THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVEL "NIGHT OF THE HUMANS" AND THE
AUDIO BOOK "THE
RING OF STEEL."
BBC AUDIO CD (ISBN 1-4
IN OCTOBER 2011.
Arriving on Earth
in the midst of the American Civil War, the Doctor and Amy HAVE TO get a posse together to help retrieve an alien artefact.
THE DEVICE BELONGS
TO THE CEI, A RACE OF INVADERS WHO PLAN
TO USE IT TO TURN THE PLANET INTO A NEW HOME WORLD.
BUT THE ALIENS AREN'T KEEN TO LET THE DOCTOR AND HIS GANG INTERFERE WITH THE THEIR PLANS, AND GIVE CHASE ACROSS THE WILD WEST. THEIR ONLY HOPE OF ESCAPE IS TO CATCH THE 3.25 TO ARIZONA...
BBC Audio seem to be making a habit of releasing their ‘audio exclusives’ at the drop of a hat. Hot on the heels of two impromptu tenth Doctor releases comes Matt Smith’s first venture into the world of talking tie-ins, The Runaway Train by Oli Smith, which has been given away with The Daily Telegraph almost ten months ahead of its release date.
Whether due to its rushed release or a lackadaisical attempt to coax people into actually buying the CD when it appears in the shops next year, this production is a desolate affair. Whilst it is bookended by Murray Gold’s latest interpretation of the series’ haunting theme tune (which plays for much longer than it is allowed to on television here, delving deeply into what sounds very much like John Debney / TV Movie territory when we hit the ‘middle 8’), the narration isn’t supported by any incidental music or sound effects, which sounds just plain wrong when the prose is describing guns blazing and old railway engines parping their hooters.
Fortunately though, Matt Smith makes for an outstanding storyteller. His voice is ideal for narration as, much like Tom Baker’s, it sounds so very distinctive, albeit for diametrically-opposed reasons. Unlike the booming Baker, Smith’s tones are soft and concise; his alliteration perfect. And, as you’d expect, he recreates his Doctor with consummate ease, and even has a fair bash at Amy’s corrupted Scots brogue. The multitude of Yankees that he’s required to voice, however, are difficult to tell apart, but they are certainly evocative all the same.
Turning to the story itself, Oli Smith’s first full-length effort is fairly typical of a new series tie-in: the general quality is good, but it couldn’t even hope to match the pace and the vigour of the television series. As most listeners will probably infer from the story’s title and blurb, The Runaway Train is a sixty-two minute wallow in cliché; a fusion of just about every Western device that one could think of, a few confederates, and a good, old-fashioned Doctor Who baseline. The youngsters listening to this adventure are sure to be enraptured in its Mexican standoffs and its trains hurtling towards the edge of their tracks, but sadly I think that adult listeners will find it wanting.
That much said, the writer does do a splendid job of capturing the eleventh Doctor and Amy with his words – no small feat given that when he wrote this, he can’t have seen that much (if anything at all) of Matt Smith or Karen Gillan in their respective roles. The whole story is bursting with acute bursts of effective characterisation, from the Doctor scratching his face as he ponders, to him rubbing his “boyish” chin as he ruminates on the lines on one particularly weathered character’s face, and the stories that they betray. Stories that for him and his new face are kept hidden.
Overall though, I didn’t find The Runaway Train particularly stimulating, especially when I compare it to the recent Dead Air or even The Last Voyage. I may be doing it a disservice, however, as when the CD appears in the shops I’d be very surprised indeed if it wasn’t buoyed by some vibrant sound design, which makes much more of a difference than one might first think. Still, for £1.80, it’s hard to grumble. Hard, but not impossible…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Clearly designed to be as accessible as possible, this story offers few clues as to its placement. We have placed it between Victory of the Daleks and The Time of Angels, and after the first two eleventh Doctor novels, as this is the only gap in Series 5’s tight continuity which sees the Doctor and Amy travelling without either Rory in tow or the spectre of his non-memory looming large; it was first released (with 24th April 2010’s copy of The Daily Telegraph) between the broadcast of these two episodes, and after the publication of the aforementioned novels; and the third eleventh Doctor novel, The Forgotten Army, appears to lead directly into The Time of Angels, so The Runaway Train must come first.
Thanks to Craig Land
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