Kazakhstan, 1963 – and the Doctor and Peri find themselves at the scene of a double murder. Stopping only to assume the identities of the cadavres they’ve just stumbled across, they soon find themselves picked up and taken to the control centre of the Vostok 7 moon shot. But as the tiny capsule disappears behind the moon, contact is lost…
Who, especialliy Big Finish’s Who, famously has the legs it has because it can support such a wide range of stories: from the camp farce of?The One Doctor through the science fantasy of?Chimes of Midnight to the (relatively) hard sci-fi of, say,?Wirrn Isle. However, largely these can be said to fit into two camps: those stories that are largely realistic, even if dealing with sci-fi tropes; and those that are frankly bonkers.
The Space Race, on the face of it, sits squarely in the first camp. It is set at a known place and time, with real events and people (okay, maybe just potentially real people – people who could have existed, rather than did exist). And from the outset, it feels more like a pure historical than anything else.
But doubt sets in with a single line: “What is ‘red’?” I won’t tell you who asks that question, but know this: while things are already turning to mystery, it is at that line that one starts to wonder what is actually going on. And it’s only a few minutes later that one knows: the narrative has turned from pure historical to unadulterated, glorious bonkersness!
Jonathan Morris’s script is an incredible beast. It absolutely evokes the atmosphere of a pure historical, while still beautifully bringing in concepts that, in all honesty, could not exist in a hard, ‘realistic’ sci-fi story set outside the Whoniverse. The ideas are too mad to be anything other than camp, dark comedy – and yet here they exist side-by-side with the reality of the 1960s space race, and feel right at home with it. As said, that’s partly down to the Who franchise, which is almost unique in being able to support such things; but to a much greater extent it’s down to Morris’s very able writing – and no doubt the blood, sweat and tears that he put into making it work. The result is a story that is part historical, part espionage thriller, part romance and part horror – and really rather squeam-inducing, if that’s a word, horror at that. And all Who.
Performances almost needn’t be touched on, with Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor and Nicola Bryant’s Peri played with the now-expected panache. Likewise the supporting cast are believable throughout (no mean feat, considering where the story goes). And as ever, sound design is exemplary, taking the listener exactly to the story’s location. This is where audio plays win over audio books for me: if a picture is worth a thousand words, then the mental pictures evoked by good sound design are worth a thousand subliminal whispers, hardly heard but incredibly effective. (Okay, that’s a rather laboured metaphor – but I’m sticking with it.)
All in all I can’t recommend this one enough. Without wanting to over-enthuse, where other Who stories may use one of any number of radically different styles and still feel part of the canon, The Space Race somehow manages to use, well, nearly all of them. All of Whoman life is hear, as I seem to remember someone once said. Well, nearly.
The Space Race is available from BigFinish.com.