box set + download) or £16.99 (download only), exclusively from the Big Finish website. The Seventh Doctor Adventures: Sullivan & Cross – AWOL due for release in November 2022, is also available to pre-order at the same price. Alternatively, Big Finish listeners can also save money by purchasing both volumes together in a bundle for just £38 (on collector’s edition CD box set + download) or £33 (download only).
❉ Ezekiel Thorp can be found on Twitter: @Praxeus_stan, where he continues to tweet about old magazine covers and anything else that takes his fancy