Released October 2011
Picking up the dangling thread from the anthology release ‘The Company of Friends,’ ‘The Silver Turk’ features an earlier Eighth Doctor than that showcased in either Big Finish’s main range alongside India Fisher or the now-concluded The Eighth Doctor Adventures alongside Sheridan Smith, starting a new series of three adventures where he travels with Mary Shelley. Having previously left his companions Smason and Gemma in Vienna in order to answer a distress signal, the Doctor misses his return date by some fifty-seven years, arriving at the wondrous 1873 Viennese Exposition where showman Alfred Stahlbaum is showing off his newest automaton invention known as the Silver Turk, a being with which the Doctor is all too familiar.
Marc Platt is, of course, the author of the seminal ‘Spare Parts’ which gives incredible and emotional insight into the very early foundation of the Cybermen, and so it’s unsurprising that he also writes this early Mondas hybrid as a sympathetic figure. The concept of a civilization capturing and torturing a lone individual from a dangerous alien race, the Doctor mistrusting said individual, and the Doctor’s companion forming a compassionate bond with the being is certainly not novel, but the confusion and pain of the damaged Cyberman is palpable, and Nicholas Briggs does admirable work in bringing an incredible sense of emotion to what is normally a completely emotionless race. At the same time, Platt does very well in juxtaposing Shelley’s experiences with the Doctor to what would later become her written work, and the exploration of human and inhuman in the face of a hybrid automaton certainly feeds into Frankenstein nicely.
Paul McGann is absolutely superb as always, but the story very much focuses on Julie Cox’s Mary Shelley. Whereas many of the Doctor’s companions wear their hearts on the sleeves and act as much by instinct as anything else, it’s a refreshing change of pace to have the more reserved Shelley aboard the TARDIS, a silent and determined woman who brings a fierce intelligence and compassion to balance and challenge the Doctor in a completely different manner than his other companions. Mary offers an incredibly realistic reaction to the marvels and terrors of traveling with the Doctor, and Cox believably exudes each of the requisite emotions. At the same time, Gareth Armstrong’s villainous puppeteer Dr Johan Drossel, Christian Brassington’s Stahlbaum, Claire Wyatt’s Countess Mitzi Wittenmeier, and David Schneider’s Ernst Bratfisch fill the production and this world with very convincing and lively characters.
With the concept of the Silver Turk being based on the real Mechanical Turk hoax, the script and sound design vividly bring 1873 to life wonderfully, and it’s quite clever to have a story set in a past that is simultaneously the future for the companion. ‘The Silver Turk’ may not necessarily be a showcase for the Eighth Doctor himself, but it’s certainly a showcase for everything his era can still offer even if Stahlbaum’s motivations start to become disarrayed as the story progresses. With a bold new theme song rendition that bombastically introduces another fresh outing for this enigmatic incarnation, ‘The Silver Turk’ marks a strong return to the main range for Paul McGann that manages to look to the past for both the time period and the Cybermen as it opens up the future of Mary Shelley and he together.