Big Finish Productions
|Written by||Jonathan Blum|
|Running Time||90 mins|
|Starring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred|
|Also featuring Jacqueline Pearce, Mark Wright, Mark McDonnell, Vince Henderson, Jonathan Clarkson, Hugh Walters and Jack Gallagher.|
|Synopsis: The Doctor and Ace find themselves on the trail of a monster that knows their every move, can anticipate their actions and threatens to plunge the entire world into a bitter war of mistrust and mutual loathing.|
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 16/2/00
If there is one thing that can be said about The Fearmonger, it is that it fits into the McCoy era perfectly. There is a disturbingly realistic quality to writer Jonathan Blum`s tale, which adds greatly to the story as a whole. Paying tribute to past continuity (particularly the PDA novels), with references to Department C19 and the like, this story's main influence must surely be The Masque Of Mandragora. The basic plotline of an alien entity, feeding on fear and using it against (or for) its hosts, whilst not the most original is certainly engaging and entertaining for four episodes.
Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are on top form, although Ace does seem to get a meatier piece of the action. The supporting cast are equally great with Vince Henderson (Sophie's hubby) and Jacqueline Pearce turning in fine performances. What is most satisfying is the conclusion, particularly in a story with no deaths, making The Fearmonger highly enjoyable and giving us a glimpse of what Season 27 could`ve been like.
A Review by Joshua Scrimshaw 17/2/00
Ironically, I was a little frightened of listening to The Fearmonger. I am a big fan of Sylvester McCoy's last two seasons as The Doctor and, after listening to Nicolas Briggs' suprisingly drab characterization of him in The Sirens of Time, I was afraid I might never see the mysterious, clownish, unexpectedly powerful "Champion of Time" again. I was also afraid that, no matter what the Doctor was like, I was in for a preachy, beat-you-over-the-head "hate is bad" story. Well, I am pleased to say most of my fears did not come true.
Jonathan Blum perfectly recreates the style and tone of the show's last two seasons. This very easily could be the opening story for the often hypothesized "Season 27". Blum shows us the proactive Seventh Doctor at his best. Without giving anything away, The Doctor's first appearance in episode one is completely unexpected (I did the equivalent of an aural double-take) but, at the same time, absolutely perfect for the Seventh Doctor. The whole serial is full of quintessential Seventh Doctor-isms. The best of which are the Doctor's bitter comments regarding his dislike for doctors in general. McCoy himself seems right at home in the role (as he did in Sirens of Time, only this time he has a decent script). It is hard to believe it has been over ten years (not counting the telemovie thingy) since McCoy has played the Doctor.
Ace is dead-on as well. She has grown some from the trials the Doctor has put her through (Curse of Fenric, Ghostlight, etc.) and she appears here as almost a partner to the Time Lord. But in an unexpected final twist, the Doctor once again forces Ace to confront her own fears (and that fear is one of my favorite aspects of the serial). If anything, Sophie Aldred's acting skills have improved. Perhaps it is the medium, but her performance here has a lot more subtlety to it without losing the trademark "who you callin' small" bravado of her television performance.
In the great tradition of Doctor Who, the side characters are very much cardboard but, like the best Who-scribes, Blum gives their lines enough flourish to make them entertaining. Roderick's explanation of why he works for Harper is worthy of Robert Holmes. The actors themselves do a lot to make these characters appealing as well. Jacqueline Pearce and Hugh Walters add energy and presence to what might otherwise be standard roles. Vince Henderson is wonderful as the shock jock. Like Aldred, Henderson is subtle and sarcastic where the traditional Doctor Who extra would have gone for big and loud. He is still very obnoxious (as he needs to be) but his lack of conviction in what he is saying creates a sense of apathy that is much more disturbing than a simple ranting moron.
The story itself is not as preachy as I had feared. Clearly the author has a political bias. I think it is safe to assume that Mr. Blum believes the right wing is the wrong wing. Fortunately, he takes the time to spread the blame around, making everyone in the serial a possible candidate for the Fearmonger's manipulations (even the Doctor and Ace). It was nice to hear Ace bring up her encounters with racism in Remembrance of the Daleks and in her own time and town (referenced in Ghostlight). These nods to continuity make this blatantly political adventure seem less jarring and more of a natural progression from Season 26.
