THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
AUDIO BOOKS "THE
AND "THE HOUNDS
BBC AUDIO CD (ISBN 1-4
IN AUGUST 2010.
On Orkney in the near future, the ERECTION OF dozens of electricity pylons is met with local resistance.
Just as the Doctor
and Amy arrive, the LOCAL protestors are terrified to see the pylons come to life and begin to walk...
Towards the end of David Tennant’s reign, BBC Audio’s range of ‘audio exclu-sive’ adventures went from strength to strength, providing dramatic readings of such quality that they were beginning to give Big Finish a run for their money. The tenth Doctor’s final such outing, Dead Air, saw the length of the production halved (and the quality doubled), and it is this much more dynamic, one-disc approach that has been adopted as the model for the eleventh Doctor’s run. However, with the Beeb’s release schedules being chopped and changed apparently on a whim, The Ring of Steel is only the second eleventh Doctor exclusive to have seen the light of day thus far, following Oli Smith’s Runaway Train.
Penned by the prolific Stephen Cole, The Ring of Steel is quite a curious offering. For one thing, it’s narrated by the redoubtable Arthur Darvill, who plays Amy’s feller Rory in the television series, despite Rory not actually featuring in the narrative. Presumably neither Matt Smith nor Karen Gillan were available to record the narration, but one would imagine that this would have been apparent at a relatively early stage, in which case Cole could have expanded or amended his tale to include the prospective Mr Pond. As it stands, this production carries with it the scent of a missed opportunity.
For another, Cole’s story is incredibly visual, the narrative having been constructed around a number of imposing images. Whilst it’s admittedly easier to convey such things in prose than it would be in the more intimate medium of audio drama, it’s nonetheless impressive that Cole is able to conjure such vivid and spectacular images in listeners’ minds without them actually seeing anything. Scores of electricity pylons marching across the landscape and roads that open up and swallow people are certainly set pieces strong enough to carry one of the television series’ more affluent episodes, but in this medium they aren’t pent by any budgetary constraints and Cole is able to really let rip with his imagination.
However, The Ring of Steel is traditional almost to a fault. The Doctor and Amy are split up early and each paired with a local foil, coming together only as the adventure reaches its apex. The story is a little derivative too - a recent Doctor Who Storybook featured a short story by Nicholas Briggs that also used electricity pylons as monsters, and the cracks in the road here aren’t a million miles away from the cracks in the soil seen in Chris Chibnall’s Hungry Earth. The rationale behind the dread is completely different, and in fact Cole’s “PAH” lifeforms pose a much cleverer and far more insidious threat than metal-eaters or Earth Reptiles, however the terror itself is exactly the same.
Nevertheless, the author does an outstanding job of capturing both of the series regulars, particularly the Doctor. His pre-title description of “an unruly mane of dark hair framing strong features” is almost Target-worthy, and a number of lovely little flourishes littered throughout the piece really bring out the clumsiness and the humour intrinsic to Smith’s performance. His “little island that can’t decide if it’s Scottish or Norwegian” speech is particularly redolent. For his part, Darvill does a fantastic job of imitating the cadences of his co-stars. His keen impersonation of Smith is especially effective; in one or two transc-ending bursts he could almost be him.
The production itself is as polished as I’ve come to expect from BBC Audio, Simon Hunt’s sound design injecting the story with some much-needed vigour, particularly in the second half. Even in an adventure as action-packed as this one is, with an eighty-minute running time and no midpoint cliffhanger, one’s interest inevitably wanes pushing into the final third.
In the end, The Ring of Steel is a cheap and cheerful slice of contemporary Who. As long as you don’t pick this one up expecting to hear the ground break figuratively as well as literally, I don’t think that you’ll be disappointed. As the Doctor would say, “it ain’t all that and a packet of Ready Salted,” but it is, at least, a packet of Ready Salted.
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.
This audio book’s blurb offers no guidance as to its placement. However, its tone suggests that it is set fairly early in Amy’s first season, indicating a placement between the episodes Victory of the Daleks and The Time of Angels (the season’s tight continuity obviates any other “early” placement).
As it was released several months after the audio book The Runaway Train and the first batch of Series 5 novels, within this gap we have placed it after them all, save for The Forgotten Army, which appears to be set directly prior to The Time of Angels.
As an aside, whilst the revived television series has yet to expressly limit the number of regenerations that a Time Lord has, here the Doctors quips “you’re only young twelve times”, suggesting that “thirteen lives” rule established in The Deadly Assassin still holds true.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.