Big Finish Productions
The Wormery

Written by Stephen Cole and Paul Magrs Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2003
Continuity Shortly after The Trial of a Time Lord

Starring Colin Baker and Katy Manning.
Also featuring Maria McErlane, Paul Clayton, Jane McFarlane, James Campbell, Mark Donovan, Ian Brooker

Synopsis: At last, after so many centuries, the Doctor is dragged by the heels into that darkest of undiscovered countries - love.


Cabaret classic! by Joe Ford 17/12/03

Brace yourselves folks because what I'm about to tell you is quite shocking. This release is directed by Gary Russell and it's FANTASTIC! Oh yes, whatever he has lacked this year, his thousand and one blandly directed stories are worthless compared to this magical, lyrical experience. This is the same man who gave us The Fires of Vulcan, Shadow of the Scourge, etc, his efforts rewarding handsomely. Gary mate, I fully understand your decision to step away from fandom to concentrate on your work and if this is an example of your work in this new, uncluttered schedule, then I am extremely impressed! Oh no this was made last year wasn't it? Oh well, it's still a top effort.

My one complaint (and it is relatively minor considering) is once again we have a story focussed on an aspect of the show's past. Iris is a staple of the books (and the audios now apparently!) and being set post-Trial of a Time Lord there are quite a few references thrown in too. But since both these elements practically make the story as wonderful as it is I shan't place too much emphasis on Big Finish's fascination with the past.

In a year of mixed experiments (Look it's Doctor Who the musical! Let's make the Dalek a nice guy! Let's write a story and tell it in completely the wrong order!) this is another stand out... Doctor Who the cabaret! With its funky musical score, delightful bitch fights; lost souls and dames a singin' it is another superb format breaker. So bizarre is the Doctor's confession in episode three ("I think I've fallen in love!") this could almost be an Unbound adventure. But pushing the envelope's what I love, more examples of what a diverse experience being a Doctor Who fan is... and at such a time of celebration I cannot think of a better statement to make.

Without a doubt this is the campest Big Finish story ever. It revels in the larger than life quality of the Graham Williams stories but then what do you expect from co-writer Paul Magrs, writer of the wackiest Doctor Who book of all time, Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Whilst the story has a strong SF backdrop (probably courtesy of co-writer Steve Cole) and some deep emotions running through it there are lots of laughs to be had at the pantomime-esque nature of the story. Russell superbly maintains the dazzling, sparkling atmosphere and you could expect to see this made on the stage with real energy and vigour.

I love Iris! Isn't she such a darling? With this new generation of writers trying to get the Doctor emoting it is wonderful to see such a boisterous, barmy, downright bonkers character reminding us how witty and entertaining the Doctor used to be. This is the ultimate Iris story being written by her creator (who could capture her voice better) and her adopted father (Cole got her spot on in The Plague Herds of Excelis) and before the end credits you will be as obsessed with Iris as the writers clearly are.

Much of Iris's appeal lies with Katy Manning who gives the performance of a lifetime. She throws so much of herself into Iris; just listen to her DVD commentaries, she is almost as batty as this character. A scene-stealer in every way, she prowls through the story barking at everybody, trying desperately to understand all the complex plot machinations going on. Her entrance is amazing, the foot tapping piano score leading to her drunken ramblings ("A bad name! Ooh 'ow dare you!"). This is a chance for us to get inside Iris's head, to see there is much more than a shallow, gauche adventuress. Her initial dismissal of the Doctor ("I don't fancy you much in this incarnation") is a hysterical example of her desperate attempts to hide her shortcomings.

Manning also manages to bring a great deal of pathos to the role. Oh you can giggle at her volcanic temper but you see so many other shades of her character here. Her constant insistence that she NEEDS to drink can be taken on two levels and the scene where she realises the Doctor has fallen for something else is heartbreaking, Manning's stuttering speech that she knew she couldn't MAKE him fall in love with her but she hoped one day... I had tears in my eyes it was so beautifully delivered. It's a shock to find out how much you care and the more people rip into her, the protective of her you get.

I would have thought this an impossibility but Iris isn't the campest character involved. Bianca is another fabulous creation; totally self obsessed and determined to be the star of the show. Maria McErlane seems to enjoy playing up the real bitchy side to the character without ever losing one ounce of her style. Her first line to the Doctor ("Light my ciggie Dah-ling!") says about all you need to know. It is the Iris/Bianca relationship that gives the story its emotional fireworks although her almost romance with the Doctor certainly raises an eyebrow. Bianca, like all of the characters in the story starts out as predictable as any character but as the story continues she becomes much, much more, a later twist proving an extraordinary stroke of character development.