One thing that bothers me though is the popular belief that the Doctor is basically an old hippie at heart(s). At one point in The Fearmonger, Blum has the Doctor listing the evils he has fought throughout the cosmos - a list that includes capitalism? Now a hippie is one thing but I draw the line at making the good Doctor a socialist! If anything has stayed somewhat consistent throughout the Doctor's regenerations it is his belief in personal freedom - the rights of the individual. Yes, he is definitely a defender of the common man but he is also the enemy of oppressive governments everywhere - alien or otherwise. In my humble opinion, the Doctor - if he has any political affiliations at all - is a libertarian. Of course, I'm an American (you know, that strange country Peri is supposed to be from) - what do I know?
Besides my personal bias against Blum's personal bias (do I sense the Fearmonger at work here?), this is hands down the finest Big Finish audio production to date. This is the first of the series that makes me feel like Doctor Who is back.
A Flawless Jump from TV to Audio by Peter Niemeyer 4/7/00
Wow! If I didn't no better, I would have guessed that this was an audio tape of a lost televised episode. It captured the "look and feel" of the 7th Doctor's time with Ace flawlessly.
Accolaides all around on this episode. First, my hat goes off to Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. Their inflection, timing and banter was a perfect match to what we've seen in television episodes. A special kudo goes out to Sophie who is, in my mind, the first companion actor to turn in a performance that was on par with his or her television performances.
My next compliment goes to the story itself. It was original, in line with the genre of other McCoy stories, and when everything was said and done, the story had something to say. Ace is given a great deal of interesting things to do, and in true McCoy fashion is almost the hero more than the Doctor. The supporting cast is diverse, easily distinguished, and each is interesting in his or her own way. The story had some twists and turns and generated some real anticipation and surprise.
This episode featured one of my favorite special effects so far... the Fearmonger's voice. I can't describe why I like it without spoiling it for future listeners, but suffice it to say that it had a chilling effect on me, especially the cliffhanger of Part 3. Good mention also goes out to the riot scene and the use of the radio DJ's show.
I must also make special mention of Jacqueline Pearce, who gained my admiration during her tenure as Servalan on Blake's 7. She puts in one of her typical performances here, but a typical Pearce performance is synonymous with excellent. (Oh, how I pity the way her talents were wasted as Chessini the Androgum.)
I usually try to write my reviews with the positive aspects first and the negative ones last. But I have nothing negative to say about this story. If Big Finish maintains this level of excellence, then we all have something to celebrate.
10 out of 10.
Soundtrack To The 7th Doctor's Last Season? by Robert Thomas 7/4/01
Big Finish certainly did a good job on getting the first solo stories for each Doctor to sound like the era they came from. This probably beats Phantasmagoria slightly in this respect. An absolutely astounding story which grabs the listener's attention and maintains this for the whole story. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy season 26.
The Doctor is played by Sylvestor McCoy the way he wanted to and only got to in Ghost Light. His first appearance in the story is fantastic, took me completely by surprise. Of course Blum doesn't overdo the melancholy and we get some good humorous moments from him. Ace is fantastic and is the companion that the Doctor tried to mold her into on TV. A more mature Ace but still the one we all know and like.
The story could be described as a 5 parter where we don't get to see part one. This is not detrimental to the story, as it starts at a fast pace and maintains it throughout. The supporting characters are all well characterized with the politicians being the best. The worst however is the DJ, who is a complete and utter stereotype with a dull name. It sounds like Blum either doesn't listen to the radio or the radio in Australia is dull. He should have listened to Chris Moyles and James Whale. Incidently Big Finish missed a fantastic marketing oportunity - James Whale is an actor and he could have plugged the the story on his show. Same is they got John Culshaw off Moyles show. Incidently the closing line is just plain s**t.
But apart from the DJ this is one heck of a story and only slightly less than perfect. The cliffhanger of part 3 is also the best yet.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 25/6/01
The first Audio to feature that marvelous team of the 7th Doctor and Ace, is set in the near future. A time not too distant from ours – and one containing all the problems and political machinations associated with our time.
