A Storm of Angels
Big Finish Productions
|Written by||Marc Platt|
|What if...||the Doctor and Susan had never left Gallifrey?|
|Starring Geoffrey Bayldon and Carole Ann Ford|
|Also featuring Derren Nesbitt Toby Longworth, Matthew Brenher, Ian Brooker, Nicholas Briggs.|
|Synopsis: In a marble mausoleum, deep in the cisterns beneath the Capitol, Gallifrey's favourite author faces his ultimate destiny. Who is the woman who claims to be his granddaughter? Who is the sepulchral figure in robes of night? Which path should Hannibal's army take to Rome? And on a snowy mountain high in the Alps, the Doctor remembers the ultimate question: What if he and Susan had ever left Gallifrey?|
Me Me Me by Andrew Wixon 11/6/03
Now that I think about it, there wouldn't be much point to the whole Unbound experiment if they just used this chance of casting new Doctors and shrugging off the burden of continuity in order to tell traditional DW stories. The Big Finish team, smart cookies that they are, have rumbled this and whatever else you say about Auld Mortality, one can't describe it as traditional.
So how can one describe it? Well - meditative, metaphysical, metaphorical. With a touch of the po-mos as well. It's all of these things, possibly at the expense of the plot's coherence. The 'what if' of this story is that the Doctor has never left Gallifrey, instead becoming a popular writer of adventures in space and time - something which gives him an excuse to visit other worlds, albeit simulations of them (it's not quite the holodeck, but it comes too close for my absolute comfort). But someone who tried to groom the Doctor for greater things - the presidency of the High Council - is not best pleased about his chosen role and has his own plans to rectify matters...
It's a fairly simple story, let down by a lack of clarity about who the villain is and what his aims are - as I say, this is probably because the bad guy is at least 50% metaphor. What makes it unusual and memorable is the way in which it comments upon and delights in the unlimited - unbound, one might say - nature of the DW format. There are some clever gags about the way the series' depiction of historical events can be slightly, er, unhistorical, all for the sake of a good tale, and a sardonic comment on the nature of the TARDIS as, literally, a plot device. But beyond this there is a meditation on the wonderful freedom both the 'regular' Doctor and the writers of DW possess, to explore anywhere and create anything, limited only by the imagination.
It's solidly played and neatly produced, and if the script is occasionally slightly too clever for its own good (Thalek Empire, indeed) it's more than made up for by moments of genuine emotion and delight. Personally I like the subtext of story to be buried slightly deeper, but as stories with a case of the three 'me's go, this is good stuff, and an entirely appropriate start to the Unbound series.
Sweet dreams by Rob Matthews 14/6/03
An appropriate start to Big Finish's 'Doctor Who Unbound' series, this little ode to possibilities.
I've got to join in with the general chorus of approval on the audio series - even though I don't get to hear near as many of then as I'd like, it's heartening to see new Doctor Who being produced by people who are willing to exploit all that unlimited potential (tm) to the utmost. To my mind, the most interesting Doctor Who story is always the next one. But given that there are so many more new Doctor Who stories these days than there were when it was on TV, and that I'm not yer must-have-'em-all completist type, that 'next' story I refer to has to be that bit special to grab my interest.
For a mere tenner this one proved irresistible. The Doctor Who: Unbound idea is a really exciting one in itself, and Geoffrey Bayldon - known to Who fans from his appearance in Creature From the Pit, and to a terrified young me as the creepy Catweazle in an old children's TV show - feels a natural choice for the role in this debut story of the series.
A while back I was speculating with Joe Ford as us geek types do over the question of whether Big Finish could produce new First Doctor stories if by some chance they stumbled upon an actor who could do a perfect vocal impersonation of William Hartnell. We both agreed that such an idea probably wouldn't pan out in practice, my own thoughts being that there's something sort of dishonest, reductive I suppose, about simply emulating a performer's mannerisms and expecting to reproduce his performance. Poor old Richard Hurndall, for example, was left in a bit of a pickle in The Five Doctors - it would have been an insult to Hartnell for Hurndall to simply copy him (despite their confusingly similiar names!), but by giving us a different interpretation of the character, it felt to me like Hartnell's contribution to - hell, his founding of the character was being dismissed. It seems to me that the fans who say Hurndall makes a decent replacement for the First Doctor in that story are those who don't have much truck with Hartnell anyway - fair enough if they're not fussed about him, but that does sorta suggest they're not really the people to ask. BF cannily sidesteps all such issues here by doing a First Doctor story with a different First Doctor, not one who's an intrusive replacement, but rather an 'alternate' Doctor (like Peter Cushing, say). There is in fact some similarity between Bayldon's portrayal and Hartnell's - he has a few 'hmm's, obviously scripted -, but not enough for the performance to seem like a waste of Bayldon's time - Bayldon has a suitably aged voice, moreso than Hartnell's perhaps, and gives a sort of ancient-yet-impish wizardy feel to the role. He is, unsurprisingly, a successful and believable Doctor, up there with the best of them in the scene where he pokes fun at Quences' grim sobriety ('Been to any good funerals lately?'), and Marc Platt's script allows him a nice combination of gentleness, wisdom and an essentially youthful outlook - the Doctor has always been in some way a very ancient young man, it's just more noticeable with the obviously elderly ones. 'Seeing everything, no matter how old, as if it were new and precious.' Love that line.
