The Plot: Roll up! Roll up! To the great Viennese Exposition, where showman Stahlbaum will show you his most wonderful creation, the Silver Turk – a mechanical marvel that will not only play for you the fortepiano, the spinet and the flute, it will play you at the gaming table too! But when the Doctor brings his new travelling companion Mary Shelley to nineteenth-century Vienna, he soon identifies the incredible Turk as one of his deadliest enemies – a part-machine Cyberman. And that’s not even the worst of the horrors at large in the city…
“Travel broadens the mind”
When Big Finish began its licensed series of Doctor Who audio productions in 1999, Paul McGann was the incumbent actor in the role so his releases tended understandably to be privileged and in general were treated a little differently from those featuring the previous faces of the Time Lord. McGann’s status in the Who-universe changed when the show returned to TV in 2005 with a new actor in the role, but his audio releases have continued to be set a little apart from the others. After nearly a decade in the company of India Fisher’s Charley Pollard, Sheridan Smith took over for four series in a distinctive two-part 60-minute format produced for BBC Radio (well, BBC Radio 7 to be exact, as it then was). This was brought to a dramatic and very final conclusion in a two-part story by Nicholas Briggs (reviews to follow) and McGann is now back as part of the regular rota of releases with the other Doctors. Thus The Silver Turk begins a trio of four-part, two-hour adventures that are being released along with the other monthly titles.
“Anachronism walking towards temporal paradox.”
For this return to the main range, the Doctor has been given a brand spanking new rendition of the theme tune that is probably a little bit heavy on electric guitar for some fans but which this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed, sharing much of the swagger of the arrangement for the current TV series. The new companion is actually not so new though … For the concluding story in the anthology release entitled The Company of Friend, the Eighth Doctor was paired with Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein and Julie Cox is back as the celebrated author. That half-hour play concluded with the Doctor and Mary deciding to travel together, though being a typically clever timey-whimey script by Jonathan Morris it turned out that they have already had lots of adventures, but just didn’t know it yet … Marc Platt’s new four-part story continues directly and so it is well worth listening to that story in advance if not essential however. Big Finish are currently offering an excellent deal whereby you can download it from their site for just 99p – you’d be a fool not to, so click here and get it now!
The Doctor and Mary arrive in Vienna to meet his companions Samson and Gemma but it’s supposed to be 1816 – instead it is in 1873, overshooting the intended destination by a mere 60 years (good old TARDIS!) and a series of gruesome murders have taken place with the victims all having their eyes removed. The Doctor is determined to show Mary a good time and maybe fit in a few waltzes here and there – but she increasingly finds her traveling a troubling experience, especially when they go to see the ‘Turk’, an automaton that plays chess and the piano and which turns out to be a damaged Cyberman.
One of the themes carried over from Morris’ original story is the extent to which the Doctor’s intervention had an affect on Shelly’s work as a writer. Marc Platt loves nothing more than an unlikely juxtaposition so here we get a story about automata and simulacra crossed with an early Cyberman invasion plot which also explores our relationship with that which we consider to be inhuman, whether it be a pet, a workhorse or a silver-suited alien life-form masquerading as a toy. Platt, the author of Spare Parts, a really classic Big Finish release (I reviewed it briefly here) on the genesis of the Cybermen, unsurprisingly provides a sympathetic portrait of the early development of the Mondas inhabitants from humans to hybrid robotic creatures, which is nicely dovetailed with the Frankenstein story that Shelly will eventually pen.
The women in the story all seem quite sympathetic to the aliens, which were badly damaged in a crash, while the men generally want to exploit them. Gareth Armstrong makes for a great villain as Dr Johan Drossel, a cruel and megalomanic puppeteer (in drama, aren’t they all?) and there are some wonderfully creepy sound effects as his wooden dolls move around doing his bidding (in a fashion not too dissimilar from Andy Lane’s Jago & Litefoot story, The Mahogany Murderers). Christian Brassington is equally good as the infuriating Alfred Stahlbaum who has fallen under the psychic spell of the Cyberman (I didn’t actually know they could do this …) and doesn’t care how many people get hurt as long as he can retain his show-stopping mechanical attraction.
Although the Doctor doesn’t quite get enough to do here (the emphasis is on Mary after all), this story gets the new trilogy off to a very good start with a strong cast, a robust plot and a throbbing score by the ever-reliable Jamie Robertson to produce an exciting and generally thoughtful release full of Gothic incident (especially in a simultaneously humorous and peculiar scene in which the Doctor and Mary meet their respective wooden doppelgängers) that encouragingly seems to suggest that this trio of stories will continue to explore the impact of such travels on the creative mind of Mary Shelly, which is an interesting wrinkle in the Doctor-companion relationship.