The Wormery

April 3, 2016

Released November 2003

Big Finish surprisingly unites two authors with very distinctive tones and talents, the brasher Stephen Cole and the quirky Paul Magrs, for ‘The Wormery.’ The result is a strong combination of the best of both authors, bringing out the excellent characterization of Magrs with the strong plot progression of Cole. And so as the mysterious Mr Ashcroft visits the former waitress, Mickey played very well by Jane McFarlane, the story of the final days of the 1930s cabaret club Bianca’s is revealed.

Big Finish has begun toying with the use of outside narration for some of its stories, and that technique is used to very good effect here as Mickey recounts events. Ashcroft remains silent through the story, giving the effect that Mickey is addressing the listener directly, and the way in which the narration and dialogue is scripted allows Mickey to interact with the characters within the story proper in order to explore motivations and opinions while allowing the more colourful dialogue of Magrs to fit and flow naturally. The actual plot of ‘The Wormery’ is somewhat complex as three factions plot against each other to gain the upper hand, but Cole and Magrs do a very good job in explaining events well and developing the narrative rationally. While not all of the events are always the most surprising, it does create a uniquely satisfying tone when Mickey’s narration of past events proves assumptions to be correct.

The Sixth Doctor portrayed in ‘The Wormery’ is at a sort of midway point between the more forceful persona of the televised era and the more caring persona of the audio era, the events of his trial clearly still weighing heavily on his mind as he considers his typical role in events, how his actions are perceived, and how he might change going forward. Colin Baker is marvellous throughout with this slightly new take on his character.

Katy Manning also reprises her role of transtemporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme for the third time for Big Finish- the first time in the main range- and Katy Manning again proves an inspired choice for this sometimes colleague of sorts for the Doctor. She is written a little less darkly than in previous outings, but Manning also is able to bring a sense of fragility and sentiment to Iris this time in addition to her usual candour and boldness. She has a bristly chemistry with Baker’s Doctor that provides a unique energy to carry the story.

As the enchanting self-titled star of Bianca’s, Maria McErlane is excellent in the role. She’s deliberately over the top, seemingly unable to function without the love of her fans, but her determination and presence help to convincingly bring across the central love triangle that forms among the Doctor, Iris and her. Both McErland and Manning are utterly convincing with the intense dislike and jealousy they each ooze when with each other.

With the setting of a cabaret club, this is another audio where the music and the score prove vital to proceedings, interrelating to and enhancing the sentiments and emotions of events. Bolstered by strong performances dialogue, ‘The Wormery’ is certainly an enjoyably intriguing tale. While understandably a more light-hearted sidestep for the Doctor after so many serious and history-laden consecutive releases for the show’s fortieth anniversary celebration including the villains trilogy and ‘Zagreus,’ ‘The Wormery’ arrives at the perfect time to celebrate the quirkier nature of Doctor Who just as effectively.

Wrap Up

The Wormery

Pros

  • + Colin Baker brings across a Doctor in the middle of his televised and audio personas well
  • + Maria McErlane larger than life as Bianca, helping to sell the jealousy and seeming hatred towards Katy Manning's equally great Iris
  • + Narrative framing device works exceedingly well

Cons

  • - Villains don't get as much time to shine as warranted

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