The Fearmonger is an entity that possesses people, one that stirs up trouble – so it can feed off the chaos. The author, Jonathan Blum, has thrown in many elements that amplify this chaos. The New Brittania party, led with villainous ease by Servalan (sorry, Sherilyn Harper) seem to be the focus of this anarchy. A local DJ, with his talk radio show, brings a great deal of antagonism to proceedings – stirring up peoples feelings, and generally getting on their backs. There are also a few madmen, complete with explosives attached – obsessed individuals who seek only to “kill the monsters”.
The Doctor and Ace are caught up in this melee, and both strive to sort the mess out. Sylvestor McCoy and Sophie Aldred are excellent. Ace is right at home in this society - her natural aggressiveness finding an outlet. The Doctor is as manipulative as ever, and McCoy thrives on some wonderful dialogue. The highpoints are the Doctor and Ace’s scenes together. The chemistry that the 2 actors have is a joy to listen to – and there are some wonderfully played moments.
The story has enough twist and turns to keep the interest throughout. The riots portrayed in Episode 4 are well realized – Big Finish seems right at ease with this Political Thriller kind of story. There are lots of gizmos that really are well brought to life.
For me the story was a touch too complicated, too many characters at times sounding quite similar to one another. I am not that keen on modern day, urban-based stories either – give me the countryside anyday. The Fearmonger was not the most original villain in DW History. The DJ was very irritating at times too.
There were a lot of things to like about this story, but a fair bit I didn’t like. It is nice to see Big Finish stretch their imaginations to cover all kinds of story-telling, it was just a little too “real-life” for my tastes. And that’s despite great performances from the leads. 6/10.
A Review by John Seavey 15/10/03
A pretty strong audio, with an absolutely corking beginning (the DJ suddenly looking up and finding the Doctor sitting in on his call-in show), and an absolutely ripping ending, and several good bits in between. There's a bit of a muddle towards the middle, with people switching sides every five minutes and perhaps one too many speeches about the New Britannia Party being bad (although I do think it funny that for the whole audio, the Doctor's saying how he can't do anything about the NBP because they're a human problem, and humans have to deal with them... only to, at the end, cut them off at the knees and leave them to the mob); however, Sylvester gets some choice speeches, and shows why he's probably the best Doctor for the audios. (It's Sylv or Colin. Depends on the script and my mood, really.)
Eighties Who: The Return! by Joe Ford 25/4/05
The seventh Doctor and Ace hit the ground running in their first full-length audio adventure, a story that is virtually faultless aside from inescapable problem...
It's written by somebody who is clearly in LOVE with the McCoy era. It shares most of the strengths and weaknesses of that era including a sense of pretentiousness, mock-realism and effective character drama. The Fearmonger is practically a wank over McCoy Doctor Who, one that is more interested in capturing the flavour of those late eighties stories than making its mark as an individual story in its own right.
The trouble is that the McCoy era has dated more devastatingly than pretty much any other in the history of Doctor Who. Why would anyone want to be reminded of the faddish, political and unquestionably cheap looking eighties? And yet I can sit and watch The Two Doctors and be LESS embarrassed than watching say Battlefield or Greatest Show in the Galaxy. I think the greatest problem is Ace, despite Sophie Aldred's best efforts (and she is usually very good) it is a reminder of a time when kids were angst-ridden, wore badge ridden bomber jackets, carried tape decks and hated their parents. They said things like "Ace!" and "Well wicked!" and generally acted a bit like a spaz most of the time. High rise tower blocks, fizzy pop machines, commentaries on Thatcherism, freezer centres, nerds in specs and Noel Edmonds jumpers, home made bombs, wall to wall synthetic music, Hale and Pace... all these things exist in McCoy Doctor Who and they are just so... eighties! It was Doctor Who trying to be hip and cool and unfortunately these things just aren't "in" anymore.
