So, yeah, this isn’t Paul McGann’s debut story, that’s obviously the TV Movie, but as that was already covered in the Regeneration marathon I thought I’d follow the other pattern of these debut stories and cover Paul McGann’s first full story as The Doctor, which release-wise is Storm Warning. It also neatly crosses over with the “Audio / Comic Companion Debut Story” marathon I’ve been doing on and off (though not quite in the right order) as it features the debut of Charley, one of the more memorable and iconic Eighth Doctor companions. So… let’s get to it!
October, 1930. His Majesty’s Airship, the R101, sets off on her maiden voyage to the farthest-flung reaches of the British Empire, carrying the brightest lights of the Imperial fleet. Carrying the hopes and dreams of a breathless nation.
Not to mention a ruthless spy with a top-secret mission, a mysterious passenger who appears nowhere on the crew list, a would-be adventuress destined for the Singapore Hilton… and a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.
There’s a storm coming. There’s something unspeakable, something with wings, crawling across the stern. Thousands of feet high in the blackening sky, the crew of the R101 brace themselves. When the storm breaks, their lives won’t be all that’s at stake…
The future of the galaxy will be hanging by a thread.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
The Doctor (Paul McGann) – The Doctor is still full of youthful excitement, which is why it’s a shame he’s ended up on board the ill-fated R101 Airship, a ship he knows that no-one survives its crash…
Charley Pollard (India Fisher) – Charley has smuggled herself on board the R101 as a bit of fun, and to eventually meet a friend in Singapore. Sadly this thrilling jaunt will be far more thrilling than she bargained for…
Lord Tamworth (Gareth Thomas) – Lord Tamworth is the leader onboard the R101, and one of the few people to know the true reason for the ships journey: to meet up with a Triskele mothership and return its wounded…
Colonel Rathbone (Barnaby Edwards) – Rathbone fought in a lot of campaigns for Britain, and it has lead to him developing a very nationalistic personality, so if he were to ever discover a literal alien onboard the R101, things may get more complicated…
The Triskele (Various) – The Triskele are a complicated race, at one point they split themselves in two large groups: the Engineers (rational, logical) and the Uncreators (impulsive, violent), with a single member of their race being chosen as the “Lawgiver”, whose job it is to mediate between the two and find the most logical outcome. Sadly for them, they’ve encountered the human race, who are often impulsive and violent with few Lawgivers around…
Back before they put original companions on the cover, but it’s still a nice design.
Paul McGann slips back into the role of the Doctor four years on with little effort, instantly being fun, excitable and heroic (by the way, I’m aware he recorded “The Stones of Venice” first, but… shhh.) and Charley debuts as she goes on, also very fun, blunt and sometimes sarcastic, which are good qualities when you’re a companion for The Doctor. Her being from Edwardian times also negates the seeming need for writers to make modern technology or pop culture references when they have a more modern companions. All in all it doesn’t take long for the two of them to play off each other really well, you feel they’re a proper Doctor-companion couple by the final scenes. Speaking of, The Doctor’s realisation that he shouldn’t have saved Charley from the R101 and that she was fated to die in (what is now known as) a fixed point in time is a great cliffhanger, and plays well for the next bunch of Doctor-Charley stories.
As for “Storm Warning” itself, it’s a good story with an interesting historical setting (the R101 crash was an actual event, but not often mentioned. I remember looking it up after having listened to this out of curiosity!) and some decent, if not a somewhat generic, characters. This is still early days of Big Finish, so I’ll forgive the odd extra with a poor performance, but I’m happy to talk about the background music, which is really good, and not to mention the debut of the David Arnold version of the Doctor Who theme, now fully engraved in people’s heads as “the Eighth Doctor theme”.
The Triskele are an interesting race, I like the idea of them splitting themselves into what is essentially a logical mind and gut instinct, with someone to try and mediate the two. I also enjoy the fact this is a rare story of alien invasion where the government doesn’t want to blow the aliens out of the sky, and in fact the R101 was set up to climb up and meet the Triskele mothership to drop off the head Engineer who has previously crashed on Earth. Sadly, and rather predictably, Rathbone, the racist old-fashioned war relic, killed the head Engineer “for Britain” and turned everything into a standard Earthling vs. alien affair for the last part, at least before R101 mission leader Lord Tamworth becomes their new “Lawgiver”.
I also have to mention the scene where The Doctor figures out that the Triskele Uncreators aren’t used to things more intimidating than them so gets everyone to “roar” at them. It’s the kind of fun and silly scene that fits with how the Eighth Doctor is portrayed in the TV Movie, rather than more bitter and sarcastic version we get later (which is understandable given all he goes through in his long incarnation, but still…)
Some characters are that old fashioned upperclass caricatures I hate, especially Rathbone. I wasn’t sorry to hear of his falling to his death in the last moments of part 4. I could also do without the “Vortisaur” that Charley later names Ramsey. I get taking advantage of the “infinite budget” of audio, but it was kind of … too cartoony for me given the sounds it makes. Ironically it’s probably because its audio that’s making me imagine it to be more cartoonish than the writer probably intended! Ah well…
So they’re allowed to put audio exclusive companions in the DWM preview artwork, but not the CD cover? Oh well!
The Doctor makes his first of many mentions of hanging out with Mary Shelley, which we eventually “see” in the audio story “Mary’s Story”.
The Doctor compares the R101 to the real RMS Lusitania, as well as the Sandminer Storm Mine 4 and the Hyperion III, all of which he was on board of in Audio “The Sirens of Time”, TV story “Robots of Death” and TV tale “Terror of the Vervoids”, as his Fifth, Fourth and Sixth selves respectively.
Ramsey the Vortisaur will leave in “Minuet in Hell”, where as Charley being a time apparition won’t be sorted out until “Zagreus”.
Storm Warning is a fun story, with only a few dull character types bogging it down. The Doctor and Charley are instantly a great duo, and the alien race has a lot of uniqueness about it. Add in the historical R101 setting and you have a fun and unique story to kick off Paul McGann’s proper run as The Doctor, a run that’s still going strong today!