Guest contributor Kieran Brennan continues his journey through the Eighth Doctor’s early adventures at Big Finish with The Stones of Venice!
What’s supposed to be a nice holiday for the Doctor and Charley soon goes wrong as the pair arrive in Venice in the not-too-distant future, which they find quickly sinking into the sea. What follows is an almost-Gothic tale full of espionage, political intrigue, hypnotism and cults.
Where The Stones of Venice really shines is in its gloriously rich in atmosphere as Andy Hardwick masterfully puts together a beautifully dense score and sound design dripping in personality. The future of Venice is incredibly well realised, truly transporting you to this crumbling city falling apart at the seams. It’s a setting that really seems to suit McGann’s Doctor, one of an almost Romantic tone that allows to further develop this most Romantic of Doctors.
As is the pattern for these past three adventures, the plot is what lets down the overall story. The Doctor and Charley are separated (always a bad sign) and both become embroiled in a complicated cult plot that has moments ranging from “hey, this is pretty good” all the way to “what am I listening to?”. It really stretches what’s acceptable, or more so what’s recognizable, for a Doctor Who story, turning away from the science fiction we all love, and leaning a little more into the mystical side of things.
Which is fine, I have no problem with that at all, I think the actual plot is quite intriguing, if a little generic, but what bothers me is the passive nature of the Doctor and Charley’s role in the story. They seem to be much more reactionary than usual, especially the Doctor, and it creates an odd situation where the Doctor almost feels like a passenger in his own story. Maybe this would work a bit better if writer Paul Magrs didn’t use the Doctor to constantly reference the generic nature of the plot and the familiar tropes of Doctor Who in the first and sometimes second part of the adventure. Usually when writers do this they are setting up expectations from an audience that they will subvert to surprise the listener, but here they rather serve as a reminder than Doctor Who has a habit of falling into repeating motifs and story structures which of course removes some tension from the experience.
It really is an odd script, especially compared to what came before it. While you could easily say Storm Warning and Sword of Orion have more extravagant or almost cheesy performance from both Paul McGann and India Fisher, The Stones of Venice to me has a much cheesier script, with most of the cast choosing to really play it up. It’d be a little more fun to see the actors playing with the script if it didn’t feel like a waste of the previously mentioned incredible atmosphere.
Now, it may seem like I’m going a little bit hard on The Stones of Venice and in truth I definitely am. This is a good story, and while it definitely does have these faults I do think it’s a solid entry from Big Finish. It’s the first Eighth Doctor story without any real “gimmick”. There isn’t a new companion or a returning enemy, it all feels quite normal, without much sense of specialness that I had hoped would stick with Paul McGann’s run a little bit longer. This is just another day in the life of The Doctor and Charley but to be fair it’s a mostly enjoyable and interesting adventure and I for one, am glad I’ve heard it.
Despite some script and acting issues, The Stones of Venice delivers a delicious dose of atmosphere to the world of Doctor Who, wonderfully expanding on the Eighth Doctor’s characterization and developing him further. By no means an essential Big Finish audio, The Stones of Venice is a solid, but light, adventure.
The Stones of Venice is available as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com