THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Faith Stealer

Written by Graham Duff Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2004
Continuity After The Telemovie.

Starring Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas

Synopsis: When the Doctor, Charley and C'rizz find their journey through the Interzone interrupted by a nightmarish vision, they are surprised to find the Kro'ka offering the perfect solution. With the Doctor and Charley catching glimpses of an old friend and C'rizz on the receiving end of some unorthodox religious practices, their belief, hope and faith are about to be tested to the limit. It's time to see the light.


Reviews

A Review About Something Or Other by Kathryn Young 29/10/04

I am one of those people who love to reread, rewatch and then rethink everything. I must have listened to Faith Stealer about five times now, but for the life of me I can't tell you what actually happens in it:

The plot:

They go somewhere. Something about religion. Was there a fountain involved in this one? No I think that was The Natural History of Fear... Something else about religion... C'rizz blends into the furniture - I remember that bit distinctly - that was cool. Something else happens, the Doctor probably does something extremely clever and Doctorish (probably at the last minute knowing him) and then they leave.

Amnesia setting in:

Um, hello Big Finish - knock knock - are you there? Look, I am one of those people who would probably pay money to listen to Paul McGann reading the weather report and I want you to continue making groovy audios cos I think they are fab and wonderful and must continue, but even I am now getting a tad fed up. I could cope with the giant termites from Creed of the Kromon, I dozed through the one about the caves, but Faith Stealer has made me a bit shirty.

I do believe Paul McGann, India Fisher and the Mr Westmass are quite proficient in their chosen craft of acting so wouldn't it be nice to actually get them to so a bit of it - here and there - just for old times sake? You know, back in the old days when the stories (love em or hate them) were interesting, fun and challenging (or at least memorable)?

As people say - an entirely new universe where the writers can create anything they want: new laws of physics... new species... giant super intelligent tea cups if they want... this new place should have writers slavering to get hold of a story and go wild.

But so far the only decent story in the new zone thingy universe has been a (can I use the phrase "total rip off"?) story pinched from Aldous Huxley and George Orwell (and to be fair - nicked or not - it was brilliant).

Caves, bugs, and cults just ain't doing it for me. Take my (somewhat limited) recall as a gauge of a story's success. I remember Creed of the Kromon cos all the buggie people sounded exactly the same and there was a rather nice squishy sac monster with a very cultured English accent. I remember the cave one as it involved quite a lot of caves and I remember the cult one because it involved a fountain (oh darn - that was The Natural History of Fear again).

Natural History of Fear: I remember blinkin' everything... summon the conscience... two legs bad eight legs good...

Sherzo: a big glass tube and some neck nibbling...

Zagreus: well, like it or hate it you definitely just can't forget that one...

I even remember Cosmo Devine from Invaders from Mars (now he was cool), Chief Steward Weekes, Ramsey, and Edith Thompson.

Faith Stealer? I remember... er... hang on... give me a second... something about faith and stealing?


Revoloutionary! by Joe Ford 11/11/04

I remember when a new season of Doctor Who was a time of celebration, a chance to hurriedly rewatch all those stories that will lead to the first new episode. Can anyone honestly admit to wanting to take this course of action after the third season of Eighth Doctor audios from Big Finish? Aside from one story (which was so good it threw the others into even sharper relief) the other four were incredibly bad, one almost interesting but losing points for incomprehensibility. The problems with the season mounted up, the desperately dull divergent universe setting, the unengaging set of regulars, the slap-in-the-face shift from trad to rad from one story to another, the unfocussed arc... all combined to leave me with a huge yawn on my face when Simon turned up at work with Faith Stealer (earning me a slap for ungratefulness!). The Twilight Kingdom climaxed on a cliff-hanger that was unconnected to the story and utterly pointless, just there to hope it gives fans the same thrill that the conclusion of Neverland had (note to Gary Russell: it did not). And even that promised more unbearable re-writing of continuity... can anyone blame me for not giving a shit anymore?

Faith Stealer is really rather fine. Colour me impressed! It has problems and we'll discuss them shortly but it is far, far better than anything from season three, bar Scherzo.

