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Whispers of Terror

Review by Peter Adamson

“Now I've heard everything...”

If only 1985 had been as polished as this. Falling neatly into place among the excesses of Season 22, Whispers of Terror, starring the sixth Doctor and Peri is an engaging story that is part whodunnit, part ‘monster in the dark’ thriller. More specifically, it's a ghost story set within the trappings of pure (pulp) science fiction.

The audio is superb, with Colin Baker roundly sounding out his Doctor as a vocal presence above and beyond his visual aspect - his Doctor, of the three in the Big Finish stable, is surely the most full and rich in voice. Nicola Bryant takes a few minutes to reassume the role of Peri, at first her voice betrays an inevitable deepening by age - a matter that affects all returning players including guest actor Peter Miles, who himself portrays the venerable Curator Gantman. The greatest revelation however is the soundtrack. Season 22 will never be remembered for its lush, evocative incidental scores, but in Whispers the occasional nods to such literal ‘clangers’ as the Attack of the Cybermen soundtrack work well, given more subtlety and combining this with almost ethereal reverberated chord washes.

The plot is sound (sorry) as well. In a way it's depressing to note (ouch!) that Whispers, with its single, internal location and invisible monster, could so easily have been realised on television during any era of the series. Instead, on audio we're treated to more specific detail. For example, a significant character is blind throughout the story, but this is never explicitly stated - just implied in conversation. This being established, the discovery that character makes during episode four is all the more striking because up to that point the listener has been experiencing the story and its environment just as his character has. Justin Richards plays on the audio medium a great deal within the story even beyond its plot. In TSV 38 David Lawrence reviewed Richards' Theatre of War complaining that not only had someone written the story he'd wanted to write, but they'd done it better - I can sympathise! There is a great deal of tongue in cheek and a number of puns on the medium also - such as the Doctor chastising another character for inserting fake applause on a recorded oratory.

If fault could be found with Whispers it's perhaps that it doesn't fall far from the season it's been designed to slot into. This is intentional of course, so it is a minor quibble, although the scenarios of the Doctor and Peri being virtually arrested for murder upon their arrival and Peri later becoming separated from her companion only to wander into danger is perhaps a little too mechanical. At least it's comforting to hear Richard's work fitting into the wider series rather than trying to dramatically reinvent it and failing. Of the supporting cast, early on some characters tend to blend together, with the exception of Peter Miles' Gantman and Lisa ‘Bernice Summerfield’ Bowerman as Ruth Purnell. In fact, it's not until Bowerman's character arrives that the other characters seem to find their places. This is the first time I've heard this actor at length, having only heard snippets of Big Finish's other series. Here she is a quite different quantity, and has taken on an altogether different persona with relative ease.

Much credit is due to Gary Russell's direction, although quite early on telltale signs of ‘delivery to mic’ can be heard. This very minor observation aside, Whispers is a story I'll be quite happy to return to as there are a few good set pieces contained (including one very nasty and imaginative torture sequence - and it's not your typical ‘Sawardian’ nasty either!). A good release - very well accomplished, lovingly crafted and solidly acted with real atmosphere courtesy of some innovative sound effects. The way ahead looks promising both for the Big Finish audios and the newly revived Colin Baker era. Cue applause.

This item appeared in TSV 59 (January 2000).