People have an aversion to Trial of a Time Lord but even they have to admit it gives a superb chance to the writers to use a broody, tired Time Lord who just wants a bit of peace and quiet. This solitary figure seems to suit the sixth Doctor well, his companion-less status (waiting for Iris to fill!) seems natural, after all Peri could have died, and anyway who could possibly be good enough company for him? His soul searching provides the story with the opportunity to play with the impossible, his attraction to someone else. During a particularly emotive speech he wants to know why nobody seems to be grateful for all the good he has done, why even his own people still question his behaviour. Gone is the outspoken bully, here we are greeted with a reflective, lonely character who just wants to get away from all the troubles of the universe for a bit. Colin Baker proves predictably adept at sobering his Doctor and his quiet, distant voice captures much of the script's feeling.

His relationship with Iris is such a joy, Katy Manning admits she wanted so badly to do a story with Colin and it shows, they spark off each other extremely well. Their scenes together are a constant delight ("Rest your head on my bosom", "Of course I'm drunk! I'm always drunk!", "Iris! Stop singing! You'll destroy us all!", "I suggested we team up... but she saw it as a marriage proposal!"). They are madly in love, it is blatantly obvious and their ups and downs in this story provide some touching moments.

Give this story two listens, you'll want to anyway because it's entertainment in its purest form but a second listen reveals just how well plotted the whole thing is. I detect Cole's hand in this (after his superlative Timeless which has a similar mix of engaging fun and complex plotting); the story is very cleverly written to deceive. There are millions of clues early on that gather together in the astounding fourth episode that provides a staggering climax. I loved how it appeared that Cole and Magrs seemed to be making it up as they go along, more and more offbeat ideas pushed into the script right up until episode three but they have really thought this out well. It is another example of the magical storytelling only Doctor Who can tell.

And it's all framed attractively by a narrator; the silky voiced Mickey who is telling the story of Bianca's to an unknown listener. It is a charming narrative device, which the writers use to push the action on and provide quick explanations. Plus Jane MacFarlane has a gorgeous Scottish accent... I could listen to her all day.

I have to mention he music; Steve Cole and Jason Loborik do the story incredible justice. The piano is my favourite instrument and the story is full of catchy themes that kept me grinning and more enchanting snatches as the story thickens with charming ideas. The last episode has some wicked-cool camp music to punctuate the exciting bits.

Every second of this charismatic cabaret is an utter delight. It is easily the best release from Big Finish in AGES, probably since Doctor Who and the Pirates. It provides a fine anniversary tale, funny, clever and affecting.

Loved the photos inside... Steve Cole's just the cutest thing!

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 3/2/04

This light-hearted audio that appeared amongst all the 40th Anniversary celebration was put to one side by this reviewer. With the mass of books, magazines, Unbound series and the ginormous Zagreus to wade through, there simply wasn't enough time for it all. Thus it sat on the shelf until such time the party was over. Now two months on I have finally listened to it - that's a record - I always listen to them in the first week or two after receiving them. I've even, scandalously in some eyes, listened to Scherzo (but not Kromon) in preference.

What a bizarre play it is! Colin Baker, stripped of the reassuring presence of Evelyn Smythe, is forced into a collusion with Iris Wildthyme (her of the entertaining romp that was the opening saga of Excelis). I listened to the first 2 parts all at once, and confess to be being disappointed. The story had gone beyond me in its weirdness, and even though I had laughed in places, I hadn't laughed as much as I wanted to! Part 3 picked up massively for this reviewer, and part 4 continued the upsurge.

Now I can say I quite liked it. It definitely improved as it progressed. Once you got used to the feel of the production, and where the writers were coming from (a bizarre but highly entertaining place), I grew to like it just fine. It really goes to show the diversity of the Doctor Who format that 2 audios can be released within weeks of one another, and be so vastly different. 2004 has been Big Finish's diversification year - a conscious effort to try something different. With the range destined to continue on for many a year to come, this was needed I feel. You simply have to test other storytelling techniques, discovering which type work, and which the audience will respond to the most. Generally I tend to favour the traditional stories - but even I can be blowed away by something brilliant that doesn't fall into that classification. Wormery is off the wall, it is trying to be something new and different - I didn't like it as much as most of 2004 output, but it has a place, and will no doubt be enjoyed plenty more times in the future.