The Fearmonger takes the (somewhat) embarrassing political angle the McCoy era was interested in portraying to a new level. Fortunately it achieves its aims far more effectively than a No Coloureds sign in the window/a homicidal political leader/"White kids firebombed it!" by throwing racism in your face and forcing you to make up your own mind. Racism and terrorism go hand in hand in this story and neither is portrayed as black and white, which is just how it should be. Racist politicians are law-abiding citizens. Terrorists are frightened victims. Good and bad doesn't come into it; they are all fighting for what they believe in. Thankfully nobody sees the error of their ways or has a sudden epiphany, real life isn't like that. Sherilyn and Walter stick to their guns, two sides of one coin, problems that still exist in today's society.
There are a number of stunning moments that will send a shiver down the spine of anybody who was touched by the terror of the 9/11 crisis (that's all of you then). After a quiet scene with the Doctor and Ace we cut to a vicious bombing of public property, a shocking reminder of how unexpected and terrifying these events can be. Sherilyn in one of her many fantastic scenes stands up to Walter and claims "All your guns and bombs and you're still afraid to face me!", she might be a prejudiced bitch but you have to admire how she stands up to terrorism. One line of Ace's that I particularly admired summed up the problem of racism, "The tandorri menace that is driving all good fish'n'chip shops out of business". Many of the characters in the story are seen to have different agendas and I found it pleasing that there were a mix of racist and non-racist. It would be so easy to turn Sherilyn Harper into the typical Margaret Thatcher stereotype but other characters also mention their sympathies for her cause. It's the same sort of mutual respect (on the writer's part) that made The Crusade so fascinating to watch.
I genuinely feel that Jonathan Blum would be an excellent scriptwriter for the series. The strengths of The Fearmonger are manifold, the dialogue is memorable and witty, the story is fast moving and exciting, the characters are rounded and interested and the plot unfolds in unpredictable ways. There is clearly intelligence behind the script with passionate ideas on display and dealt with dramatically. So what exactly rubbed me up the wrong way?
McCoy's Doctor for a start. This is one of his best performances for Big Finish because he underplays so much of the story but it still pales in comparison to the other lead actors the company uses. There were a few scenes that really aggravated me, especially when Ace suggest the Doctor could just sweep in and sort out all of the human races political problems for us. What? He isn't God, love. I remember when the Doctor travelled from place to place just looking for some fun. What happened to make him such a humourless get who takes ALL the words problems on his shoulders? He spends most of this story in a moody slumber, inwardly sickened by our nasty political games. It was a trait that was taken to irritating extreme during the New Adventures; he would have the entire story tied up before it even started. The Fearmonger doesn't go to those lengths but it does show the depressing Doctor on the slippery slope to becoming the master manipulator.
Ace is worse, with Jon Blum having the nerve to cut and paste entire scenes from McCoy Doctor Who. In a staggeringly awful moment Ace stands up to a terrorist and tries the "look me in the eye" speech from The Happiness Patrol. Thankfully the terrorist shoots her, a mercy act that takes her from the action for a while. It is nice to see Ace emerging from the Doctor's shadow as a stronger person but cod dialogue like "Because you're worth it, Walter. Somebody thought I was worth it" left me cringing the same way I would watching Curse of Fenric ("I didn't know she was my muuuum!"). There are ways and means of studying your characters without inserting a huge luminous arrow at the story that says, "This is serious, adult Doctor Who, you know, and we examine our characters!"
And yet, just like on screen, there are moments in this story where they touch on brilliance, Ace bringing out the best in her companion. There is a wonderful scene where they invade Paul's flat and let rip some wonderful dialogue and interplay (building a force field out of a kitchen draw whilst explaining away the plot). They clearly love each other and the actors' natural chemistry shines, particularly during some well-written quieter moments that sees the pair engaged in mature conversation. Although the less said about the "Haiiya!" frying pan scene the better.
