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Whispers of Terror

Doctor Who: The Big Finish Audio Adventures #3
Richard Radcliffe

What struck me listening to this was the effort the writers and actors had made to recreate the 6th Doctor and Peri on TV. The first episode is littered with petty arguments that so irritated me in Season 22. So much better would it have been it they had recreated the attitude of the later stories of this Doctor/Companion team. But never mind, there it is.

Justin Richards has written a story perfect for this medium. A Museum of Aural Antiquities. A Museum of Sound, Speeches and Recordings. A Big Finish library of the 22nd Century if you like. I got the impression that this was a very dull place to look at, a modern functional building rather than rich in ornamentation. The idea clearly was to focus on the Museum Collection, the sounds. But a museum with headphones around, and sound booths, does not strike me as that interesting. So the story was off to bad start, in my mind that is. Even in Audio a Visual reference is very important I feel.

What the story turned out to be was a Thriller. Something is alive amongst the Museums recordings. This provides for some very effective cliff-hangers, and a truly different Monster too. I can't help feel though that the idea was a bit stretched to cover the 4 episodes.

Of undeniable interest though are the characters on show. Colin Baker loves the Audio medium. He has said so on numerous occasions. He revels in his first Solo outing. His Doctor is wonderful, bold and brash, with a rich sonorous voice that transfers to audio extremely well - ironic for the most colourful and noticeable of Doctors. Nicola Bryant as Peri gives her all for the show too.

Of the rest it is Visteen Crane himself who stands out. He'd be nothing, not scary at all, without the sound wizards of Big Finish though - but Crane is the character that one remembers from this production. Curator Gantman and Beth Pernell are the other notables.

After the splendid Phantasmagoria I was expecting something wondrous again from Big Finish. It is so vastly different to that story it is astounding they belong under the same label. All credit Big Finish for this, diversity has always been Doctor Who's strength.

Ultimately not my favorite Big Finish production. There are just not enough descriptions to provide that visual feast that I so like. But as an exploration of Sound it succeeds admirably, and boded extremely well for the future. 6/10

Paul Clarke

‘Whispers of Terror’ is the first of only two Big Finish audios to date to pair up Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant and is also one of the earliest of the company’s audio adventures. Written by Doctor Who novel stalwart Justin Richards it is also one of the first to really exploit the audio medium, and whilst perhaps not the most memorable of Big Finish’s output, it remains a solid and engaging story.

As fans familiar with Richards’ novels might expect, ‘Whispers of Terror’ is a tale of intrigue and politics, with a dash of murder thrown in. In addition, the various characters are also well motivated, and believable. The plot itself concerns corrupt and ruthless politician Beth Pernell’s attempt to become president, revealing in the process that she murdered her former friend and mentor actor and politician Visteen Crane along the way. Such a tale of corruption and betrayal is hardly original, but is rendered notable by the addition of Crane himself, who at the point of death used technobabble to become a sentient sound wave. It is this sound creature for which ‘Whispers of Terror’ is most memorable, and it is of course a “monster” perfectly suited to the audio format. The script and production utilize the creature to great effect; the Doctor’s speech about the creature’s ability to hide anywhere in the slightest sound, including “the low hum of the air conditioning” perfectly summarizes the novelty of the concept. Crane’s actual motivation (a combination of a desire for justice and a desire for revenge) is perfectly believable and the creatures is for the most part rather sympathetic, having been betrayed, trapped in a strange form, and desperate to escape from the museum. It also allows Richards to exercise his love of twists rather well, as Gantman’s student Miles Napton is eventually revealed to be the sound creature in disguise; Gantman’s blindness, established early on, means that this twist works perfectly since only he ever speaks with Napton, but also comes as a surprise given the matter-of-fact way that his blindness is handled throughout.

Less surprising is the revelation of the role-played in Crane’s apparent suicide by Beth Pernell, the real villain of ‘Whispers of Terror’. Nevertheless, it all works reasonably well and Lisa Bowerman brings just the right amount of callousness to the role, even if it is decided odd hearing the familiar voice of Benny Summerfield cast as the villain. Pernell’s torture of the trapped wave creature using sound wave editing software is strangely disturbing, and her eventual defeat, though by fairly predictable means, is highly satisfying, even if the brutal coda that finishes her off feels somewhat tacked on to the end. Unfortunately, Pernell and Crane aside, none of the characters present in ‘Whispers of Terror’ are very memorable, even though they are all convincing. It is worth mentioning Gantman simply because of Peter Miles’ performance; in his four previous Doctor Who roles, he plays psychopaths either blatantly (Nyder in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ and Tragen in ‘The Paradise of Death’) or less obviously (the unstable Dr Lawrence in ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’ and the arguably miscast Whitaker in ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’). Here, he puts in an excellent performance as the likeable museum creator, which is worth mentioning if for no other reason than that it proves he can act.

