Over the last couple of days, I listened to “Storm Warning” and “Neverland,” two Eight Doctor/Charley Pollard audios which are connected by narrative events; the final part of this story arc is “Zagreus,” which I haven’t listened to yet (but I am eager to get to).
“Storm Warning” is Charley’s first episode. In 1930, the Doctor finds himself on the maiden voyage of a British airship, the R101, where he meets Charley, who has disguised herself as a male cabin boy, for the adventure of traveling on the airship. The Doctor realizes that the fate of the airship is to crash that evening during a storm in France, and because he’s taken a liking to Charley, he tries to save her from dying in the disaster. In “Neverland,” the Time Lords summon the Doctor to investigate some fractures in the Web of Time that are spreading and threatening to destroy the universe.
Without spoilers, I can say that “Storm Warning” was pretty average, with an uninspired story, while “Neverland” was fantastic. When “Neverland” was over, I thought to myself, “I wish the TV episodes were like this audio.” In addition to a great plot with a number of twists, it addressed a number of moral issues and challenged the Doctor’s beliefs. You don’t need to listen to “Storm Warning” to enjoy “Neverland,” and I would definitely say that if you get the chance to listen to it, grab it!
One thing I will say, though, after listening to these two audios, is that I really like the Eighth Doctor. He comes across as somewhat flighty, eccentric, and non-serious, but very personable and caring, and of course, like all of the Doctors, he has a core of steel. He also has that fascination with exploring the universe and seeing new things that I love so much in the Tenth Doctor, more so than any of the other Doctors. I am also very impressed with Paul McGann: he is a fantastic actor. I think it must be difficult to act in audios, because you can’t rely on facial expressions and movements to convey emotion and meaning, but Mr. McGann does incredibly well with just his voice: he can make you picture him, which is something most of the actors can’t do very well – they act their lines out, but Mr. McGann gives something more to the performance. I wish I could explain what I mean better.
The problem I had with “Storm Warning” was that the alien race was just way out there, too weird and too improbable. I know that aliens have to be designed so that they react the way the author needs, so that the story happens the way it’s supposed to, but in this case, it was really obvious they were designed to fit the plot. It isn’t successful if the audience is thinking in such meta terms. Beyond that, though, the rest of the plot – what the humans were trying to accomplish, why they attacked the aliens, and the final outcome of the Lawgiver problem – was very predictable and not interesting. The story was mostly interesting for the introduction of Charley, and at least she was a great character to meet.
“Neverland” was enthralling all the way through, starting with the disintegration of the Web of Time from the very first seconds of the audio. We find out that Charley’s death in the R101 crash in “Storm Warning” was equivalent to what the modern series calls a “fixed point” and the Doctor saving her life there caused her to become a gateway between our universe and the universe of anti-time. (The Doctor mused about saving her life at the end of “Storm Warning” but was unable to identify any problems with her continuing to exist.) The Time Lords call the Doctor back to go on an expedition into the anti-time universe, to find out why the Web of Time is breaking down. There, they find that all of the Time Lord criminals that the Time Lords used to erase from history (a punishment they stopped using) had been sent there, and these people are angry, wanting to send anti-time into the real universe, to destroy it.
As in most of the other good Doctor Who stories, the characters are not black and white: the different characters have motivations other than what they’re saying out loud, and the Doctor finds that, in order to get everyone back to the real universe and keep the anti-time inhabitants from succeeding in their revenge plot, he has to figure out who’s trustworthy and who’s not. He does finally come to the conclusion that the only way to succeed is to sacrifice himself (in a very interesting way), and that doesn’t go unnoticed, as Rassilon himself appears and expresses his appreciation of the Doctor’s efforts throughout his life. And then there’s the twist at the end, making me want to run off and listen to “Zagreus” right now (as if I needed any more prodding – I’ve seen the cast list for “Zagreus” and I’m surprised I took the time to sit down and write this instead of popping it in).
“Neverland” was absolutely wonderful, and there are a number of scenes that I plan to go back and listen to again, because they were so wonderful and meaningful. One other thing: this isn’t a fair reaction, because it only came about because I’ve seen the modern show before listening to “Neverland,” but the Rassilon scene brought tears to my eyes. It was beautiful in the first place, because the Time Lords have rarely appreciated the Doctor but Rassilon himself displayed his approval of the Doctor’s beliefs and his constant fight to uphold them. But Rassilon’s depiction here, as a wise and benevolent figure, only underscores the corruption of the Time Lords during the Last Great Time War, as you compare him here to his character in The End of Time. It was heartbreaking.