The two leads you will like, if you took to them before that is. Their characters have been with most fans now for ages, especially the 6th Doctor. Even in this more mellow phase of the 6th Doctor's incarnation (the Big Finish audios) we know him well enough now. He's simply the best audio Doctor. Without Evelyn though I found him slightly diminished. I kept expecting her to turn up, and with no regular companion for the Doctor (not counting Iris) there felt something missing.

Iris is more than just a stand in companion for this story. The cover, using Katy Mannings likeness, has Iris more prominent than the Doctor. Indeed the Doctor is a kind of shadowy presence, with head bowed - as if in deference to the bombasity that Iris will provide. At times Iris can be grating, an incredibly irritating woman who spoils certain scenes. But then there's the Iris who makes you laugh out loud with her exclamations. She would be a nightmare on screen, and in real life, but on audio I think she's found her place. For a grating, incredibly irritating woman, she is also quite likeable - quite a feat to pull off that one.

Of the rest of the cast (a particularly strong one), I found our narrator - Mickey - the best. Her soothing Scottish tones (I've always been drawn towards women from that part of the world) had me enthralled. A narrator really does work for some stories. Henry was a fine villain, even though he got lost later on in the story. Bianca is the one I struggled with. As owner of the bar, where all the action takes place, hers is a vital role. But with one brash character already in Iris, Bianca got a bit pushed to the side. One loud woman is enough in any walk of life!

And so The Wormery was enjoyed, but not quite as much as I expected. It's too haphazard in its storytelling approach for my tastes - but maybe like others I have said that about - another listen will elevate it. All round though, not too bad at all. 7/10

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 9/8/04

Thanks to the combined efforts of writers Paul Magrs and Stephen Cole, The Wormery strikes the right balance between drama and humour and as a result is a highly enjoyable romp. This is helped in part by the setting which is dripping with atmosphere, the framework of the story (telling a story within a story) and indeed the return of Iris Wildthyme. Katy Manning chooses to underplay Iris and as a result her performance is far more enjoyable, allowing both the comedic and serious aspects of the character to the fore in equal parts. This in turn benefits the interaction with Colin Baker`s Sixth Doctor, particularly when she discovers her beloved Time Lord has fallen for somebody else.

The supporting cast are also uniformly excellent Maria McErlane (best known for innuendos on Eurotrash) is powerful as the club's matriarch Bianca; as indeed is the narrator, Mickey, portrayed by Jane McFarlane. The use of music throughout adds to the atmosphere, whether it is the piano in the background or when Iris takes the microphone. In short The Wormery hits the right notes, it's diverting and entertaining and makes you wonder what a series (as was once proposed) with Iris Wildthyme would be like.

A Review by John Seavey 11/11/05

It's exactly the sort of thing you'd expect, given all the people involved with it. If you ask Paul Magrs and Stephen Cole to co-write an audio, and you're putting Colin Baker as the Doctor and Katy Manning as Iris Wildthyme in it, it shouldn't really surprise you at all that you get something about a trans-dimensional nightclub being infested by evil tequila worms from the Vortex who need Iris' future incarnation to destroy the universe with evil torch songs. Practically "trad", for Magrs. And if you want to find flaws, the plot is really just people wandering around being "witty" until the big finale, when the Doctor just Blows Stuff Up to save the day. But it's definitely entertaining.

A Review by Ron Mallett 14/2/07

Highlight: Katy Manning as Iris Wildthyme!
Lowlight: Complicated and convoluted plot that draws too heavily on established Doctor Who mythology!

This audio by Paul Magrs and Stephen Cole, and directed by Gary Russell (does this man have a peculiar preoccupation with the 6th Doctor?) is an enjoyable romp through space and time. With a top notch cast featuring Colin Baker and Katy Manning, the audio has a lot going for it.. Furthermore, it has a different kind of narrative style as the story is related from one player to an "outsider" on the pretext that the events were captured on tape. This allows for an adequate amount of exposition so that the dialogue doesn't have to be so stilted. Even so, the story is a little difficult to follow on first hearing.

There are some strange twists and turns in the story although they rely greatly on concepts from the established mythology such as time rams, multiple incarnations etc. The effect of this to the aware fan is to give the whole production a fan fiction-like, stale atmosphere. Still, there are elements of great originality in the script, foremost the idea of an intergalactic bar with a taxi service linking it to various planets and times. The thought that the Doctor might fall in love was used as a hook to market the story but we have seen him infatuated before (ie. The Aztecs) and nowadays in the new series we see him mooning over his companion every week.