As for the regulars, Baker delivers on the newfound promise that he showed in ‘The Sirens of Time’, and Bryant proves equally capable of falling back into her old role for her first Big Finish audio. Richards’ characterisation of the Doctor and Peri is true to the era, given that the story is set between Seasons Twenty-Two and Twenty-Three; the pair bicker both at the beginning and end of the story (for example the “Don’t look at me like that when you say dim!” exchange in Episode One and the argument about speaking properly in Episode Four), but their relationship has clearly mellowed since ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ (and ‘Slipback’) and recalls the warmth between them that they exhibited during ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’. Peri also gets plenty to do, encountering the sound creature at the end of Episode One and standing up to Pernell and Stengard later on.

‘Whispers of Terror’ has one or two flaws, but they are relatively minor. Stengard’s line “Oh God, it’s live” just before he gets electrocuted is almost supernaturally cringe worthy, and like the Episode Two cliffhanger is a strange example of the script telling the listener what is already blinding obvious; these two trivial points wouldn’t even be worth mentioning, were it not for the fact that they stand out in an otherwise highly competent script. Overall however, ‘Whispers of Terror’ remains a solid story well told, even though it has been rather overshadowed by later Big Finish audios. And it is perhaps unfortunate that the Big Finish story that follows it chronologically, contains a “monster” which even more so than a sentient sound wave is uniquely suited to the audio medium, and is even less forgettable…

Lawrence Conquest

The first thing that strikes you on listening to this audio is the full horror of the 6th Doctor and Peri relationship at its most dysfunctional. From the off the pair are being disagreeably childish (and childishly disagreeable) with each other, and its only in light of Big Finish’s latter rehabilitation of his character that we notice how unpleasant the 6th Doctor can be. Were they really this bad on TV? Maybe this is partially the reason for the long wait for the next pairing of these characters, but its noticeable how much more warmth next audio …Ish (which follows directly on from this with a lovely link of the Doctor berating Peri’s use of English) instils in this pair.

On the story front it’s a bit of a mixed kettle of fish. While the use of a creature made entirely of sound is a brilliant use of the audio medium, in at least one respect Justin Richards seems to think he’s writing for a budget strapped studio bound TV story. The minimal setting of a couple of rooms and a corridor may have been intended to be claustrophobic, and to a certain extent it is, but not I fear in the way the author intended. With our imaginations free to create any environment on audio, to find ourselves stuck to visualising this dismal and limited setting for four whole episodes is very tiresome, with boredom creeping in by the halfway stage.

This is also partly the fault of the plotting – there simply isn’t enough to fill four episodes. For 2 it would make a perfect tight little play, but too much of this is obvious padding. The revealing of the plays bad guys at the start of episode 2 is a mistake, as it leaves nowhere for the story to go except round in circles. The twist with Napton is satisfying, but dragged out to this length its become obvious to the listener about an hour before its revealed in the play. Similarly witness the overextended analysis of Krane’s murder recording scene, with endless replays dragging out what all but the most inattentive of listeners has already worked out by episode 2. Some of this padding doesn’t even make much sense in logical terms: why for instance does Beth go to all the trouble and risk of interrogating Krane’s sound wave to see what speeches he’s altered, when she could simply examine them before broadcasting them (indeed, that’s what she does do after 10 minutes faffing around in this scene).

Performances are mostly fine, though it’s surely a joke to have had Colin perform his Bonnie Langford homage by screaming out an extended “Nooooooooo-ooooooooo!!” to merge with the theme tune at the end of episode 3? And while I’m on cliffhangers, they’re all very samey – cast member threatened by sound monster – cue music. As for the incidental music, it’s VERY 1980’s (and clangy – I kept expecting Cybermen to appear in the next scene) but nicely appropriate.

It sounds like I’m giving Whispers of Terror a hard time, but I do genuinely think its an intriguing idea, but one that isn’t given justice by the script. Had this either been condensed to a single disc, or alternately had its scope widened out to feature material set in some locations other than the Museum of Aural Antiquities (which could have sat either end: either stuff with Krane before he was shot, or a more OTT monster ending with multiple Kane sound waves marauding on Earth) this would have held my attention more. Nice idea, but a bit of a fumbled excecution.

