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Reviews for Doctor Who Unbound: A Storm of Angels

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By:Joe Ford, Eastbourne
Date:Sunday 30 January 2005
Rating:   10

Storm of Angels by Joe Ford

“When you’re ankle deep in tears and blood you can’t let people suffer because it’s history!” Susan to Susan.

Breathtaking…this is what Doctor Who on audio is all about. Forget overblown tripe like The Next Life this is the level of quality every Big Finish release should be! And no hint of the name Gary Russell on any of it, I don’t know about you but I am starting to see a disturbing pattern emerging (cough, cough this is the best release since …the Pirates).

I want to start by discussing the postproduction work, which is absolutely stunning and makes this one of the most distinctive Big Finish releases yet. I have absolutely no idea who or what ERS is (they are credited for the music and post production) but this is a superb achievement, one that takes you from the humdrum of everyday life (I spent a week listening to this on the interminable walk to work and back) to a magical, dazzling world of magic, drama and wonder.

The sound effects were far more dramatic than usual from the powerful shots echoing from the canons of The Hind, the instant transportation of the time rings and the sharp, tingling force of the sentient crystals. The ideas give the story its heart but John Ainsworth’s unique interpretation of the story is what kept me listening so avidly, hanging on every scene. The music was a delight too and did a marvellous job of capturing the poetic, supernatural atmosphere of the story. Early episodes are awash with an epic score to accompany the timeless travel through space and as events move onto Earth the music takes on a more cultural style, a pleasing mix of Chinese and Indian fashions.

Marc Platt has now won me over completely and I would now suggest he is far more suited to writing for audio than novels and television. His ideas always feel a bit heavy for television and novels afford him too much chance to explore and take ideas too far beyond their potential and exhausting their power. Audio traps Platt in a comfortable middle zone, where he has to keep the plot moving to keep his audience interested but also affords the opportunity to capture his ideas raw without the disappointment of visuals to drag them down. His dialogue is absolutely beautiful; you cannot listen to one track on this CD without being blown away by the strength of his language.

Platt had already won over the audience with his touching re-interpretation of the first Doctor in Auld Mortality, one who was trapped on Gallifrey and lost in his fictional adventures. That play ended with the glorious re-establishment of the Doctor out in the universe with his granddaughter by his side. Storm of Angels continues their adventures some time later with the Time Lords on their tail and Susan growing sicker by the minute. To make it matters worse it would appear that the Doctor is starting to have a profound impact on timelines. Things aren’t quite as he remembers…surely humans weren’t exploring the stars in the 1500’s?

What a fabulous idea to hook a story on especially considering Hartnell’s Doctors reaction to Barbara attempting to change history in The Aztecs. Storm of Angels cheekily name checks that story (and the Doctor still can’t get the High Priests name right!) but in this reality the forgetful Doctor warns the Aztecs of their impending fate. He also takes Leonardo Da Vinci for a trip to the stars to reward his imagination. But what influence can one harmless old man really have on the timelines…Storm of Angels takes the brave outlook of having the Doctor being one of the greatest threats to Earth’s (and the rest of the universes) history. A prod here, a poke there and suddenly Leonardo is inventing spacecraft and Elisabeth is ruling England in a giant floating palace above the Earth.

These ideas have all been flirted with before (Inferno for example) but Storm of Angels takes the braver route by having this as the REAL timeline, buggered beyond recognition and the playing field of the story. I loved how little we are reminded that this is all wrong and that a secondary story is allowed to play out so we can except this reality with no fuss. Francis Drake flying around the galaxy in his ship The Hind collecting tribute for Gloriana, the Queen of England who is in desperate need of funds thanks to the space programme. There are some absurd details scattered about the story, genuine historical details that are given a little tweaking.

What surprises even more is just how traditional this story really is when you take away the trappings of the Unbound Doctor and Susan and the screwed up timelines. This is actually a very simple tale of alien conquest, jewel like creatures inhabiting human bodies to get their mother stone to Earth and thereby attracting their home ground (an asteroid belt) to attack and conquer. What makes this superior to a depressing yawnathon invasion like The Apocalypse Element (the Daleks attempting to invade Gallifrey!) is the confidence of the writing and the commitment of the actors involved. There is grace and beauty to the writing that makes this far more memorable than your standard invasion.

Some of the ‘visuals’ could only have come from Platt’s mind…a storm of angels flocking past the ship and pushing it back to Earth, crystals growing through the eyes and skin of people, Gloriana descending on his subjects in a floating throne, the asteroids chasing the ship as it departs from the Earth…the story shoots from one distinctive image to another (which is doubly impressive considering there are no images to see!).

