29 July 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels is the first story in a new audio series of stories pitting twentieth-century incarnations of the Doctor against foes first seen on television in the twenty-first. Phil Mulryne's first Fifth Doctor tale sees the Time Lord take on Steven Moffat's most famous creations the Weeping Angels in sixteenth century Rome.

Accompanying Peter Davison across this 55-minute adventure are Sacha Dhawan and Diane Morgan as two newly-weds. Coupled with Matthew Kelly, who stars as Michelangelo, it's an impressive cast Barnaby Edwards has lined up for this story. Gabby and Joel (Morgan and Dhawan) sneak into a restricted area of a museum after hours in 2015 and are soon transported back to 1511 by the touch of an Angel. It's a neat in-built narrative device to get our 'audience identification figures' into the main thrust of the story, and Mulryne does his best to exploit all the dramatic and emotional implications of that.

This really does feel like a modern episode, with a more rapid pace than Davison's usual 100-minute stories, Howard Carter's authentic music - which echo Murray Gold's love of vocalists in places - and in being a 'celebrity historical', something that has become popular, and almost a series mainstay over the last decade or so, but was a comparative rarity between 1963 and 1989. Davison seems more fired up than normal, which often seems to happen when cut loose from his regular gaggle of companions, but also appears very world-weary throughout this story. It's made clear this isn't his first encounter with the Angels, so once he knows Joel and Gabby's fates are sealed, perhaps it's justified that he feels helpless.

Phil Mulryne is quickly racing through the Doctors at Big Finish, having already written for Eccleston and Hurt's incarnations, with another Davison and his first Tom Baker script on the way next year. He's clearly put a lot of thought into how to approach a story for the Weeping Angels. Unlike a lot of people, it never really bothered me that they would be appearing on audio, and Mulryne keeps 'Did it just move?'-style dialogue to a minimum, perhaps even less than a television episode. He addresses a lot of the questions surrounding the story's set up, and uses devices within it to demonstrate the potential implications. The resolution is similar to what you might expect, but is nicely set up. Given it has been established there is only one way of stopping the Angels (ie looking at them) it's hard to find many variations on that theme - indeed, neither Moffat nor Jonny Morris nor Mulryne have managed to come up with a substantially different resolution yet.

This is a very entertaining story that's extremely well-produced. The music and sound design really add another dimension, rather than just punctuating dialogue. Diane Morgan and Sacha Dhawan - known best as Philomena Cunk and Waris Hussein to this reviewer - are great, and get a good portion of the action each. I don't quite understand the end of their story, but doubtless Mulryne was trying to show that the Angels' actions really do have consequences. Peter Davison really seems to be enjoying this opportunity to star in a different style of story, and Barnaby Edwards gets the best from each of his performers. This isn't the definitive Angels story - for me that's Touched by an Angel - but Mulryne devises an inventive setting for the Angels to thrive in.

Economic and enjoyable, Fallen Angels is a strong start for this new series.

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