Winston Churchill, as a Doctor Who character, is set to return to audio this month. So we’re looking back at his first foray into Big Finish with ‘The Oncoming Storm’.
Ian McNeice as wartime Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill proved himself to be a stand-out part of the Eleventh Doctor era. So when in 2015 Big Finish announced a box-set of Churchill stories featuring New Who Doctors, there was excitement in the air. And also a little concern over whether or not McNeice could pull off voicing three actors with vastly different vocal ranges. With a second volume imminent, and Churchill’s recently confirmed appearance in the next Eighth Doctor saga – Ravenous – it’s fair to say those concerns were unfounded.
To celebrate this Churchill renaissance, the first story of ‘The Churchill Years: Volume One’ is available as a free download. ‘The Oncoming Storm’ by Phil Mulryne pits Churchill and the Ninth Doctor against killer robots seeking an artefact of Gallifrey. So how does it fair?
The Oncoming Storm
Mulryne has an impressive number of Doctor Who audio credits to his name. However, all of them have been full-cast affairs with no narrator. Despite this, he adapts to the differing structure well and fully embraces the very distinctive voice McNeice brings to Churchill in his lines.
Not yet Prime Minister, First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill learns of the existence of an unusual stone. It’s said to grant the possessor knowledge far beyond their horizons. But of course, others are looking for it. Others not of this world; including a jug-eared visitor that Winston knows all too well. Mulryne script is sometimes a bit slow but uses that time to let the story unfold naturally. As the first story in a new range, it serves as an introduction to the format of this style of release. It goes from mystery to action thriller over the course of the hour and once it gets going, it never lets up.
The Oncoming Storm comes with a stellar cast. McNeice (metaphorically) slips back into his glasses and cigars as if he’s never left the role. He goes for subtlety when having to render the Ninth Doctor’s unmistakable Northern timbre. This turns out to be the right approach to avoid a distractingly plummy voice that it could have been. We also have Emily Atack, Derek Riddell, Michael Gould and Mulryne himself fleshing out the small but effective cast. All bring a unique element and work brilliantly off each other thanks to Ken Bentley’s now infamous directing repertoire. The music and sound design, by Howard Carter and Steve Foxon respectively, showcase the wide range of talents in the field from authentic wartime foley to anachronistic sparks and voices, all topped off with an intense score.
The Oncoming Storm is an engaging introduction to the style and feel of ‘The Churchill Years’. It feels right at home alongside the style of New Who stories but brings something new in centring the story around Churchill. New listeners, who are unfamiliar with the other narration-based ranges from Big Finish, may find the structure of these tales a bit jarring. But it’s definitely worth sticking with it for a superb set of stories deep in Doctor Who lore.
Blogtor Rating: 8/10
(This story is available as an exclusive download to subscribers of the Big Finish newsletter to celebrate the February 2018 release of Doctor Who – The Churchill Years Volume 2. The story can be found as part of The Churchill Years Volume 1)
1. The Oncoming Storm by Phil Mulryne
Late 1939. Britain faces the might of Germany. Winston Churchill serves as First Lord of the Admiralty. But Churchill soon finds himself facing a more immediate threat than the looming Nazi menace. A ‘Stone’ with the most mysterious properties is discovered in the Thames’ sands, and soon oddly spoken soldiers are creeping round London ruthlessly trying to acquire it. Who are they? Can Churchill and his new secretary Hetty Warner defeat them? And what about the man in the battered leather jacket that Hetty meets? Churchill feels sure they can rely on the Doctor to help them! Except that this Doctor seems to want to stay hidden in the shadows…
Written By: Phil Mulryne
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Ian McNeice (Winston Churchill), Emily Atack (Hetty Warner), Michael Gould(Frederick Lindemann), Derek Riddell (Lt-Commander Sandy McNish), Phil Mulryne(Able Seaman Phillips / The RATS). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs