Birthright

Posted in Audio by - July 22, 2018
Birthright

Released February 1999

Following the thrilling conclusion to ‘Walking to Babylon,’ the time ring trilogy continues as Bernice and Jason find themselves separated when thrown off the Time Path to begin ‘Birthright,’ Bernice landing in early twentieth century London where a series of grisly murders has been committed and attributed to the legendary Springheel Jack and Jason landing on a dead world where the queen of the Charrl demands his help to help save her dying race.

Though sentient insect aliens are not a novel concept by themselves, the Charrl are developed quite successfully to form a formidable presence. Their planet was one of forests of flowers and pools of honey, but solar flares ravaged it and their weakened race can no longer possibly survive another migration beyond the 10,000-parsec range of uninhabitable worlds around them. With the advent of the chronomancer link named the Great Divide to Earth, the Charrl plan to use the time rings to stabilise this connection and use humanity as incubators for their eggs and their newborns’ food source. Unfortunately, the alien world itself doesn’t quite spring to life as dynamically as Babylon did in the previous tale, and the fairly repetitious dialogue and chanting about how noble and worthy the Charrl are only draw attention to the fact that they really are anything but as the shocking truth behind their world is slowly revealed.

‘Birthright,’ of course, is adapted from the The New Adventures novel of the same name that featured the Seventh Doctor and Ace alongside Bernice, meaning that some of Jason’s actions don’t quite fall in line with how he has thus far been portrayed in audio. Stephen Fewell once more gives a charismatic and emotional performance as Jason once more finds himself in the presence of the enemies and eventually fighting for his life, but certain of his actions- including when first meeting up with Bernice- seem strangely out of character even for this man who so often finds himself facing the consequences of his decisions gone wrong. Fortunately, these moments are not egregious enough to detract from the narrative being told, and his story does dovetail quite nicely with Bernice’s that proves to be a bit more seamless throughout.

Whether or not this novel was chosen for adaptation because of it being the first to employ a Doctor-lite approach with the Doctor acting from behind the scenes rather than overtly involving himself in affairs, this fact means that there is no awkward shunting of his plot points to other characters and that instead what is lost is the eventual complexity that the Doctor would come to later reveal and explain. As a result, however, the audio is quite streamlined, and Colin Baker gives a truly mesmerising performance as the charming Russian detective Mihail Vladimir Popov who has followed the murder of his daughter and other girls to England. Further fleshing out this very atmospheric approximation of Victorian London are John Wadmore’s Jared Khan and Jonathan Reason’s Chief Inspector Prior, and these two certainly provide a unique dual presence as Bernice continues her own investigations, learns of and processes John’s fate in an incredibly poignant moment that speaks to her true strength of character, and endures the mania that follows Charrl infection with the help of Jason who finally shows a true conscience.

Ultimately, though, ‘Birthright’ feels like something of a filler story to progress the time ring plot as John’s letter sends Bernice to Guernsey for the trilogy’s conclusion in ‘Just War.’ There are some truly incredible ideas on display, but the plot stalls in a few areas and the Charrl homeworld and menace in Victorian London don’t quite transfer to the audio medium as well as might be hoped. Still, with an immense guest appearance from Colin Baker and the reliable Lisa Bowerman to lead this affair, a fairly average audio story overall is elevated to something quite memorable in its own right and proves to be a successful first run at adapting the written Doctor Who stories into this new framework.

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