Elsewhere you have the conniving political pair Sherry Harper and Roderick who are always good for a laugh. Harper is played by the wonderful Jacqueline Pearce who despite (whenever asked) never having a clue about what she is acting in, I have never seen give a less than stellar performance. Her voice is instantly recognisable and perfect for audio; I lit up the second she turned up despite her character's controversial opinions. Vince Henderson provides a convincing radio disc jockey, ie you want to set his scrotum on fire and pluck his eyes out with burning tweezers (or as Ace so eloquently puts it "Your show eats weasel dung" ...ahem, quite). He is annoying but isn't that the point? I felt a real connection with Walter despite his shifting character (he goes from suicidal to confident terrorist in an episode) because it is easy to sympathise with somebody who is being terrorised for who he is.
The post-production work is almost filmic, at points it is hard to distinguish where you actually are compared to where you are in the story. The recognisable setting gives Big Finish a lot of sound FX to play about with and police sirens, raging mobs and hospital background noises help to set the scene. Gary Russell directs with his usual early BF flair, wringing some dramatic set pieces from the story (love the deadman's switch). Although there are a few occasions where I wished he had toned down the performances, especially Aldred's hysterical confrontation with the McCoy at the climax.
I won't mince my words, this is good stuff. There are problems but this is still THE best seventh Doctor and Ace story yet. I just have issues with the characters that affected my enjoyment, if you're a fan of this double act, no doubt you will adore this story.
Please explain? by Tim Roll-Pickering 6/2/08
Political satire is a double edged sword. All too often it can date easily, whilst for an international audience the caricatures may not be obvious. Sherilyn Harper is a case in point. A women leading a radical populist white superiority party, who is concerned about competition from Asia, who is politically feared most by the main left-wing party, who is concerned about being assassinated, who asks "Please explain?" and who picks a metaphor involving a fish and chip shop is probably obvious to readers from one country, but elusive to others who've never heard of Pauline Hanson or the One Nation Party that briefly enjoyed a "flash party" existance in Australia in the mid to late 1990s. Whether any of the other characters, particularly Mick Thompson, are also meant to be caricatures is harder to tell. But the background to the story seems to have far more in common with the rise of One Nation than with the UK's British National Party who, for all the suit-wearing presentation of their leader, remain firmly on the fringes of British politics and have no hope of serious national power.
But even if the listener is unfamiliar with Australian, ranting, ex-fish-and-chip shop owners, The Fearmonger still has a lot going for it. The Doctor and Ace are portrayed exactly as they were in Season 26, an appropriate start for the first solo McCoy audio, whilst the story also continues the McCoy years' trend for setting stories in a recognisable urban setting and commenting on social problems of the time. New Britannia is presented as a law-abiding party and it is Harper's opponents who are shown as violent and lawless, seriously blurring the distinctions between right and wrong. Fear is present everywhere, with the various characters reacting to it in different ways: Harper is scared of what is happening to her country, whilst the United Front are scared of what Harper will do to it. This is far more fascinating than the intricacies of the Fearmonger itself, which sits in the background, feeding off the incidents and emotions it generates in others. It's an interesting set-up and, although the story doesn't pull its punches about Sherilyn Harper, it also shows up others as being just as bad. Few things in politics are as black & white as some people (particularly those in flash parties) would like to claim, and things are rarely as they seem, as the story's revelations reflect.
The casting help bring the story to light, although Jacqueline Pearce may be a little overcast as Harper; would a more stumbling, "ordinary person" style delivery have fitted better? Or is it a requirement that all fictional leading female politicians must be Thatcheresque? Hugh Walters is brilliant as Roderick Allingham, an almost exact recreation of his TV role as Vogel in Revelation of the Daleks, whilst Vince Henderson makes Mick Thompson as irritating as the character is meant to be. But it's Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred who stand out the most, easily slipping back into their roles a decade (at the time of recording) after they were interrupted onscreen. Jonathan Blum is well known online as a strong fan of the McCoy years and this shows throughout with the era faithfully reproduced. 8/10
The Politics of Fear by Matthew Kresal 31/1/16
In 2000, Big Finish was just beginning a now-sixteen-year journey making audio dramas based on Doctor Who. The Fearmonger, written by noted Wilderness Era novelist Jonathan Blum, was the first proper Seventh Doctor audio story released by the company. Despite have been released all that time ago, the story continues to hold up well and is perhaps more relevant now than it was then.
