Blurb: High atop Mount McKerry sits the observatory. For years now it’s been watching the skies. Now something’s watching back. Something dark and huge that blots out the stars. Something with giant wings. Something that kills.
When the TARDIS is struck mid-flight, the Doctor and Leela crash-land on the mountain to find they are not the only aliens to be visiting. Beings of nothing infest the complex, staff members are dead or mad. As the survivors argue amongst themselves and attempt to take advantage of the situation, a creature vast and terrible is coming ever closer.
A creature called… Stormcrow.
Review: The Fourth Doctor Adventures have made a conscious decision to set the stories within a particular segment of the Doctor’s history. For the stories with Leela that is between seasons 14 and 15. Season 14 is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the classic series. Tom Baker was at the height of his powers as the Doctor. Robert Holmes was script editor, cranking out stories inspired by gothic horror, and Philip Hinchcliffe was producer. Hinchcliffe was young for a producer and really wanted to push boundaries and make an impact. He allowed Holmes far more free reign in expressing those dark concepts in Doctor Who, a series that was vestigially still considered a “children’s programme”, despite the controversy. Yet, many of the first season of Fourth Doctor adventures, although set in this time period, failed to have that sense of risk. Night of the Stormcrow changes all of that.
Night of the Stormcrow follows a formula very familiar to Doctor Who fans but it’s a formula that worked often in the classic series because it’s one that that allows a lot of variation. Bad stuff goes wrong in a secluded outpost. The Doctor and his companion arrive just after it’s finished. There’s suspicion from the personnel. They then find out that they’re cut off. Further bad things happen and some people start begrudgingly trusting the Doctor as he tries to help while others become more convinced that he’s guilty. Night of the Stormcrow doesn’t deviate from that formula but it works exceedingly well and since it doesn’t extend any links to other stories it is just as as appropriate for new listeners as well as those familiar with the classic series or Big Finish’s earlier Fourth Doctor stories.
Writer Marc Platt does a fantastic job of creating a horror story around his own fears. In interviews he’s mentioned that he often wakes up at 3AM convinced that something terrible is going to happen. In writing this story he gave those fears voice. He’s crafted a very tense and dangerous situation with tons of atmosphere. He’s also one of the few writers who has used the two-part format well. Most of the Fourth Doctor adventures have felt as if they barely started before they ended. Here, Platt tells a story that fits into the length of two episodes perfectly. The characters are given sufficient development and the plot is developed sufficiently in that time. It is either a sign that Big Finish has figured out how to tell these shorter stories or that Platt himself has. Either way, it’s literally a nice change of pace and the story is allowed to develop naturally. The Stormcrow is never sufficiently explained but this appears to have been an intentional move on Platt’s part to leave it as a mysterious force and something only semi-understood. This may satisfy some but not others, but it’s a fairly small thing and only slightly mars an otherwise excellent story.
Platt develops the characters sufficiently in the story, which is only complimented by the actors themselves. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are both on the top of their game here. There are some wonderful scenes that feel like Tom never stopped playing the Doctor. He goes from being silly to gravely serious to back again at the drop of a hat. The scene where he makes everyone pancakes is such a mundane act in the middle of such terror that it seems like the kind of thing that Tom’s Doctor would do despite him never having done it in an episode before. I also love Leela’s part in this story. She overcomes her fear by knowing that she’s a hunter and that she will hunt the thing that makes her afraid. She’s also the one that brings the Doctor back from the brink. Her respect for him and her certainty that he will always do the right thing in the end is what saves him and it’s both a touching scene, a fitting development in the Doctor/Leela relationship, and wonderfully performed by both Tom and Louise. Ann Bell is the guest star who steals the show as Professor Gesima Cazalet. Her character is able to go from eager scientist to kindly grandmother to steely determination. It’s an interesting arc for the character but one whose seeds are sown at the beginning of the story and leads to a satisfying conclusion. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Chase Masterson also appears in this story as Peggy Brooks. Masterson proves to be a competent voice actress but is nothing exceptional. She may have been hindered by the fact that Peggy gets far less development than Gesima even though there’s also a surprising twist towards the end with her character. Rounding out the cast are Jonathan Forbes and Mandi Symonds who play Trevor and Erica respectively. Erica spends most of the story in a coma but Forbes plays Trevor as a man trying to come to grips with his inner fear. His arc also pays off in a satisfying end to the story as Platt has all of the characters play off against each other as the mystery of what the Stormcrow wants is finally resolved.
Recommendation: Night of the Stormcrow is a really great story that hearkens back to the best of the Tom Baker era while telling a thoroughly original story. Fans of the classic series will feel nostalgia but this is fresh and new enough to interest new listeners as well. I definitely recommend listening to it.
Big Finish Productions
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Produced by David Richardson
Written by Marc Platt
Runtime Approx 60 min.