Had Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke turned up earlier this could have been how the Hartnell era turned out with the Doctor and Susan constantly running from the Time Lords, threats through the audio systems forcing them to make one shock materialisation after another. The gorgeous Ian Hallad makes an impressive lead as their devious pursuer Zeuro; one who will stop at nothing to halt the old mans pollution of the timeline. There are several exception scenes between the two Time Lords, discussing the implications of the Doctor’s interference where the Doctor’s hatred of the Time Lord’s impotence and their frustration at his meddling shines through. In a cruel twist of fate Zeuro takes a far bigger role in the action than he desired and is stripped of his identity and life as the alien jewels infect his body and use him as their envoy. This faltering, snarling amalgamation of Time Lord and alien intelligence is truly frightening and provides the story with a fantastic cliff-hanger to episode two. His relationship with the Queen is sweet and disturbing and their scenes together dancing sent chills down my spine.

Geoffrey Bayldon makes a much stronger impact here, his throaty voice threatening to undermine the Doctor’s authority but Bayldon delivers his lines with a forcefulness that would have knocked Hartnell for six. It is wonderful how he gleefully defends his travels and interference and the script takes the time to sum up his morals and feelings on a very profound level. Bayldon’s chemistry with Carole Ann Ford is extraordinary and they make a very believable team both as family and fellow explorers. His quiet pleading at her bedside when she falls exhausted with another bout of sickness captures his love for his granddaughter with genuine sentiment and I found this tears on the cheeks stuff.

The final twist that Susan is not in fact real but a fake the Doctor knocked up in the possibility generator comes right out of the blue and makes perfect sense of the Sliding Doors-esque scene at the end of Auld Mortality where Susan both accepts and declines the Doctor’s invitation of a jaunt around the universe. This leads to further introspection, this time of Susan who has the obligatory conversation with her other self and comes to realise that resting on her laurels and accepting the ideals of the Time Lords is not so easy when people are dying all around you. Sometimes you have to get involved in one of the best scenes of the play the real Susan makes a choice that sees her exiled from Gallifrey, forcing Gloriana to take action. In a twist that is bound to leave a lump in your throat the two Susan’s give the Doctor a gift that he can never admit to knowing about.

I have lavished plenty of praise on Storm of Angels but it deserves it. A beautiful, triumphant story that knocks pretty much every one of the regular Doctor Who releases into the second league. Awesome stuff and not just recommended but essential listening.

Good, but not Perfect

By:Doug, Pocono Summit, PA, USA
Date:Wednesday 4 April 2007
Rating:   7

I can see how listeners could think very highly of this production, but I personally didn't find A Storm of Angels to be quite so outstanding as most others have rated it.

The "Unbound" concept is fantastic, and allows for a great deal of additional creativity with some fresh and interesting takes on the older ideas, and allows the use of fresh and talented actors in the key roles. In addition, the sound design here was superb - particularly the sounds of the gems and gem creatures, and also the time ring activation sound. The actors' fine perfomances were recorded and mixed quite clearly as well. All of this lends the production a very professional feel.

However, I did not feel that the casting of Ian Hallard as Zeuro was a good choice. The actor, and by extension the character, was notably weak, and this became increasingly problematic as the story's progression turned him into the envoy of the crystalline beings. I also have mixed feelings about Geoffrey Bayldon as the Doctor. Though delivers an excellent alternate First Doctor, he also tends to sound, frankly, as if he could keel over at any moment.

As to the story itself, there's no doubt that this is a product of Marc Platt's mind. That can be good or bad, and in this case, I'm unsure about the overall product. I've been a big fan of some of Platt's work - probably much of it - and it can be really weird (like titles such as Timewyrm: Revelation, Time's Crucible, and Lungbarrow). As with some of Platt's other works, at the end of A Storm of Angels, I was left sort of wondering what just happened - does this story feature not only an alternate Doctor but now also an accepted alternate Earth timeline? Did the Doctor really alter Earth's history so wildly? Did this really take place in an altered "original" universe or in a parallel universe? Why were the asteroids from the asteroid belt sentient? Why and how did they give the appearance of angels? Where did the shewstone come from? (Btw, I must say that the shewstone was superbly voiced by Ian Brooker, who sounded quite a bit like Peter Pratt's Master from The Deadly Assassin.) In addition to these gripes, the story was just too long. It definitely dragged during the second CD, and it felt like there was a lot of wasted time when nothing significant was added to the storyline.

But these are not serious problems. Overall, A Storm of Angels is definitely an entertaining production that stretches the mind somewhat more than most of the standard stories that feature the established Doctors.

Superb Stuff

By:Edmund, London
Date:Wednesday 6 February 2008
Rating:   9

Have to say this is the first of the unbound audios I've listened to and I was blown away, this is incredible stuff.
It really makes you long for Geoffrey Bayldon to do more, as he takes Hartnell's character and runs with it, not too much to ruin the memory, not so little it becomes impersonation.
The production is superb, the plot gripping, the story involved...marks merely removed from a perfect for the slightly convoluted 1st half of the 3rd episode. but this is fantastic stuff.

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