Carole Ann Ford returns to the role of Susan with some success - her performance is variable at first, and she pronounces 'transmatted' like someone reading confusedly off a page, but she settles down soon enough and proves much more acceptable as an adult than as the arrested adolescent from TV, striking up a nice and actually rather touching rapport with Bayldon's Doctor.
The script itself is, well, it's by Marc Platt. I guess fans of his will know the sort of thing to expect. I'm a fan of Mr Platt's stuff myself, counting Time's Crucible as his only failure, but one partially redeemed by those gorgeous glimpses of Ancient Gallifrey. IMO Platt is the writer for domestic Gallifrey - as opposed to the political-Gallifrey of Robert Holmes and Larry Miles. Auld Mortality does borrow a couple of characters and phrases from Lungbarrow, which could be seen as a bit lazy, but Platt avoids simple rehash and here he's perhaps using Badger and Quences as a sort of creative crutch. I guess an author in a way lives with his characters and in creating this piece it felt natural for to use them again. It would be a crime, meanwhile, not to hear Bayldon speaking the words 'Time's Roses, they're scented with memory...'
As for the actual plot... bluntly, I don't think there is one really, just a series of vaguely related events and nice stand-alone scenes and ideas (read: If you don't like Ghost Light, avoid!). Without giving anything away, the 'Auld Mortality' of the title is not really central to the script, or more accurately is no more central than anything else; this could equally well have been called 'The Possibility Tree', for example.
It's the sum of its parts, then, but as with Ghost Light I really like those parts, and on the whole it has a poetic, otherworldy feel, it's a sweet hymn to the immensity of imagination. It's not a huge story, it's not a groundbreaker, but it left me feeling warm and happy.
Hmm, I once referred to Verdigris as a little cupcake of a book. Let's call this a brandy before bedtime.
My recommendation: drink up!
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 11/7/03
When I heard the idea of the Unbound series, I was definitely for it. I am not bothered about continuity much anyway, and I figured it would be nice to see different actors in the role of the Doctor. It seemed like a novel and interesting way to celebrate the 40th Anniversary, and I was hopeful for some cracking stories. The Unbound series stands away from the standard DW Big Finish releases, so we wouldn't be missing out on them at all - I would give it a go, hopeful of some beauties amongst the 6.
The 1st Actor to be cast as the Doctor, in the Unbound Series, is Geoffrey Bayldon, and it was most interesting to read in DWM that he had been approached to play the Doctor before William Hartnell, something I had never heard anywhere else. All through I imagined a Doctor very similar to the Hartnell Doctor, but more mellow, less irritable. The What If premise is that the Doctor never left Gallifrey, and I can think of no better author to tackle that premise than Marc Platt.
The definitive Doctor origin/family story has to be Lungbarrow, the last New Adventure featuring the 7th Doctor. This introduces us to the Doctor's bizarre family, and makes Gallifrey far more interesting than ever seen before. The Gormenghast-like sanctuary of the Doctor's family was totally wonderful - and I hoped Platt would emphasize this again in this alternative Who story. Along for the ride too is Carole Ann Ford as Susan - another natural inclusion, seeing as we're harking back to the start of it all.
What Auld Mortality gives us is first and foremost a wonderful Doctor Who story - one full of the magic that epitomizes this great series. Geoffrey Bayldon is marvelous as the Doctor who stayed at home, traveling the universe in his possibility generator, writing books - dreaming of travelling the universe. In essence he is the DW Fan, travelling the stars sat in his armchair, or at his desk.
Platt weaves into his story the glory of Gallifrey, and as expected it is the Lungbarrow model - full of cloisters and mausoleums. Cousin Quences, splendidly played by Derren Nesbit, and Badger (Toby Longworth) return from that excellent book. They emerge as wonderful characters in their own right - another odd fitting jigsaw piece from the Doctor's background.