What helps considerably is the simplicity of the story; it has a good premise (What if a force started breaking down all belief systems and convert everybody to one ultimate religion?) which it explores at a good pace and has a good smattering of depth but never forgets its main responsibility is to entertain. Several scenes made me chuckle with delight as the Doctor and Charley "try out" the religion of Lucidity as though they are looking for a house to buy! Whilst the theme of the play is serious it never forgets some of the blatant absurdities of religion and good-humouredly pokes fun at those of us that are frighteningly obsessed with their beliefs. Be warned God-farers, this story may cause offence if you don't have a sense of humour!

Enjoyably the story actually felt like a Doctor Who story and by that I mean it could easily have been televised without much tweaking, the drama and humour mixing imperceptibly and it is remarkably clean for a story written for the new generation. Compared to The Twilight Kingdom, which also felt very Doctor Who-ish, Faith Stealer comes up trumps; unlike that earlier story it doesn't just deal in DW cliches but strives to tell an original story in the series' malleable format. It has that lovely DW feel of opening with an establishing the story without pushing the plot too far episode, moving into a tension building episode two, meandering a little in episode three and pulling all the threads together for a fast paced episode four. As the Church of Lucidity starts destroying all the other religions, the story really picks up for an action packed climax.

Faith is scarcely touched upon by Doctor Who and it is easy to see why. Religion is such a tricky subject that is usually dealt with in totally arse-scratchingly dull seriousness so not to offend anybody. Even Face of Evil, which is the closest Doctor Who ever got to truly condemning religion treated dealt with the idea by portraying two deadly sombre factions to fight over their belief system. The Massacre is the best example of Doctor Who doing a straight religious drama but you have to admit as fantastic as it, it is hardly a barrel of laughs. I am so glad there are some controversial writers like Rob Shearman and Graham Duff (Shearman wrote a similarly thoughtful/hilarious discourse on religion in The Holy Terror) out there who are willing to risk causing offence to drive some humour out of religion because to me it is a rather hilarious subject. People living their lives to a set of rules, promised divine intervention at the point of death but not actually knowing it will come until it happens! Please don't mistake me, we all have our own beliefs and I truly respect everybody's individual beliefs no matter how much they may differ from my own, I understand that religion has far too often been portrayed as something evil in the media when I have seen so many examples of the good that it generates. But part of me takes a look at the whole world and the hundreds of religions out there with each individual believing theirs is the true one... the hypocrisy is readily apparent... everybody can't be right, can they? Is there one true faith? Or is faith itself the true religion?

Faith Stealer manages to take these questions and have some fun with it. The very idea of the Multihaven, a harmonious community of varied and spectacular religions, is gorgeous, the sheer fact that everybody gets on with each other despite their differences straight away highlights our society as barren and wicked, despicable acts committed in the name of religious ideals. The story keeps pushing; religions created around bizarre deities (such as mishaps and a profitable material!) exposes how a ridiculous idea can be pushed too far, a man standing at the gates of the Multihaven jotting down your beliefs (the Doctor quickly makes something up which throughout the course of the story gathers followers) and asks "Are any of you Gods?", the tale of how the Multihaven came about (two children meeting in the desert and squabbling over their beliefs, others joined in and before they knew where they an entire city was built around their differences) proves how easily a new religious community (or communities) can spring up... Faith Stealer never condemns religion or suggests it is wrong but it does make you ask some questions and that can never be a bad thing.

It is also tremendously witty in places with some very funny lines. It is quite wonderful how the Doctor explores each religion with a knowing wink at the audience, outwardly mocking them but never disrespecting them. When he stumbles across the religion of misfortune I was roaring with laughter.

The acting across the board is perfectly fine and in some cases excellent. Christian Rodska plays a delightfully traditional Doctor Who baddie, he has a touch of campness about him but he uses it like all the best villains to be really pleasant and really creepy at the same time. I really enjoyed Tessa Shaw as the Bordinan too, its one of those gravely voices that stands out so well on audio and she plays the role with the right amount of authority to make the role really work. All the actors seem to be enjoying the script but they seem to understand the golden rule of Doctor Who, to always play the story with total conviction so no matter how absurd the story might seem it is portrayed very realistically. I have to single out Chris Wallter-Evans though because his northern accent is so funny I treasured every scene he was in! It seems a shame to have to have moan now but it would hardly be a subjective review if I didn't reveal the few issues I had with the story, most importantly the regulars. The is a familiar feeling now with Chris Eccelston's ninth Doctor on the horizon that the eighth Doctor has had his day and with eight years of being the head of the TARDIS it is easy to see where the feeling has come about. Both BBC books and Big Finish seem long overdue for a shufty about to let a new hero into the light and there is a real feeling of let's get it over with now.

