Released January 2001
‘Storm Warning’ marks Paul McGann’s debut for Big Finish, reprising his role of the Eighth Doctor after his all-too-brief stint in the TV Movie. As the ‘current’ Doctor at the time of release, McGann is able to offer a sense of uncharted territory with his Doctor, and it’s apparent from the start that he relishes the opportunity to further explore his character while addressing some of the complaints of his character and sole TV outing being overly Americanized.
‘Storm Warning’ ends up being a very enjoyable adventure but, unfortunately, it gets off to a rocky start as it falls victim to extended and clunky expository scenes, a common complaint of these early Big Finish audios. McGann gives his all in these scenes, but nobody can be expected to talk to himself (and the TARDIS) as he describes everything he sees and smells for such lengthy amounts of time and not falter in delivering plausibility at least a bit. It’s quite telling that by the time he meets his new companion Charley for the first time, she tells him that he must stop talking to himself. Fortunately, as the Doctor finally starts interacting with others, the pacing and quality pick up immensely.
The arrival of a flying saucer as the R101 climbs to unprecedented heights heralds the introduction of the Triskele, a simultaneously interesting and disappointing tripartite race. The inherent division is fascinating and lends to some great drama, both with themselves and with the humans and Time Lord; however, the fact that the Uncreators can essentially be defeated through intimidation because of their inexperience- while interesting in concept and a nice subversion on expectations- strains credibility quite a bit and lessens their overall effectiveness.
Despite using one of history’s worst aviation disasters in the R101 as the setting, writer Alan Barnes wisely decides not to focus too overtly on the human loss component. Barnes puts his focus onto four of the crew in particular and, even though it initially seems as though everyone is going to be a walking cliché, each is given time to quite fully develop. That is, except for Frayling, who is so flat and inconsequential that little else needs to be said about the character. However, Gareth Thomas as Lord Tamworth is superb throughout, one of the major narrative forces in handling the Triskele situation. He is quite bombastic in nature, but he’s also very moral and intelligent, willing to accept blame and to attempt to help fix the resulting issues. Barnaby Jones as the villainous Rathbone is also very effective. Undoubtedly ruthless, his loyalty to the Empire rather than just to himself gives his motivations some added context, and even though it is his attempt to capture the Triskele ship that unleashes the Uncreators in the first place and contributes so greatly to the downfall of the R101, he is given enough intriguing traits to keep him interesting throughout.
This then leads to Charley, a self-proclaimed Edwardian Adventuress who has an unquenchable desire to experience the world and its many joys and dangers. She certainly seems as though she has all of the components that make a successful companion but, by the time she gives up her young boy disguise she used to get aboard the ship, she doesn’t have too much time as herself to leave too many impressions one way or another. India Fisher is certainly not holding back, though, pouring emotion into every scene. What her presence and time-changing escape from the R101 does allow for at the very least, though, is the setup of a story arc that will surely have ramifications down the road.
Of course, though, the highlight is the Eighth Doctor himself. The script is a very favourable one for him as it allows him to be very proactive, intelligent, and sometimes menacing. There are multiple instances when he expresses concern for and even gives fervent pleas about the web of time. He knows the ultimate fate of the R101, and while he’s not about to change history, he’s not above threatening to destroy the ship early to prevent a greater disaster. Ultimately, though it is the Doctor who is able to work around Rathbone and secure some sort of future for the Triskele race. Perhaps one of the most telling scenes, though, is at the end when the Vortisaur within the TARDIS becomes frightened of Charley, prompting the Doctor to consider the fact that he may have gone too far in changing history by saving her life and that he should return her to the R101 in order to meet her original fate.
‘Storm Warning’ is far from a perfect story, then, but it still offers an intriguing twist on a historical disaster and does a great job in reintroducing the enigma that is the Eighth Doctor as well as a brand new companion that is clearly ready to join the adventure.