The People Made of Smoke

Posted in Audio by - November 17, 2020
The People Made of Smoke

Released November 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

As Wicked Sisters comes to a close with ‘The People Made of Smoke,’ it has become apparent to the Doctor that Abby and Zara- despite attempting to use their powers for good- are damaging reality. With monstrous creatures from beyond bleeding into this reality, the destruction of his friends may not be the only sacrifice the Doctor has to make.

Returning to the scene of this set’s opening serial to explicitly show what has generally and specifically changed due to previous actions both known and unknown immediately creates a sense of purpose and danger that easily provides the narrative with an extra weightiness. From the very first time that the Doctor crossed paths with Abby and Zara, the scope of their powers and the potential ramifications of their use have always been lingering points of amazement and contention, and despite good intentions it’s here that the unintended consequences that follow in these sisters’ footsteps truly come into focus. Certain elements of the mysterious creatures that harken to realities that might have otherwise been have, of course, been presented in other stories with other enemies before, but their sheer presence and their insatiable hunger as they seek to ensure their survival nonetheless provide a very visual and effective metaphor for their very existence that enhances the true horror at the heart of this civilization that at one point seemed so idyllic.

However, given that this threat is at least in part due to beings with godlike powers, the script by necessity amplifies the amount of personal sacrifice needed to bring about a happy resolution, and it’s here that the storyline falters somewhat. Leela, in staying true character, offers a viewpoint steeped in honour and morality, but although there is plenty of time dedicated to discussing what momentous actions appear to be necessary, these types of actions have been offered and even executed before to better dramatic effect elsewhere. The story of these sisters has always been about how those around them are able to influence their thoughts and actions, and so there is a nice symmetry to their thoughts in essence aligning with the Doctor’s even if the means of implementing them have a different personal focus, but the script’s unwillingness to allow any of these sacrifices to remain permanent feels like a cheat and robs the entire experience of the resonance it had been trying to build to all along. Yes, doing so allows a new beginning should Big Finish ever desire, but it also means that Wicked Sisters as a linked trilogy ultimately has little lasting impact.

As always, the performances and direction in ‘The People Made of Smoke’ are superb, and the four leads bring a tremendous amount of emotion to that expertly exemplify the true danger and scale of the situation. However, the soundscape isn’t quite as vibrant and immersive as the preceding stories, and the titular foes themselves don’t really manage to viscerally manifest as well as might be expected. This conclusion is the least ambitious story of the set despite its immense stakes given how much it borrows from other stories, and its ultimate predictability and unwillingness to commit to its ending ends Wicked Sisters on something of a mixed note that will still satisfy fans of both Doctor Who and Graceless but that undoubtedly could have been much more impactful in the end.

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