Both Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred slip comfortably back into their roles of the Doctor and Ace. Despite having had more than a decade pass between their final television appearances in Survival, one gets the feeling from their performances that they had never been away. McCoy's Doctor comes across strongly and authoritatively, walking in and out of situations and facing down people with a variety of means and motives. Aldred's Ace comes across even better as a slightly older and more mature character who tries to play the Doctor (in a way not too dissimilar from Clara Oswald in recent TV stories) but with results that are quite different and that show the price that can be paid for trying to play the Doctor's part for him. The two of them bounce off each other wonderfully thanks to a combination of both the actors' chemistry and a good script that gives them some excellent moments, especially in parts three and four.
McCoy and Aldred are helped by a good supporting cast as well. Jacqueline Pearce, best known for her role as Blake's 7 villain Servalan, gives a quite and sinister performance as Sherilyn Harper, the right-wing politician whom much of the story centers around. Harper's right-hand man is former government official Roderick Allingham who, as played by Hugh Walters, can be menacing even while giving a restrained performance. On the other side of the spectrum is Vince Henderson (Sophie Aldred's husband in real-life) as loud-mouth radio host Mick Thompson who thrives off the political chaos Harper is causing that seems to be a threat. The real threat though comes from those like Jack Gallagher's Alexsandr Karadjic, who leads a terrorist group that is not what it seems, and Mack McDonnell as Walter Jacobs, for whom the title holds a special meaning and role. Then there's Ace's old friend Paul Tanner (Jonathan Clarkson), who gets dragged into the midst of the chaos and mayhem. It's a good supporting cast for a good story.
Moving on from the cast, there is more to recommend the story for. The biggest reason is the script by Jonathan Blum, one of the writers who contributed to the BBC Books ranges during the Wilderness Years. Early on, Big Finish worked to recruit writers like Blum as well as others who had contributed to Who fiction up to that point. While behind-the-scenes issues detailed elsewhere (such as in the sadly out of print The New Audio Adventures: The Inside Story) led to this being Blum's only Big Finish audio story, it nevertheless is a strong one that evokes not just the latter days of the original TV series but also that of the 1990s Virgin New Adventures book range as well in that it is more adult in terms of its plotting. It is also a well-constructed story that has enough twists to keep the listener's attention throughout its nearly two-hour length, especially in the cliffhanger department.
Yet The Fearmonger has one great flaw in it. That is that the story's greatest attribute is, paradoxically, its greatest weakness. The story, while having some science-fiction attributes, is more political then anything. In fact, if one removed the Fearmonger creature out of the story altogether and changed a few things round, one might find a good political thriller sitting at the heart of it all. By being so overtly political, it loses touch with the science-fiction elements to the point that the science fiction (the creature of the title) feels out of place and seems to have little to do with the plot. One could easily imagine it instead being done as something akin to a modern day historical where the Doctor and companion arrive and find themselves becoming involved in the events, since it does seem to tie into at least one person Ace already knows. Perhaps that is a hindsight granted by more than a decade and a half, but it's hard to look at it as a bit of a flaw.
Yet it's that same flaw that also gives the story a staying power that many of the other early Big Finish stories lack. Sherilyn Harper, the right-wing politician whom much of the story centers around, might well be based on 1990s-era Australian politician Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party, but there's something all too familiar with Harper and her own party. With a presidential election gearing up here in the United States, all of the issues that Harper is campaigning on are topics being discussed. With the British National Party existing and questions being raised about Britain's place in the EU, both could easily exist in 2016. As a result, The Fearmonger is a story with a resonance despite being released nearly two decades ago.
Despite some flaws, there is plenty to like about The Fearmonger. From solid performances to a strong script from Jonathan Blum, it's also a tale has all the trappings of a good Doctor Who story. While it might be lacking in the science-fiction department, the story's more overt political nature is both a pro and con. Yet it's the political elements that give it a resonance that's stronger now than it might have been back in 2000. Above all else, The Fearmonger represented a new beginning for the Seventh Doctor's adventures through time and space. Sixteen years later, those adventures are still going strong, and that might well the strongest legacy of this story.