Posted in Audio by - May 19, 2024

Released May 2024


To open the Echoes box set, Tim Foley in ‘Birdsong’ takes the Eighth Doctor, Liv, and Helen to an empty world where two scouts are just over a year into their three-year wait for the rest of their colony to arrive. This world may not be as empty as it seems however, and a figure in the woods and the sound of birds when no birds are anywhere to be found signify an untold danger that puts them all at risk.

Although ‘Birdsong’ never fully succeeds with creating the more understated horror environment it attempts to form, the strong visual motifs and evocative sounds do manage to create a certain haunted quality within this austere fairytale oasis of a developing colony setting waiting to be properly settled. Partially responsible for this tonal disconnect but in the process creating a strong piece of character and interpersonal drama, the relationship between Bex and Myra as the two settlers who have been through so much together while here alone rightfully takes centre stage. Myra is certain that there is something on this world with them, and Bex is certain that they are completely alone, a conflict of sorts that initially questions whether Myra is hallucinating or if Bex is either hiding something or else living in denial. By including the very serious topics of elder care and of failing mental faculties that both Liv and Helen can relate to through personal experiences as each companion aligns with a contrasting side of this core argument, the mystery at hand becomes much more nuanced than might otherwise be the case, and Jane Asher and Fiona Button are absolutely superb at bringing out the depths of this genuine but tenuous relationship as the Doctor tries to discover the truth behind what may or may not be occurring on this planet while Liv and Helen make their own startling discoveries closer at hand.

Unfortunately, ‘Birdsong’ ties to be a bit too clever with the big truth once discovered, taking the initial intriguing element of which settler might be mistaken or lying and subverting expectations by taking a far more unexpected route than that of faltering brain function or even hidden motivations to fuel the spreading of some elaborate falsity. The Doctor’s discovery of the shuttle leads to a genuinely shocking and satisfying twist at first, but that twist twists one time too many as its influence reverberates far beyond what is expected. That finality is genuinely surprising and ambitious in a rather morose way, but while the cries for help and pleas to end it all take on a wholly new meaning as the extent of the hidden truths are revealed, the story as a whole doesn’t quite hold up in retrospect with so much of the humanity at its core redefined and recontextualized as a result. It’s hard to fault ambition in a script, and Foley shows plenty of it here especially considering the very small cast and isolated setting, but there were many opportunities to end this story on a much more intimate and impactful note that the more distanced and unfamiliar element chosen that nonetheless does remind everyone of the untold mysteries and wonders of the universe.

As always, Paul McGann is on top form as his Doctor is confronted with a multitude of emotions and startling truths, and Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan are just as strong as their characters who know each other so well find themselves expressing very different viewpoints about the turmoil and stress in this environment. It’s rare to see this type of conflict between two companions, and the sterling writing and performances make it another standout in this very evocative story. Still, for as many unequivocal strengths that ‘Birdsong’ has, its arguably overambitious narrative twisting that takes a step too far outside of relatable humanity as well as a certain tonal disconnect with the attempted horror falling somewhat flat as the emotional turmoil instead takes centre stage keep it from reaching the heights it was so close to achieving. It’s absolutely worth a listen due to those many strengths, but it’s a bit of an uneven affair overall by the time the actual truth and resolution unfold.

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