BBC Audio
The Ring of Steel
Read by Matt Smith

Written by Stephen Cole
Produced 2011

Synopsis: An organic war machine invades Earth.


A Review by E. John Winner 23/5/12

This was apparently the first audio exclusive of the Matt Smith era to be released commercially on disk. (Although between promo giveaway releases, immediate re-releases, download release, etc., it's hard to keep track of the proper order of release, I'm finding.)

Anyway, after the near disaster of Runaway Train, this certainly puts the Matt Smith audio exclusive series on a proper footing. Old Who pro Stephen Cole gives us a very traditional Who story that I found reminicent of the Third Doctor's era: it takes place on earth, has an environmentalist message, and the invading alien is not really evil but is a programmed organic war machine.

The Doctor and Amy land on the Isle of Orkney to find themselves in the midst of a protest demonstration against a power company that has been cluttering the island with steel pylons. These are intended to bring electricity from the mainland - or so the power company claims. But the company officials seem to have something else in mind, and their pylons are starting to get restless...

The pacing is similar to that of the snappier television episodes, providing plenty of opportunity for character development; and while the characters remain a little stereotypical, they are so in comfortably familiar way. The pace gradually grows faster as the Doctor discovers the threat and moves to confront it, finally whizzing through a motorcycle race and a helicopter battle with the sonically disadvantaged aliens, while the protestors join the battle in a sing-along!

All right, it is completely derivative from the Third Doctor era, and as light as fluff. Well, who cares? The question is, 'does it work?' That is, does it entertain? I've listened to it more than once, and intend to hear it further when the mood strikes, so, yeah, I would say I find it entertaining.

The sound design is a bit sparse, but the reader, Arthur Darville, is allowed to read the alien's voice through a voice alteration program, and that's nice. More importantly, Darville's own reading voice, and his ability to shift between voices, is quite professional, and a real discovery, since he has had to play what is the comic relief of the past two television seasons, Rory Williams. This is the first performance I've heard outside of that role, and it is more than competent. I look forward to hearing more from him.