Guest contributor Kieran Brennan continues his journey through the Eighth Doctor’s early audio adventures with Sword of Orion: Paul McGann’s first encounter with the Cybermen!
While on a quick visit to an alien planet in the future, the Doctor and Charley find themselves trapped aboard an abandoned star destroyer… and they’re not alone. The Eighth Doctor is about to come face to face with a soon to be revived Cyber army.
I feel like the Cybermen are quite underrepresented within Big Finish’s catalogue. Well, at least in comparison to the Daleks, but still it feels like there should be many more stories featuring the second most iconic Doctor Who villain. It’s no surprise, then, that Sword of Orion is touted as one of Big Finish’s “very best-selling releases”. Seeing how early on into Paul McGann’s tenure this adventure is, it seems this was the natural jumping on point for many potential Big Finish listeners. Luckily for me however, this wasn’t my first experience with Big Finish because if it was… well maybe it would have also been my last.
To be fair, this isn’t a terrible story, it’s just an extremely bland one. This actually starts out with a great sense of atmosphere. At first I found myself admiring the sound design by Alistair Lock, but as the story goes on it seems to lose all the tension the first part builds up. Notably, Nicholas Briggs has composed a score that begins to feel very droning and dull the more you hear it. The few moments of character are all undermined by a score that fails to compliment the mood of the dialogue and instead begins to blend scenes and settings together into one big grey mush.
Briggs also wrote and directed Sword of Orion which really surprised me, as he usually has these big (sometimes too big) scripts full of ideas. Generally he’s not too afraid to explore new territory or at the very least take the story in an interesting way, but this is incredibly dull and overlong. Its length is probably its biggest flaw; there just isn’t enough story or and the characters aren’t interesting enough to justify a two hour runtime. Perhaps cutting it down to three parts rather than four could have helped with the pacing.
Paul McGann is of course excellent once again here, having taken to the audio medium faster than anyone else who’s played the role. His smaller vocal mannerisms feel so physical, you really get a sense of exactly what his body is doing and how he moves about an area in every scene he’s in. While it’s taken other Doctors a while to settle into the audio medium, McGann sounds like he’s been doing this for years.
India Fisher also shines, though perhaps not quite as much as in the previous adventure. She is again unfortunately given little to do throughout the story and, especially given this is her big off world debut, I really wish the script had let her run with that amazement that all new companions should go through. Instead she seems to adapt without any difficulty. Most of the side cast is forgettable and their personalities tend to blend together in the grand scheme of things.
Nicholas Briggs does well as the Cybermen, though this is another case where I wish they got a bit more to do. I really do wish I enjoyed this more, I’ve always had a massive soft spot for the Cybermen, but these iterations feels rather generic in the wider pantheon of Cyberman stories and, seeing as how little Big Finish has used them, it seems a waste to have one of those slots filled with this.
A weak, overly long script and poor sound design hold back what should have been a breathtaking reintroduction to the Cybermen. Paul McGann and India Fisher do fantastic work as expected, but other characters are forgettable and bland resulting in a dull and skippable entry in the Eight Doctor’s history.
Sword of Orion is available as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com