All in all, it's a strangely engaging audio with elements of humour and pathos. Of course, Katy Manning's interpretation of Iris Wildthyme is a pleasure. Colin and Katy seem to bounce off one another quite well. The drama is well constructed, although the story does dip a little in the third act. The sound work is interesting and I think at times they were trying to construct a "Casablanca"-type feel to the bar (delete Rick's and enter Bianca's?). If only they hadn't relied on too many established concepts to round the story out. The final revelation wasn't really that unexpected either!

Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum, Come to the Cabaret by Jacob Licklider 5/9/19

The musical Cabaret tells a very similar story to today's Doctor Who of a nightclub in Berlin that is slowly being overrun by the Nazi party. It also shares similarities to the themes of Cabaret of acceptance of one's flaws and facing up to adversary. As the naive characters of Cabaret are unable to see their own flaws and the danger coming for them, so too does the character of Iris Wildthyme who gets to have her version of The Ultimate Foe, as an evil distillation of her is running the club and making deals with Nazi worms who want to stop all evolution. They find every bit of dissent is wrong, and the punishment for wrongness is to be killed like the Jews in World War II.

Continuing on with the allusions to Cabaret, the Sixth Doctor and Iris are the analogues for Cliff and Sally as almost star-crossed lovers. Iris knows something is wrong at Bianca's but drowns her sorrows in tequila while the Doctor is doing all the investigating into the existence of the worms. Iris is the one who thinks it will all blow over in the end, as it is just politics. The performance from Colin Baker is great here, as this story takes place soon after the trial, and the Doctor finds himself to be extremely vulnerable. He wants to find himself a better life and is extremely afraid of Mel being his next companion, as that means his life is going to end and he is one step closer to becoming the Valeyard. He goes to Bianca's club initially to get away from it and put himself into trouble. He has no real intention of drinking but he wants to get himself embroiled in a plot just to take his mind off it.

The show is stolen, however, by Katy Manning as Iris Wildthyme, trans-temporal adventuress. Iris is just a fascinating character, as she is a parody of the Doctor, who even steals his adventures. She travels in a bus that is smaller on the inside than it is on the outside and has become completely smitten with the Doctor. Katy Manning is just perfect as a character who just goes around the universe searching for a good time, which I love. The performance shows just how versatile Manning is as an actress, as Iris is distinct from Jo Grant, which is for the best especially later down the line when they appeared in the same story together.

Continuing on, we have the villains of the story first being the less interesting of the two, with Henry played by Paul Clayton, who is the analogue for Ernst Ludwig, but he is the boring character in the story. He is power hungry, and, with the setup of the story, his actions don't really fit in with the major theme in any real way, which is where the problem lies. In a story like this, everything major should be connected to the overarching theme. Bianca, on the other hand, while she is a villain, she is our Emcee analogue and just an all-around fun villain. She wants Iris's remaining regenerations and is ready to go to any real length to get them, as she loves the lifestyle of entertaining guests and getting drunk, while unaware of the presence of the Nazis and the many crimes she is committing in the club. Her story is a touching one that allows for a lot of sympathy, even if she is in the wrong for most of the plot.

This is another story that is told through a frame story, which is where we get the larger diversions from the homages to Cabaret. Many years after World War II and the events of the night in Berlin, tapes of Bianca's survive, and bartender Mickey is showing them to a mysterious and silent Mr. Ashcroft, whom we get an interesting twist with at the end. The frame story allows Magrs and Cole to point out just how good the ideas around how Doctor Who works on audio. This is also an interesting way to work around copious amounts of technobabble in this story, as we learn about the worms and how they work, with Mickey filling in the explanations. I also have to point out the music by Jason Loborik, who uses a piano score in the background of every scene, which really helps with the transitions from the frame story into the story proper as we get to hear the piano play as the tapes start with Mickey's narration.

To summarize, The Wormery is a story from Paul Magrs who has some great ideas and if he was writing this all on his own everything would most likely be perfect, but Stephen Cole writing in a homage to Cabaret just cripples my enjoyment of the story. The homage hits every beat Cabaret has, yet Cabaret hit them better as they were unfettered with an older audience. That doesn't mean this story is bad, as the stuff Magrs is responsible for is brilliant and shines through the homage for most of the story, which could have gone terribly wrong. 80/100