Although there is nothing instinctively wrong with Paul McGann's performance it fails to stoke the fires in me any more. There is something remarkably bland about his character these days (BBC books got around this by gloriously re-inventing the character to their own designs but Big Finish is stuck with the movie persona), he's a perfectly nice chap who says some witty things and saves the day but he rarely does anything to truly stimulate any excitement. The same goes for Charley, who is fortunate enough to be played by the glorious India Fisher (so remains bubbly at least), but doesn't have much more to say since the attention she was lavished in season two. The Doctor loves Charley, Charley loves the Doctor. Now they are just hanging around together. It's hardly thrill a minute.

But even worse is C'rizz who has to be one of the dullest companions ever. I feel so sorry for Conrad Westmaas who is clearly a very talented performer (his work on Natural History of Fear is proof enough!) but lumbered with this dead-end character that is going nowhere. We still know next to nothing about him except the fact that he killed his missus. Whoopdedo! He has no background, no personality, no sparkle... it's not the writer's or the actor's fault, the flaws are inbuilt and unless we have a thorough examination of his character that reveals some previously unexplored depth I suggest he is booted from the series quick march! This story gets away with it because the plot is so interesting but if we reach a point this season where the regulars have to hold up a dodgy storyline I fear we will be in serious trouble.

The only other complaint I have is the horribly rushed ending which in a shockingly awful moment of exposition the Doctor reels out exactly what the nature of the threat is in three really long, garbled sentences and proceeds to despatch said enemy in the blink of an eye. The story does not have the resolution it deserves, almost as if Duff realised he was out of time and just scribbled out a blink-and-you'll-miss-it ending.

However the majority of Faith Stealer is very good indeed and that is something of a minor miracle in the divergent universe. Finally a writer has realised we are in another universe and is using that to his advantage. It's a funny tale that will make you think and probably leave you wondering why every eighth Doctor audio can't be this good.

A winner.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 7/12/04

Big Finish have excelled with their Doctor Who dramas. Readers of my reviews will know that I rate them very highly indeed for the most part. They just seem to be (far more often than not) what I want from a Doctor Who story. Compare this to the books, for example, of which about a third are just what I want. Percentage wise the audios outstrip any other medium.

After the previous 8th Doctor season, which was patchy yet still reasonably good, I felt it was a little too soon for another similar season. I hate saying that, because the arrival of Paul McGann in the Big Finish range was a treasure found. His first two seasons were splendid for the most part. And yet things just haven't been quite the same since - the excellence just hasn't been maintained. The gap between Neverland and Zagreus was far too big - then Zagreus wasn't quite as good as we wanted it to be. Glimpses of excellence came back to the 8th Doctor range in the divergent universe (Natural History of Fear, first episode of Creed of the Kromon), but the previous Doctors had outshone him time and time again. Nonetheless I still held out hope for the 4th McGann season - I refuse to judge anything before hearing, reading or watching it. I say this season came a little bit too quick after the last - but the gap could not be helped, with the new TV series inevitably taking priority (as it should).

What I am getting around to saying, but putting off, is that Faith Stealer is a massive disappointment. Those niggling fears for the new set of 8th Doctor audios came to the fore. And as I listened to the episodes one at a time, my optimism was eroded away. I really don't think it gelled very well at all.

Reasons for this are manifold, and I will try to outline them here.

Was this play a comedy or a drama? It tried to be a bit of both, but the two sides jarred horribly at times. In most Doctor Who you can have humour and pathos - but here you have it, but it feels clumsy.

What's happened to Charley? The fascinating companion of the first two 8th Doctor seasons has had to step back considerably. This is because of C'Rizz - and here is where the 8th Doctor audios have lost their way. There has been a new companion for each of the Doctors on audio - two for McGann. I am tempted to say that could be the problem - if Big Finish had stuck to Charley only things would have been a lot better. All their other new companions (Erimem, Evelyn, Hex) have worked a treat. C'Rizz is the first new companion I am not that interested in. Considering his story is a big part of Faith Stealer, this could very well explain why I didn't like it too much.

