Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Shadow of the Scourge by: Paul Cornell directed by: Gary Russell: We All of the Universe Have Our Own Terrors to Face

The Shadow of the Scourge stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, Sophie Aldred as Ace and Lisa Bowerman as Benny.  It was written by Paul Cornell, directed by Gary Russell and released in October 2000 by Big Finish Productions.


Having started out as producing audio dramas based off the Bernice Summerfield novels by Virgin (Don’t worry those books and adaptations will be reviewed here eventually), it was only natural to set at least one story within the run of Virgin New Adventures and lucky for us it came very early on in the range.  Set between All-Consuming Fire and Blood Harvest, The Shadow of the Scourge sees the first performed story bringing together these three characters and the first audio drama written by Paul Cornell.  I view Cornell as one of Virgin’s best writers as of the four novels of his I’ve read, not a single one of them have been lacking in quality so he has a lot to live up to.


The plot doesn’t disappoint with the Doctor, Ace and Benny arriving at a hotel in Kent where giant preying mantis’s from another dimension that feed off of being’s fear and anxiety are trying to break into ours.  Already the plot is more inventive then ten or so of the Virgin novels that supposedly come before and the opening two scenes really drag you in with a meeting of depressed cultists bringing the titular Scourge into our dimension totally by accident followed by the introduction to the TARDIS travelers arriving at the most terrifying location imaginable, a triple booked convention.  From there Cornell explores a lot of the more common anxieties of people like fear of rejection, fear of poverty and just plain fear of the unknown to a stunning degree as he pulls people apart.  Based on these elements the audio drama is perfect at representing this era of the Virgin New Adventures.  As a story however it does have a few plot failures, mainly that the ending wraps up into such a tight little bow it comes off as contrived as the characters who had to face there fears had everything work for them.  Yes Cornell is going for a “your fear is only as strong as you make it” and a “be honest and everything will go your way” message, but that only happens because that’s how the Scourge can be defeated.  Cornell wrote himself into a corner and even suggests the Scourge will try again while they are quite utterly and completely defeated.  It would have worked so much better if things didn’t go well for just one of the characters.


And speaking of the characters, Cornell shows in his script just how much he understands the main characters and their development in the Virgin New Adventures.  The Doctor here is manipulative to the extreme as he knows what is going on and what he has to do with the Scourge to save not just the planet, not even the universe, but our entire dimension from them.  Sylvester McCoy proves just how good he can be as before having more than a minute of lines, you know the situation’s stakes and he has everything under control.  So it is just amazingly sweet to see that the Scourge have anticipated his plans and he has to compensate.  I mean the Doctor gets taken over at the end of Part One and spends Parts Two and Three Jon Pertwee style in a self-induced coma.  Yes he is present in these episodes, but in true Virgin fashion he spends them in the background while Ace and Benny have to figure everything out.  Benny is played by Big Finish actor and director, Lisa Bowerman in her Doctor Who debut.  This is her seventh time playing Benny as Bowerman has just finished the first series of her own adventures.  She immediately slips into the role of Benny and knows what she has to do.  She spends most of Parts Two and Three with the Doctor in his mind where they give references to Timewyrm: Revelation (allowing for a creative way to change what the Doctor’s mind is like) and the controversial ending to The Dying Days by looking on the Eighth Doctor and Benny making some comments.  Bowerman steals the show in every scene she’s in allowing for some of the best dialogue between the Doctor and a companion.  Rounding out our main cast is Ace who is the weakest link of the story.  Sophie Aldred is trying her hardest to be like the New Ace of the Virgin New Adventures and she does an alright job.  The problem with Ace is that it feels like director Gary Russell, who hated the New Ace, interfered with the already great script.


The supporting characters are extremely varied.  First you have the villains who are truly menacing as they don’t care what happens to humanity, but just want to eat the entirety of humanity.  They are extremely creepy especially if you’ve got a fear of bugs.  The other group is the congoers who all have some sort of emotional baggage.  First is Annie Carpenter who is pregnant with a child out of wedlock and has been scamming people into a televangelist like system to get rick quickly.  Next is scientist Michael Pembroke who is Carpenter’s lover and a scientist who is studying time travel and stuck in an unhappy marriage.  Finally is Brian Hughes who is a cross-stitching enthusiast who stole two thousand pounds from his organization out of greed.


To summarize, The Shadow of the Scourge proves just how great the Virgin New Adventures could actually be with a thrilling story with some thrilling characters.  While not Cornell’s best work it’s still pretty good as it tackles all the characters except Ace well, due to some directorial interference as Gary Russell disapproved of Ace’s new character.  It also suffers from having an ending that wraps itself up almost too nicely in a bow causing an almost too happy ending. 87/100

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