The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Walking to Babylon (novel)
Big Finish
Walking to Babylon
A Benny Audio Adventure

Author Kate Orman Cover image
Adaptation Jacqueline Rayner
Released 1998
Cover Colin Howard

Starring: Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield
Special Guest Star: Elisabeth Sladen as Ninan-ashtammu

Synopsis: Using the time rings, two People create a Time Path and travel back to ancient Babylon, taking an unwilling Jason with them. Benny has just 48 hours to find them and rescue her errant husband, before the People back in the 26th century send a singularity bomb to destroy the Path - and Babylon.


Audio heaven by Joe Ford 16/11/03

Easily my favourite from Benny's first year, this is a remarkable piece of work that holds up to several re-listenings. It is still one of my favourite audios yet, a clever, charming, witty piece with some sterling character drama and a gorgeous musical score.

And it's directed by Gary Russell. A true example of what the man is capable of when he really tries. It's not his best work but it comes damn close.

Listening to Walking to Babylon is like taking a stroll through a crisp park in spring, perfume in the air, the flowers in bloom, a relaxing, invigorating experience. One that you want to treasure. There is so much substance to the script, so many little moments to cherish it is a damn shame when it ends and you are transported back into the miserable world of 2003.

Let's start with the book, a Benny novel that I have actually read. Kate Orman wrote a wonderful story, her sensitive prose and elegant descriptions captured ancient Babylon in all its glory. I was entranced in the pages, soaking up the atmosphere. To my surprise the Big Finish team manage to re-create the atmosphere just as magically. As I have already said the music is divine, suggesting more than words the beauty Benny and John are experiencing. The scene in the hanging gardens of Babylon is captured brilliantly, they are both in awe of their surroundings and the music captures their disorientation superbly. Grander scenes in Neinen's palace are loaded with tap your feet banquet music and smaller scenes such as the invasion of Benny and John's privacy by a snake are enhanced by a spine tingling score.

Kate was always great at adopting Benny's unique voice. Adapted once again by Kate's rival (not to make this sound sinister but they are at least as good as each other when it comes to Benny's character... go read The Glass Prison!) this audio shows Benny at her best. It is her clumsy romance with fey scribe John Lafayette that reveal just how different women are in the future, her hysterical suggestion that he should tell his mother after they have had sex is a joy. It is another relationship that thrives on cultural differences and Benny's touched reaction to his attempts to protect her modesty are lovely. Their scenes together are quite charming without ever really trying to be, it is great fun to watch Bernice take control in a relationship for a change.

Another enjoyable aspect of the story is that although on the whole it isn't a fast paced there is a sense of danger, a countdown to destruction. Benny only has two days in Babylon to find Jason and the People and avert its destruction. The quick flashbacks to the drone counting down the seconds gives us a constant reminder that time is running out.

It is nice to see more of Jason too. I never really got a voice for the guy during his brief appearances in the NA's but these audios seem to want to portray him as bit of a rogue but one with a big heart. He clearly loves Benny a great deal but likes a bit on the side too. He seems to bum around the universe getting himself into more and more trouble and needs Benny to get him out of it (This and Beyond the Sun both follow this pattern).

There are a number of hysterical Benny/Jason scenes in Walking to Babylon, to show just how entertaining this dysfunctional couple is there is a prolonged banter scene between them early on that thrives on wit and sarcasm, it is one of the best scenes in the story. I love this I love you/I hate you stuff, it is ripe for drama (and comedy) and it becomes one of the strongest aspects of the Benny range later on.

We explore this strange land through the eyes of John Lafayette, a fey, charming man who accidentally stepped on the path through time. It was an interesting choice to choose somebody from the early nineteen hundreds to serve as Benny's love interest. This is definitely the work of a female writer, be it Orman or Rayner, and this sensitive and charming man works a treat here, he is one of the best guests characters in the Benny range. He is constantly making it up as he goes along, running from Benny, sleeping with her unexpectedly, shooting someone, rushing off to save her and yet also seems to love this fabulous gift he has received, the chance to walk to Babylon and experience its wonders. I just wish I could spend more time with him, his abrupt ending and parting with Benny lacks the depth their relationship has to that point thrived on but is followed up touchingly in the next instalment.

Interesting and necessary to the story is Ninan-ashtammnu, the Babylonian priestess who devotes her life to her God and does not leave her temple. Played by the ever-wonderful Elisabeth Sladen Ninan is such a captivating woman, desperate for tales of the world outside her prison. Her turbulent scenes with Jason where he questions her treatment of her slave Miriam and pushes her to make the ultimate sacrifice, the loss of her identity and religion are astonishingly written. Sladen has an ideal voice for audio, bubbly and very easy on the ear, Ninan is another character that would make an ideal 'companion' for Benny.

The story is loaded with well written, thought provoking scenes, lots of separate scenes that I would be certain to put on my top ten audio scenes list. The Benny/Jason bitch fight, John's embarrassing mumbling after he and Benny have shagged themselves silly, Ninan's brave decision to save Benny's life, Benny sitting at John's side and realising his immenent death is all her fault... it's not a regular laugh a minute adventure story but a thoughtful period piece where the characters are vital to drive the plot and not just there to service it.

The work of three incredible women (Orman, Rayne and Bowermen) and one man (Gary Russell on form) this is a delightful release and one I would recommend to all you po-faced Who fans who won't listen to these Benny audios because they mess around with the NA book canon.

You could very well be missing out on some of the best drama either series has to offer.