Platt also brings in the earthly story of Hannibal, thanks to the Holodeck (sorry Possibility generator), a tale that combines well with the Gallifreyan politics surrounding Susan. As he flits from Gallifrey to the Alps, this is a story that reeks of adventuring in all forms. But yet it is the quieter moments, the times of contemplation, that make Auld Mortality stand out from the crowd. The warmth of the Doctor when he remembers Susan, the family rivalry epitomized by Quences the doer and Doctor the dreamer.
Carole Ann Ford returns extremely well to the DW fold as an older Susan. Regardless of predictable stupid ankle jokes, here is a better Susan than we ever got on TV. Hannibal and his Elephant Surus (which worked much better than I thought it would), are very well played by Matthew Brenher and Ian Brooker, respectively. Brenher would make a wonderful villain with his excellent voice.
I hoped that the Unbound series would be good, and again Big Finish have exceeded my expectations, this is a brilliant side-step. 9/10
Doctor Who Unbeatable by Matthew Harris 23/8/03
A family friend used to live below Geoffrey Bayldon in London, just prior to Catweazle. During this time he came to loathe him with a passion. Apparently he came home one day with a balloon, and it floated away, and Bayldon leaned out of his window and burst it, for no apparent reason. I really hope the story turns out not to be true, because he's so good in Auld Mortality that the thought of him as a bitter old balloon-murderer hurts, in a very physical sense.
Not that he's the only good thing about AM. It's a very nummy treat in a number of great ways, and an excellent way to start Big Finish's Big Ruby Annivesary Celebration Thing.
Having said that, it doesn't get off to the greatest start in the entire universe - Bayldon narrating about ten minutes of footage of the Alps, in which he rather confusingly appears to be a participant. It's all very snowy and atmospheric and everything, but not what we expected. Platt maybe spends just an eensy bit too much time in the Alps without explanation, and not enough on Gallifrey, which is where the fanboys want to be. It soon settles into a rhythm, however, lowering this small problem to the importance of, say, Creature from the Pit.
Hardcore Galli-heads - the kind of people who habitually dress in colourful skull-caps and robes with ridculously extravagant collars, and meet up at weekends to wander around acting pompous and calling each other "Cardinal" - will be disappointed, however, to learn that Gallifrey itself amounts to little more than the Doctor's room and a couple of relatively brief manifestations of the Panopticon. Even more surprising, there are only three major Time Lord characters plus a brief apperance by a Gold Usher - and even that's only if you assume - as the story seems to - that Susan is a Time Lord (and why wouldn't you?). Normal people, however, shouldn't mind all this neglect a bit: the books (Virgin and the BBC) made everyone extraordinarily fed up with Gallifrey ages ago (except the hardcore Galliheads, of course), and besides, the Doctor has a rather nifty little gadget set up in his living room, that lets him go anywhere he likes (as for example the Alps), or at least a pretend version of anywhere he likes . Any mention of Holodecks will not go unpunished.
Of course, it's not all about Bayldon popping to the Alps for breakfast, popping back again for tea, writing something, popping back to the Alps. That would be dull. So here comes Derren Nesbitt, who still sounds exactly like Tegana, as Ordinal-General Quences, one of two characters appearing here who are apparently (not read it) referenced in Platt's Lungbarrow (now available for nothing at all from bbc.co.uk/drwho - if you haven't got it and don't download it, you're a plum). The other is the old family retainer Badger, whose name, I must warn, will prove faintly annoying to those people who are familiar with Firefly. In fact, there's a lot of Lungbarrow recapitulation here - "Time's roses are scented with memories", anyone? But it's good recapitulation, rising just above the level of Pointless In Joke, but not quite reaching the level of Alientating Self-Indulgence. Big yay.
Anyway, Derren "Amourous Milkman" Nesbitt is in it, so he must be the Bad Guy. Yep, that's present and correct as well, and Nesbitt brings all the suave\menacing\faintly exasperated mannerisms we remember from Tegana to the party. Carole Ann Ford's Susan is a tiny bit harder to get used to as she's now going to be in her sixties, but the Doctor is still as old as he was when he was Bill. But once you're over your culture shock - which is no fault of anyone's - she gives a very good performance, so good in fact that it somewhat belies any criticisms of her acting forty years ago. Susan may have been too annoying too often, but that's an easy trap to fall into with teenage characters - for instance, in Buffy TVS, compare season five Dawn to season six Dawn - and it was only Carole Ann who kept her from the brink of Adric-ness. So there.