The religious aspect was rather strange too. Religion is a fascinating bedrock for telling a story around. There's countless Doctor Who stories out there which have used religion in a brilliant way, using the mass of beliefs and ideas out there to tell the best kinds of stories. Here religion is derided and so airy fairy, as to be lacking substance as a whole. I can't recall a single religious group portrayed here that was interesting.

The religious haven was an incredibly dull place, and as the Doctor and companions flit from one church to the next, the inhabitants are equally non-descript.

I just couldn't get in to Faith Stealer. Another listen may well change my tune though. The first time I heard Natural History of Fear I was dismissive about it. After a few listens I really like that now. Somehow though I don't think Faith Stealer is that kind of play though. It seemed a relatively simple tale, but I'm afraid a not very good one, and very badly told. Just bland, and one of the worst Big Finish dramas I have heard. 4/10


A Review by Stuyart Gutteridge 22/3/05

Faith Stealer is an enjoyable and entertaining tale, that opens the new season of adventures for the Eighth Doctor, Charley and C'rizz. Certainly it is an improvement on previous tales, dealing as it does (albeit in a lighthearted way) with religion; the story also serves as a reintroduction to the three regulars and as such C'rizz actually benefits from some character development, with nods to his past hinted at throughout. The tale's lighthearted approach benefits the story and draws strong performances from all.

Indeed strong villains in Laan Carder and Miraculite who complement the central players, creating an ensemble piece throughout. In short Faith Stealer represents an upward turn for the Eighth Doctor audios and while Paul McGann may now be a past Doctor, at least he's going out strongly.


Steal some time for it by Charles Berman 29/1/11

Doctor Who's relationship to religion has tended to be an interesting one. Without actually flatly denying religion, it presents frequently parallel or incompatible versions of events explained by religions, but also sometimes comes up with aliens or monsters that are virtually indistinguishable from religious concepts (see The Daemons or The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit). When it has dealt with religion as a literal matter, it has often been with gentle mockery and parallelism (The Holy Terror, for one), but also respect for that gently mocked fictional faith (see some of the wonderful scenes in Gridlock).

Faith Stealer seems to belong to that tradition of science-fictional gentle fun-poking at religion, presenting the Doctor and his fellow travellers, still trapped in the Divergent Universe, with a city dedicated to housing as many different religions as possible. Doctor Who is a good vehicle for this kind of literalising of an otherwise abstract or high concept -- just take the world of taxes in The Sunmakers -- and here is no exception. Faith Stealer builds up the Multihaven with a great sense of fun, genuinely funny material, and a simple but well-transmitted message about the essential interchangeability of the literal expressions of religious faiths.

That wit, though, is the play's strongest point. It's spot-on and everpresent: from mentions of a redemption vending machine, a religion that worships coincidences and Our Lord Whoops, the Great Neglecter, to the Doctor leaving his TARDIS-locator in the TARDIS and lines like "Who says a faith has to have a spiritual dimension?", "The thing I've noticed about power is that it's ever so abuser-friendly" and "Renaissance is futile", the dialogue and concepts here make Faith Stealer a tightly written delight to listen to.

Paul McGann and India Fisher fall into the spirit of things very nicely and Conrad Westmass gets his first real chance at a C'rizz centric script: he's the one most in a state to need religion, and he's what sets the plot in motion from a certain vantage. C'rizz comes off well here; Westmass is sincere and believable if not shocking with his presence or memorability in the role, and the character becomes a kind of sympathetic everyman despite his very pointedly alien origins, which is an achievement for the author in itself.

The biggest criticism that can be made is that the threat, when it emerges, is not thematically well tied to the theological motif of Faith Stealer. It's an adequate alien menace and it's perfectly well connected to the plot, causing one religion of the Multihaven to become dangerously dominant over the others, but feels as if it could have been mix-and-matched with another alien menace without affecting the religious commentary that is really this story's standout feature.

On the whole though, Graham Duff's only Doctor Who script is a lightweight but thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining and funny story throughout. Certainly worth a listen.