Written by Alan Barnes. Starring Paul McGann and India Fisher.
October, 1930. His Majesty’s Airship, the R101, sets off on her maiden voyage to the farthest-flung reaches of the British Empire, carrying the brightest lights of the Imperial fleet. Carrying the hopes and dreams of a breathless nation.
Not to mention a ruthless spy with a top-secret mission, a mysterious passenger who appears nowhere on the crew list, a would-be adventuress destined for the Singapore Hilton… and a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey
Read on for the review:
So I first listened to this along with all of Paul McGann’s other releases about two years ago after Big Finish had a massive sale on all Eighth Doctor audios and I broke my bank account. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with these audios and remember why I loved them so much. And in the process, I thought I’d vomit my opinions onto a blog for everyone to suffer through. PS by the way, there will be spoilers.
Released in 2001, Storm Warning was a major release for Big Finish, as it was the reintroduction of Paul McGann back into the franchise since his performance as the role five years previously in 1996. His Doctor had obviously appear in a variety of novels and comic strips but this was the first true time that Paul McGann has his hands on the role, and he slips back into it so easily. His opening scene in the TARDIS where he’s trying to fight off the vortisaurs very much defines how Eight was in his early adventures, eccentric but charming.
This audio also introduces the listeners to Charley Pollard, voiced by India Fisher, the second original companion created by Big Finish, and possibly the most popular. Her first scene does a great job of establishing the type of character she would be – someone who longs for adventure, who also has an heir of class but a bit of cheek too. It’s hard not to instantly fall in love with her as she tries to pass herself off as Merchford, just to get the opportunity to see the world.
One thing that can be admired about McGann and Fisher is they both have amazing voices for audio. Their voices are so distinctive that I could pick them out so easily amongst all the other cast of characters, who can get a bit jumbled at times. The chemistry between these two is fantastic, and it’s clear that they struck up a rapport very quickly. Charley is awe of all the wonders she sees around her yet she is also there to keep the Doctor grounded as he is not phased by spacey stuff. The banter between these two just gets better.
This story is very typical of early Big Finish. The story is very slow paced, which can often be a downfall to some of those releases, but for this it’s fine. The sound design and music, while in no way bad, is very simple in comparison to now. It’s not like listening to releases of today, such as Doom Coalition or The Two Masters, where it feels like you’re watching a blockbuster movie with your eyes closed, but these just felt like radio plays. Is it an insult to call them basic?
Personally, it is the two main cast members who shine the most in Storm Warning. The plot is quite interesting, a fictional retelling of the crash of the R101, it feels like an ever unfolding mystery. It was a brave move of Alan Barnes to recount a tale of such a tragic event in history, as once the Doctor learns which ship he’s arrived on, we also know where everyone will end up. But by removing all the real people involved and replacing them with fictional characters and a plot involving aliens, it made it a lot more fun to listen to. It also helped that majority of the characters other than Eight, Charley and perhaps Weeks, were so despicable that their eventual outcome (death) wasn’t actually too much of a gut punch. Rathbone in particular comes across as your stereotypical conspirator more concerned about his own well being.
Like I said the plot feels like a mystery that continues to unfold. We get the set up putting all our characters in the right place – the Doctor seeing the ship caught in a time storm, and attempting to escape a swarm of vortisaurs, and Charley stowing away hoping for adventure. We soon learn the crew have a special passenger on board who happens to be of the Triskele race, and from here the plot unravels to reveal an agreement between Rathbone (who is unveiled as an Intelligence spy) and the Triskele. The passengers of the R101 are there to act as ambassadors to the human race as they meet with the Triskele. However, this whole plot has a very X Files Syndicate-Colonist conspiracy feel to it, with Rathbone actually intending to kill the Triskele while certain factions of the alien race looking to take over and kill the humans. I liked this side of the plot, which upon further thought is far more layered and filled with conspiracy and double crossing than you would notice upon first listen.
In the end, Lord Tamworth ends up becoming the Lawgiver for the aliens, and they leave in peace, but not before Rathbone gains a device that could change the outcome of the flight of the R101. The face off between Eight and Rathbone from the final part is possibly the best moment in the entire story. It was so cool to see a darker side come out of the Doctor, having really only seen a charming and caring side to him for the majority of this piece. It was great to see that deep down, the Doctor can be as dangerous as any other alien.
I enjoy the final moments of the story with the Doctor realising Charley should’ve died, questioning if he should return her and then choosing not to. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship and a great, complex journey for both characters.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable beginning to the Eighth Doctor’s era in Big Finish. The story is far less simple than it can come across as at times, but to me it’s the old style Big Finish pacing that drags the story down and doesn’t make it as exciting and almost tense as the plot of this story should let it be. But the strength of the script itself, combined with great performances from Paul McGann and India Fisher, and some fantastic final moments means that this is a fun story to listen to if you want to make a start on Eight and Big Finish in general.
I hope you all have enjoyed this review. Please share this post, and stick around for more reviews coming very soon. Love you long time!