13 April 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - Human Resources (Part One)


Finally listening to Human Resources is almost as momentous for me as Blood of the Daleks. It's the story that the whole first year of audio adventures had been building to, and potentially the culmination of Lucie Miller's time with the Doctor. It's impossible to come to this story now without a certain degree of foreknowledge - I knew the Cybermen were in it, I knew that Lucie would find herself at the job she was supposed to take and the office would turn out to be some kind of walking robot, and obviously I knew that there were another three series of stories with her to come. 

I'm happy to report that this first part of Human Resources is excellent, and although it would appear to largely be setting up the concluding half, there is an awful lot going on. If you were intrigued by the hints dropped across the season so far, that's nothing compared to what Eddie Robson has in store here. We learn far more about the Headhunter who, after spending a long time chasing her, finally caught up with Lucie in No More Lies, and her employer Mr Hulbert. Hulbert is quite a mysterious character, and Roy Marsden gets the balance exactly right. I did think his continual references to being tied up were going to be literal, referring to him being a captive of the Cybermen, but actually his conversation with the Doctor, who pretends to be a potential client, is much more interesting.

While we're on the subject, this is a very strong story for the Eighth Doctor. Here and in Phobos, Robson has demonstrated a fresh take on this incarnation, and here Paul McGann really seems to relish this intelligent and witty script. This is an extremely agreeable take on the character, and it's not hard to see why he is many fans' (including our own Matt Michael's) favourite when delivered with material as strong as this. The Doctor gets to be indignant, inquisitive and - most of all - charming. His relationship with Lucie is at its strongest here too, with the pair completely trusting each other now, and it's easy to see how much they care about each other.

Robson also populates his engaging storyline with an abundance of great supporting characters. Jerry, Lucie's manager, is the kind of character I'd expect to crop up in James Goss' excellent Haterz; he's sleazy and overbearing and actually in a very interesting position within the narrative. I'm sure we'll hear more from him in the next instalment, and I look forward to seeing how he deals with the reality of the situation, as I'm sure he will have to at some point. Louise Fullerton is extremely well-suited to the part of Karen, Lucie's colleague and the closest thing she makes to a friend in this. They are dismissed together, and begin on a new journey in the latter part of the episode. I'm sure there's more to Karen than it would first appear, such is the build-up Robson and director Nicholas Briggs seem - at least to me - to give her.

It almost goes without saying at this point, but the production values on this story are extremely high. It's paced very tidily - although it does feel like one of the longer stories of the series, but not at all in a bad way - and the soundtrack adds real atmosphere. Gareth Jenkins has done a brilliant job across all seven episodes and, when asked to recreate several completely different environments for this story, easily lives up to expectations. This is far more than an audiobook or dramatic reading, and I think if customers knew the kind of thing Big Finish did there would be a lot more interest. This is a perfect showcase of what Big Finish can achieve, both creatively and from a technical point of view.

This is undeniably a great story, but I think it does more to whet my appetite for the series' finale than it answers questions posed by earlier episodes. This probably isn't the ideal place for someone to join this series whilst all the preceding stories are available but I don't think anyone who did make this their first episode would have too much difficulty following what's going on, as it's intentionally confused from our protagonists' perspective. Robson is quickly emerging as one of my favourite Big Finish writers; between this and Fanfare for the Common Men, he has penned two of their very best stories, and it inspires confidence in me for the concluding episode.

In short, this is an extremely enticing episode, but it's hard to analyse too much without hearing the second half of this story. It looks set to be a massive finale and if anything I'm even more excited about this than I was for Blood of the Daleks.

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