Meanwhile, we have Matthew Brenher doing a fine job of playing Hannibal as constantly faintly angry at something, and Ian Brooker playing his personal elephant, Surus. Yes, he can talk; go with it. In fact, the Doctor's gleeful remembering of this point and why he put it in is one of the highlights of the audio. Brooker, given a bit of a tough ask (how does one play an elephant?) makes the very good decision to run with the character's seeming misanthropy, crafting a compellingly miserable supporting character. And look: there's Toby Longworth as Badger, a sort of vaguely sinister robotic Jeeves. Longworth pays close attention to these sinister aspects, playing them nice and tight - tight enough that you notice them, but not too tight, so at first you write them off as you just being apprehensive 'cause he's a robot and that. Of course, there's a whole lot more to it, but Longworth's finely-judged performance never wavers. Scary.
And of course there's Geoffrey Bayldon, who gives a brilliant performance. He could have just pulled a Hurndall (done an impression of Bill) and to an extent he has - but there's more to this Doctor than that. He's a little more melancholic than Bill, a little less proactive, and much more poetic. And he barely says "Hmm" once.
If there is a problem, it pretty much corresponds to other accusations levelled at Marc Platt - namely that he gets too clever and metaphorical for his own good. It happened with Ghost Light, it happened in a big way with Time's Crucible, even Lungbarrow doesn't escape criticism. The only works of his that do are the brilliant Loups-Garoux and Spare Parts, which are pretty much straightforward and tidy, and is therefore possibly his best work. Unfortunately, Auld Mortality falls into that trap, though not so far as Crucible. The problem is the titular character\effect\whatever it is isn't very well developed - as evidenced by this very sentence that you are reading right now with your eyes. Someone's said that he's largely metaphor, and that's pretty accurate - but it's hard to tell what he's a metaphor for the first time, or what he wants, or why. A few more listens do answer that question, I'll admit, but it would be nice to have it all in place from the year dot.
The only other problem is that the what-if is such an intriguing one that confining it to Gallifrey seems a little... arbitrary. As the Master said, "A universe without the Doctor... scarcely seems worth thinking about!" Okay, hokey quote, but valid. I want to see the effect on the universe at large of the Doctor sticking around. But we get nothing apart from a blink (er, with your ears) and you'll miss it reference to "Thaleks", screaming "Annihilate!" (which hardly counts). This isn't a problem with Auld Mortality as such - it's still a rather excellent audio drama - just it's hard not to feel as if it represents, not a missed opportunity as such, but certainly a slightly restricted one.
Still, no point in crying over milk that wasn't there in the first place. Auld Mortality is what it is, and what it is needs no excuses: even a slight, unfortunate, stumble in the home stretch is not enough to keep it from crossing the finish line and recording a famous victory (or something). It's a beautiful thing. Especially the final scene - a montage of possibilities that's at once thrilling and moving, sad and optimistic, in-jokey and properly funny. They even mention Barnes Common. Even without hearing the last three, if you can only get one Unbound CD, you probably should make it this one, cos it's not likely to be superseded.
A Review by Robert Thomas 10/10/04
After having a break from Big Finnish after the eighth Doctor's second season (nothing negative, I loved it and decided it was the perfect time to have a break after the gravity of that climax) I decided to get back into Big Finish output with this Unbound series. Before I go on I'd like to say I go into each Big Finish without knowing who the Doctor is, seeing the cover or knowing anything about the story. (This makes reading DWM a tad awkward to say the least, having to skip a page every time I see a BF logo).
Oh what can I say? This is a gorgeous little story and well worth a listen. It has a certain fairytale feel to it and has a very lose story which doesn't take itself to seriously. Susan turning up is a nice and very unexpected touch (On a side note has this woman aged well or what?). The Doctor though was very surprising - showing touches of rebeliousness but sadness as he never travelled for real and only in his little device. I think this sadness also affects the listner who is so used to his travelling. Theres not really a lot to say about this story as it seems to be more about giving off an innocent vibe than telling a story, which is told well.
The ending is absolutely fantastic and shows off the uniqueness of the actual TV show and gets us ready for the rest of this series. After finishing the story I was delighted to see the Doctor was played by that cheeky con artist/astronamer from The Creature From the Pit. His voice was sooooo annoyingly familiar and if this bit of casting was surprising I can't wait to find out who the rest of the Doctors are. This is most definitely a good start and makes you eager to hear the next story, the only audio story I've heard with a fairytale vibe this strong.
