Up until now, I haven’t been terribly impressed by the quality of the Lost Stories range of Doctor Who audio dramas from Big Finish. My waning interest combined with the fact that the preview made it sound like one of the adventures, Leviathan, was to do with a demonic forest spirit that stole people’s souls (the sort of thing I find off-putting) almost led me to skip this particular entry together. But I gave it a go, and I’m glad I did.
The conceit of the Lost Stories is that they are all based on scripts that were written (at least in part) but not produced. Up until now, I’ve only heard ones that were originally in the running for the 23rd season of Doctor Who before the show was put on an 18 month hiatus, which resulted in the production team changing all their plans for the show. But it turns out that Leviathan was apparently scheduled to be part of Season 22 instead. Nobody is sure why it was cut, but the consensus is that it was probably for budgetary reasons. This is certainly plausible because the story certainly sounds expensive: it features both a medieval castle and a vast spaceship as a setting, as well as plenty of epic battles, some extended horse riding, loads of characters, and naturally, a budget-stretching monster to boot.
The writing and performances in this audio drama do a great a job bringing all these “big budget” elements to life, painting pretty vivid pictures in the mind’s eye of the listener. As a result, what we get is a story that actually works better on audio than one presumes it would have on television, which is pretty much the opposite of all the other Lost Stories I have had a listen to. Presumably, we can largely thank writer Paul Finch for this, who adapted the story from a script that his late father Brian had written originally. Of course I haven’t read the original script so I don’t know precisely whose work is whose, but the fruit of it all is a story that understands both the limits and the benefits of the audio format – battles are made to be epic and sweeping, the monster fearsome and terrifying (without resorting to either too much or too little description) and the large cast delineated just enough for us to keep track of them, or most of them anyway. I wasn’t always 100% sure of things like how many rebels there were supposed to be, and so on, but the show managed to make their deaths meaningful even when I didn’t remember their names. One in particular has a death scene with the Doctor that is one of the strongest things I have heard in any of these audios. His name is Thurston and he is killed after a battle against an overwhelmingly powerful antagonist:
Doctor: You haven’t got long left, I’m afraid.
Thurston: We c–couldn’t…we c–couldn’t…someone must…[dying breath]
Doctor (soberly): Somebody will.
The voice actors are good with Colin Baker delivering a typically strong performance and Nicola Bryant as Peri having one of her better outings. The rest of the guest cast are uniformly strong, which is all the more impressive since most of them are playing more than one character. The only exception to my thinking is the performance of the young girl Althya, whose high pitched squeaky voice just sounds a little weird.
And my concerns about the subject matter being something that I have objections to were unfounded. Of course, like most Doctor Who, it’s violent and kind of creepy, but also full of escapist fun and optimism that I think most of us want from the series.