When Big Finish announced that they’d secured the rights to produce NuWho content… Who thought they’d actually produce a full-cast audio drama starring the Weeping Angels? Come on! Put your hands right up so I can see them… Anyone? No, of course not, how could the Weeping Angels, silent assassins that only move when they’re not seen, possibly work on a medium where you can’t actually see them? But nobody expects the Angel Inquisition! So when it was revealed that the Fifth Doctor would face them off in 16th Century Florence, we all probably had the exact same question: How on earth are they going to do that?
The story actually starts in 21st Century Florence, 2015 to be precise, when newly-wed honeymooners Joel and Gabby Finch, played by Sacha Dawan (Waris Hussein in An Adventure in Space & Time) and Diane Morgan (Philomena Cunk in Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe) respectively, break into a church searching for a statue of Moses. To their surprise, they find an angel statue instead and fail to escape its clutch after a Priest, menacingly played by Dan Starkey (Strax in Doctor Who), blows out the candles keeping it at bay. Fortunately for them, the Fifth Doctor swiftly finds them in the 16th Century whilst investigating the disappearances of famous artists from time and there’s a certain Michelangelo sculpting an angel out of marble.
Director Barnaby Edwards has assembled many marvellous casts for Big Finish Productions over the years and this is no exception. Matthew Kelly as Michelangelo is the standout performance here; he’s bold, brash and thinks the world of himself, his voice booming around my ears in every scene he enters. I wouldn’t like to be his servant boy Piero, but Joe Jameson is a fine quivering young servant who gets a heroic turn by the end of this tale. As previously mentioned, Dan Starkey makes a rather malevolent priest or two (we might travel in time but all malevolent Florentine priests sound the same here!) whilst Sacha and Diane provide the bulk of the comic relief with Joel taking certain historical moments into his own hands and Gabby pointing out the scientific nonsense which the Doctor spouts out.
Last but my no means least we have Peter Davison as the ever-compassionate Fifth Doctor (yes Barnaby, I know you’re technically on the cast list but you just happened to be there on the day, in a manner of speaking). Peter has done some of his best performances when Barnaby has sat in the director’s chair and this follows suit with a commanding lead performance which guides this colourful cast to overcome the threat of the Weeping Angels whilst hitting all the emotional beats and making some pithy quips along the way. (Doctor: “You can’t have invented the sandwich!” Joel: “Why not?” Doctor: “Because I invented the sandwich!”)
Writer Phil Mulryne successfully brings back the air of mystery present in the Angels’ debut story Blink, written by their creator Steven Moffat, which is no mean feat for a man tasked with writing for arguably the most famous Doctor Who monster of the revived series in a format that intuitively works against him. I confess I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this one after I was somewhat underwhelmed by his entry, A Thing of Guile, in The War Doctor Volume 2 boxset. But here his script shines a lot more with a historical adventure that effortlessly jumps around its non-linear, non-subjective timeline (seriously, there’s quite a bit of going back and forth here yet I wasn’t lost for a second) and makes full use of the setting and characters he’s got to play with as well.
Furthermore, it also does a much better job at communicating the more complex aspects of the Weeping Angels’ abilities and effects on the timeline of events, even so much as clarifying why some of the finer plot points from their previous TV outings actually hold up, but I won’t list them to keep this review free of any spoilers.
However, it is a story that I feel largely plays it safe, straddling somewhere very much between paying homage to Blink and just outright retooling the original story for a different setting. The climax of the story didn’t quite work for me as not only did it seem fairly obvious what was going to happen but it also reminded me why people didn’t think this story would work in the first place.
You see part of Blink’s success is that it’s a TV episode about monsters that only move when they’re seen. The viewer actively participates in the episode through the various perspectives we’re shown and gauges a sense of danger from the position and pose of an Angel on screen. This is why a lot of suspense was lost for me towards the end of the story as I had no precise vision of what was happening before my ears; not even the excellent sound design could overcome such an obstacle inherent in the audio format.
Overall, I think Fallen Angels is a story that has wings but doesn’t soar sky high. It’s probably the best it can be, given its runtime, villain and setting. A fun, fresh outing for the most famous foes of post-2005 Who that’s solid if unspectacular as it struggles against a medium it wasn’t made for. I can’t help but think this would be better were it on my TV screen that blasting out of my headphones (via Big Finish’s new and greatly improved iPhone app – Top job there by the tech team at Big Finish Towers!) but I suppose that says the TV show could learn a trick or two from the talents in Big Finish’s writing team. At least it wasn’t stone dead on arrival… *ba dum tsh*
(You can expect more puns like that in the next three reviews. Sorry.)