The Shadow of the Scourge

Posted in Audio by - February 25, 2016
The Shadow of the Scourge

Released October 2000

‘The Shadow of the Scourge’ represents Big Finish’s first foray into the worlds of The New Adventures the range of novels that provided the only ongoing Doctor Who adventures following the programme’s cancellation in 1989. Although there were some duds in the range as could only be expected, for the most part the novels were immensely entertaining and often lived up to the promise of providing something in scope that the televised show could not. Quite notably, it is during the course of these novels that the Seventh Doctor truly comes to embrace his darker and more manipulative persona, and companions beyond Ace are introduced into the fold. The most famous of those companions is archaeologist Professor Bernice Summerfield, and Paul Cornell brings the trio of the Doctor, Ace, and Bernice (Benny) from that time period to life perfectly.

The characterizations here could potentially be a little off-putting for listeners with no knowledge of The New Adventures. The Doctor is no stranger to playing for high stakes but Ace, in particular, is quite different to her youthful portrayal on screen, having fought in the Dalek Wars and been emotionally mishandled by the Doctor countless times. Benny is her usual sarcastic and mocking self, but this is an emotionally draining story for all of the cast, both the leading and supporting roles alike, with much internal exploration needed. Fortunately, and this isn’t always the case in the novels, the core trio is on trusting terms and the sense of family and strength of friendship is a real highlight. However, true as these characterizations may be, this will undoubtedly be one of the tougher aspects for newcomers in that this story to accept since the tale is very much geared towards fans of the extended continuity and doesn’t offer much time to get to know these new characters before running with them as the main plot rears its head.

For the most part, though, the plot sticks to tried-but-true techniques and ends up working quite well. The Scourge quickly make their presence known, an ages-old threat that has been growing in strength as they continue to feed on humanity’s woe and despair. The Doctor, of course, has some foreknowledge of events and is planning a trap for the Scourge, but the extent of his knowledge regarding the time experiment and psychic channelers among so much else is quite impressive and gives credence to how serious this threat is. As such, the end of the first episode is particularly effective as he surrenders Earth to the Scourge. It’s genuinely exciting, though, to see such a well-prepared plan fail so spectacularly and to have the Doctor and company have to improvise so quickly.

The supporting cast is written effectively as well as each character is given his or her own guilt with which to wrestle. Lennox Greaves, Holly King, and Nigel Fairs are all quite good in their roles; unfortunately, as the actor whose character features most prominently and has the most intriguing guilt as he can’t bring himself to end a failed relationship to allow his wife to move on, Michael Piccarilli fails to offer any sense of nuance or believability to Michael Pemberton.

The final component to the story is, of course, the Scourge themselves. These other-dimensional parasites are an unqualified success and work on two different levels, the physical and the metaphorical, again recapturing what The New Adventures so often strove to do. As malevolent beings feeding off of fear and despair, able to influence people to do horrific acts, they certainly pose a serious threat to all of humanity; however, they also represent everything bad about humanity itself and so it makes sense that it is the remaining good in humanity that needs to be channeled to turn the tide of battle. Undoubtedly there will be mixed reactions to the implications of this, but it’s very effectively done and helps to cap off an adventure that perfectly encapsulates the era it is striving to recapture.

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