The Doctor follows a psychic attack on the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits to a living city called the Needle, but the moment that he and Melanie step out of the TARDIS, they realize that their problems are just beginning – they stumble onto the scene of a grisly murder. The two time travelers are separated, Melanie barely surviving being ejected from the city’s walls, and the Doctor is brought before Chief Blue and the Needle’s central computer, White Noise. White Noise’s function involves the careful control of both the Needle and its residents, via chips implanted in their brains which allow the computer to prevent violent impulses from becoming violent actions. Rescued by a resident of the undercity beneath the Needle – people whose chips have been deactivated and whose crave the exciting sensation of violence with little thought given to its consequences – Melanie finds that she’s quite a sensation, as her rescuers believe she’s capable of anything, even extreme acts of violence…and her insistence that she isn’t likely to do any such thing seems to fall on deaf ears. White Noise is rapidly losing control of the Needle’s even more docile populace, with murders continuing to occur…only now, via his chip implant, the Doctor can see, hear and feel the thoughts and actions of the killers as they go into “red condition.” But with White Noise attempting to control him, is the Doctor capable of fighting whatever evil is stalking the city at random?
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Denise Hoey (Nuane), Sean Oliver (Chief Blue), Peter Rae (Draun), Kellie Ryan (Celia FortunatÃ©), Sandi Toksvig (Vi Yulquen), John Stahl (Whitenoise), Steven Wickham (Uviol)
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Red is one of those audio plays that reminds me of why I listen to the Big Finish CDs – it’s densely plotted, placed in an intriguing setting populated with interesting characters, and damned if it doesn’t have some downright unnerving concepts. The cliffhanger at the end of part two is one of the most disturbing things that Big Finish has yet coaxed out of actors in a recording studio, right up there with The Shadow Of The Scourge or any of the great Big Finish cliffhangers.
Another asset at Red‘s disposal is Bonnie Langford’s Melanie. This is a seventh Doctor story that wouldn’t have worked as well with Ace, simply because Ace does have a violent streak. Mel practically oozes sunshine and goodness, and while that worked against her televised adventures. Big Finish has made it a habit of using that character and that trait very well indeed. With even the Doctor succumbing to some of the story’s violence, Mel stands out as just about the lone voice of reason in the wilderness here, and Bonnie Langford does a great job with her scenes. Unlike Mel’s brief tenure on TV, this story makes her seem like a real person. I’m always up for more Mel a la Big Finish.
There are lots of interesting concepts at the heart of Red – censorship by the state vs. relying on free will tempered by self control, the nature of real violence and fantasy violence, whether one causes the other, and so on. Red, intelligently, does not presume to try to give you the answers to these things on a platter. You can be sure that the Doctor will always come down on the side of free will, but numerous times we’re left to wonder if that’s necessarily the best way for things to play out. And even the Doctor’s own tendency to resort to violence, sometimes on a massive scale, is called into question, making one wonder if he needs White Noise’s help more than anyone else in the city (and keep in mind, this is the seventh Doctor before he starts going in for wiping out the Daleks and Cybermen en masse). Red doesn’t profess to have the answers (i.e. the writer’s opinion) ready to heat and eat by the end of part four, but it certainly makes you think about it.
And surely that’s the stuff that great Doctor Who stories are made of.