Big Finish Who Review - Sword of Orion review
Released February 2001
Reviewed by Reece Morris Jones
It’s hard to quite ‘get’ the 8th Doctor’s adventures without experiencing quite a few of them for yourself. The TV movie, whilst providing some of the groundwork for Paul McGann’s portrayal, is otherwise a bit of a distraction. The audio series themselves are too, because so many early adventures he had were experimenting, not only with a mostly unexplored incarnation of the Doctor, but the very format of how to present Doctor Who via sound alone.
Throw the fact that this and many of the monthly series were written and produced by people who were essentially fans and nothing more, it’s unsurprising that the early 8th Doctor adventures were a mixed quality. Thankfully, Sword of Orion is on the higher end of this, even if it’s sometimes rigid adherence to the traditional format does have downsides.
Picking up almost right after the events of the first 8th Doctor audio drama, it finds The Doctor and his companion Charlie Pollard, a woman the Doctor rescued even though she should have died, investigating an Alien bazaar. Before long, they stumble onto the events that form the majority of the audio drama, namely the crew of the old trash liner and their discovery of a lost ship, The Sword of Orion, and its sleeping passengers…
The first time I listened to this, it started playing on my phone at random and I had forgotten that the Cybermen were the antagonists of the piece. Not knowing who the villains of the piece were greatly enhanced the tension of the opening few episodes as a whole, before their eventual reveal. Not that this is likely to happen often due to how proudly Big Finish advertise it as a Cyberman story first and foremost, but if you get the chance to buy it for a friend or family member, I recommend letting them listen to the audio with limited knowledge of it.
Random aside out of the way, Sword of Orion is primarily a ‘base under siege’ story, where all the main characters spend much of the time trapped in one location, trying to repel a Cybermen attack. It’s also a story that follows the conventions of Doctor Who before its 2005 reboot almost to the letter. For fans of that era it’s a welcome blast from the past, as the whole story is lain out and set up, ready for a third, action packed, act. Like those older tales, it does flag a bit in the second act as various characters spend time being captured and escaping, or dicking around trying to understand things we the audience figured out last episode.
Still, the cast do an admirable job and managed to breathe life into what in some cases were pretty stock characters. Michelle Livingstone as Captain Jenson in particular, perhaps because she was doing most of the heavy lifting plot wise, was a multi-layered character and level headed character one who I enjoyed spending time with. Bruce Montague was an admirable baddie as Grask, even if he gets side lined early on by the Cybermen threat.
It’s also worth mentioning the score. The feel of it being a traditional episode is helped immensely by the score, which links scenes with short synth interludes. Only seconds long at most, they still manage to build tension or convey what mood the scene coming will be bringing.
Added to that is the more subtle things that we take for granted in an audiobook; the sound of running, laser guns firing, the death rattle of a Cyberman. All sound like they fit very much into the ‘old’ Doctor Who world, one of dodgy sets and slightly dodgier costumes. Your tolerance for these sound effects will obviously depend on your liking of the old series and older ways of presenting science fiction in general, but I found it positively delightful.
If you are a fan of Doctor Who in general I would say this is a must buy – we get to see how the Doctor and Charlie react in a very action orientated setting and the story just zips along, as each side plots and counter plots against one other to achieve their own goals. If you are a fan of the new format Doctor Who, but were always put off the old show by the fact that it looks like each episode had a budget of 12 pence, consider this a faithful adaption that retains all that was good about the old format, whilst missing out on the bad parts.
Doctor Who: Sword of Orion is available from Big Finish as a download only file.