The Doctor, Ace and Bernice arrive at a hotel in Kent which is playing host to three simultaneous conventions: one for a cross-stitch club, another for a con artist holding a seance, and the third for the demonstration of a physics experiment that could lead to time travel. But the seance actually does make contact with something otherworldly – an alien group consciousness hell-bent on emerging into Earth’s dimension to feed upon the despair and guilt of the human race. The time travel experiments provide a convenient interdimensional conduit through which the Scourge travel. The Doctor, of course, has orchestrated all of this very carefully…but this time, whether he’s planned it or not, whether he wants it or not, the Scourge have him, and can consume his mind on their whim. With the Doctor out of the way, only Ace and Benny stand in the way of the Scourge…but they, like everyone else on the doomed Earth, have their own personal demons which will render them helpless to the power of the Scourge.
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Lisa Bowerman (Bernice), Michael Piccarilli (Doctor Michael Pembroke), Holly King (Annie Carpenter), Nigel Fairs (Gary Williams), Lennox Greaves (Michael Hughes), Caroline Burns-Cook (Mary Hughes), Peter Trapani (Scourge Leader)
Timeline: between the New Adventures novels “The All-Consuming Fire” and “Blood Harvest”
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Wow! So that’s what a New Adventure would sound like. Paul Cornell, my favorite NA author (and creator of one Professor Bernice Summerfield), hits all the pre-requisite NA marks with Scourge: the Doctor has something up his sleeve which doesn’t quite go right; the Doctor puts Ace and Benny – and this time, the whole human race – in dire jeopardy as a result; and the villains of the piece are far more horrible than anything that the BBC could ever have put on television. There’s also a visit to the landscape of the Doctor’s subconscious mind, which the Scourge have infested. Not that I don’t like the story, but Cornell took many of the most familiar elements from about a dozen NAs and combined them into one story.
Scourge actually works despite this, and it’s most effective. I must admit to being impressed with Lisa Bowerman’s portrayal of Benny. I haven’t splurged on any of Benny’s solo audio adventures, also produced by Big Finish, because the early Doctor Who audios included a promo track for the Benny audios which simply didn’t entice me. Bowerman manages to play Benny in such a way that one believes that she has been traveling in the TARDIS for quite some time, she knows the Doctor, she knows Ace, and she would in fact be willing to risk her life for either of them. My hat’s off to Ms. Bowerman – a Benny-and-post-“Deceit”-era-Ace NA audio drama wouldn’t have worked had she not sounded like an old hand aboard the TARDIS. I may yet have to spring for a Benny audio someday.
Ace, as mentioned above, is not the Ace of the TV series, but the Ace who has suffered through the torturous events of “Love And War” (also written by Cornell; incidentally, also the book which introduced Benny), and the battle-hardened Ace who returns in “Deceit” a few books later, only to regain some respect for herself and for life in general after joining up with the Doctor and Bernice again. Sophie Aldred handles the adjustment well: it’s still Ace, but with a harder edge and enough gung-ho to flatten a small city.
Sylvester McCoy himself adjusts to this new crew of his quite well, as well as any number of acting challenges – agony, lots of overdubs to accomplish the internal dialogues going on in his mind, and so on. Even with no accompanying visuals, McCoy manages to make the end of part two absolutely terrifying.
The other actors are certainly up to the par of the material, and Cornell gives them lovely dialogue, loaded with puns and tongue-in-cheek humor. Even as the action piles on thick, there are a lot of laughs, something which is a trademark of Cornell’s novels.
Another signature of Cornell’s is his tendency to drive home the fact that life’s little beauties and triumphs are what make us human and will allow us to overcome any threat. Cornell has a magical way of repeatedly using this theme in his prose, making it seem new every time, but in a dramatized form it almost seems silly. One would really have to know how Paul Cornell tells a story to buy it; the reactions of fans who didn’t read his NAs will probably be the most telling barometer of this.
The Shadow Of The Scourge is an exciting taste of what Doctor Who might have been like in the 90s, had the show somehow existed in an alternate universe in which the people who wrote the novels were in a position to sell scripts to the BBC for a show still in production. However, as much as I liked it, it really did smack of a representative cross-section of the NAs in general, and I’m not sure that another NA-era Audio Adventure is warranted… unless, of course, it’s something terribly innovative.