A Review by John Seavey 17/2/06
Not sure what to think about this. On the one hand, it's very lyrical, beautiful, and poetic, and Geoffrey Bayldon does a toweringly magnificent job as the Doctor... on the other hand, it disappears up its own navel not long after the plot gets going, with the Doctor's Possibility Generator becoming a trap from which the plot cannot escape. At no point after the Doctor and Susan enter the Generator can you ever be sure that the story isn't just part of the Doctor's imagination, including the ending, and in fact large chunks of it only make sense if it is. So basically the story just derails into the Doctor stuck in his own head, which flatlines the drama.
Oh, and the "big revelation" of Quences' identity feels like it's supposed to be much more important than it actually is, which doesn't help. On the whole, worth a listen just for Bayldon and Platt's prose, but it doesn't have the skeleton to support its own weight.
An Unbound Beginning by Matthew Kresal 11/8/13
A decade ago, when Doctor Who was celebrating its fortieth anniversary, Big Finish celebrated the occasion in a rather unusual way. Across a handful of CDs, they asked a number of questions that could only be answered by going outside the series continuity. The result was Doctor Who Unbound and the first release, Auld Mortality, asked perhaps the biggest "what if?" of them all: What if the Doctor had never left Gallifrey to begin with?
Playing the alternate first Doctor is Geoffrey Bayldon, an actor who interestingly turned down the chance to play the first Doctor in 1963. It's clear from the script alone that this is a somewhat older version of the first Doctor, albeit one who stayed on Gallifrey and became a celebrated author by writing a book called "An Adventurer In Space And Time". Bayldon certainly isn't William Hartnell but, without copying Hartnell, Bayldon nevertheless captures the spirit of him. There's the occasional "Hmm" at just the right moments, the moments of crankiness and Bayldon's excellent chemistry with Carole Ann Ford. How much of that is down to the script and how much of it is down to Bayldon's performance is unclear but what is apparent is that Bayldon gives a splendid performance that captures the spirit of Hartnell without being an imitation. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Bayldon captures Hartnell better here than Richard Hurndall did in The Five Doctors in 1983.
Joining Bayldon is Carole Ann Ford, returning to the role of the Doctor's granddaughter Susan. This is isn't the whimpering, often-frightened young girl we saw back in the 1960s, though. This is an older and wiser Susan, one who has come in search of her grandfather one last time and is drawn into events that will soon determine her destiny as well. While the writing does occasionally echo back to the original character in early scenes (right down to her twisting her ankle at one point!), Ford plays this version of Susan quite well and her aforementioned chemistry with Bayldon's Doctor makes the entire situation all the more believable as a genuine possibility. The supporting cast is strong as well. Derren Nesbitt (who in another connection to the first Doctor era was in the now lost story Marco Polo) is of particular note as the Doctor's politically ambitious uncle Quences, whose real role in events only becomes clear as the story reaches its end. There are appearances from Big Finish regulars Toby Longworth as the Doctor's robotic servant Badger, Matthew Brenher as Hannibal and Ian Brooker as Surus, Hannibal's talking elephant (yes you read that right). Each of them get little moments to shine, particularly with Bader and Surus' moments of comic relief.
There's also of course Marc Platt's script. Platt was something of an obvious choice to write this story given his novel Lungbarrow which (whether its canon or not) is one of the definitive depictions of the Time Lords and Gallifrey. It's perhaps no surprise then that this story brings together some elements from that novel (such as Badger and Quences) as well as the Gallifrey of the old series with mentions of the Time Lord high council, Gold Ushers and Time Lord politics. Platt's tale, though, is far more than just that. The story, with its use of Hannibal crossing the Alps, also harkens back to the first Doctor's televised era as well by inserting an historical element in the spirit of Marco Polo or The Massacre and, in a way only a fan could do, then sit there and poke fun at the historical inaccuracies.
It's also a tale of the sometimes-thin lines between harsh reality and escapist fantasy and how crossing that thin line can consume someone. It's a point brought out in some of the most beautiful moments and dialogue of the story, such as the scene at the tree of possibilities and the excellent audio montage at the end, scenes that also celebrate the diversity of Doctor Who itself. Platt makes Auld Mortality more than a simple "what if?" story and into something more.
Auld Mortality is then is as much a celebration of Doctor Who itself as it is a "what if?" story. It's a story well told thanks to strong performances from the cast from an excellent alternative first Doctor in the form of Bayldon to two returning cast members from the show's earliest days. Yet it is Marc Platt's script which encompasses elements from at least two different media into a new story entirely that reminds us that this is a series that, after all, can go anywhere in time and space and celebrates what Doctor Who is capable of. A decade on, Auld Mortality remains the first and amongst the best of the Unbound releases and one well worth revisiting.