Shawn Channell

The saying goes: "The third time is the charm." I've never really been sure why the third time is the charm, but I think it holds true with regard to Big Finish's third Doctor Who production, "Whispers of Terror." Justin Richards has written a suspenseful sci-fi drama which really utilizes the medium of audio. Whereas the two prior productions, "Sirens of Time" and "Phantasmagoria," attempted to fit the square block that is televised/novelised Doctor Who into the round hole of audio, "Whispers" has modified Doctor Who in such a way that it fits perfectly into the medium. The story itself relies on audio in a way that I'm not sure would have been effective either as a televised story or as a novel.

"Whispers of Terror" is a Sixth Doctor and Peri adventure set in the Museum of Aural Antiquities. The actual planet is never revealed, it could be future Earth, or could just as easily be another planet. The Museum is a facility which reportedly saves every sound for posterity, including public items such as acting and political speeches and private items such as wire taps and criminal interrogations.

At the core of the story is the character of Visteen Krane, reportedly the "finest actor of his age." Apparently Krane had decided to take up politics; however, he died prior to making the speech in which he would have announced his run for the presidency. But there is more to it than that. Krane did not just die, according to all reports he committed suicide. Gantman, the museum curator and Krane aficionado, has been working to archive all of Krane's speeches. As the story opens he is working on Krane's final speech, his presidential announcement, which Krane recorded but never gave publicly. Gantman is being assisted by Krane's long-time personal assistant, Beth Pernell. When the the Doctor and Peri become involved it becomes apparent that, for some unknown reason, Krane's recorded speeches are being modified. As per usual when the Doctor is about, people also start turning up dead. To top it all off, a haunting, intangible, auditory presence is lurking in the Museum of Aural Antiquities.

As the story unfolds it is revealed that Krane cheated death by transforming himself into a sound wave at the moment of his demise. The "sound-creature "within the museum is actually Visteen Krane. Initially the creature appears hell-bent on murder at all costs, regardless of the unfortunate recipient. But as the story develops the creature takes on attributes which make it a central character, including motivation for his homicidal streak. It is the genesis, maturation, and future of the sound creature/Krane which is one of the most important aspects of the story. From this point the story weaves a tapestry of deceit, murder, and revenge at an excellent pace.

"Whispers of Terror" boasts a strong cast. Foremost is the Sixth Doctor, as played by Colin Baker. Baker shows a growth in the role which he was never allowed to demonstrate in the televised series, i.e., a more contemplative, compassionate, and less bombastic Doctor. Despite this evolved character, he remains true to the Sixth Doctor, most evident in his repartee with Peri. An example from the beginning of the story (one of many):

Peri: You don't know where we are.
Doctor: Of course I do. I know exactly where we are.
Peri: Oh yeah?
Doctor: Yeah (mimicking Peri's Yankee twang). We're in the TARDIS.
Peri: That's not what I meant.
Doctor: That's what you said. "Where we are" you said. I did think it was a rather redundant question. Even for you.

Nicola Bryant slips back into the role of Peri so easily that you could believe it was 1985 again. If you are a fan of the bickering banter of the Sixth Doctor and Peri, this is an important CD to pick up. According to Gary Russell, Big Audio producer (heard at Gallifrey 2000), Baker is not likely to be paired with Bryant in future recordings. Apparently in order that the Doctor can become more like Baker's perception of the character (e.g., less argumentative and bombastic). Future Sixth Doctor adventures will feature new Who companion Evelyn Smythe (and apparently Frobisher) and Peri will be paired with the Fifth Doctor.

A special guest star in "Whispers of Terror" is Who alumnus Peter Miles (Nyder in the classic "Genesis of the Daleks" ). Here he again puts in a fine performance playing Museum Curator Gantman. The essential cast is rounded out by Matthew Brenner playing actor cum politician Visteen Krane, Lisa Bowerman (aka Bernice Summerfield) playing Beth Pernell, and Nick Scovell playing Detective Berkely. However, the most integral character in the story is the museum itself (as realized by sound designer Harvey Summers). Some of the sounds in this recording are really breathtaking, from the creepy repetition of the computer to the Jaws-like "buh-wump" of the theme.

In conclusion, I was very pleased with "Whispers of Terror." It boasts a witty, imaginative script, excellent acting, and strong production values. My only real complaint is not related to the story itself but, rather, to the CD packaging. The innermost pages of the CD booklet, wherein the plot of each episode is discussed, is printed in an ungodly yellow on a white background. It is almost impossible to read. But hey, that's the only complaint I have. After a faltering start with "Sirens," Big Finish is breaking into a strong gallop, and I hope it only gets stronger.

Simon Catlow

Whispers of Terror is the first solo outing for the Sixth Doctor and Peri, and is prolific Who author Justin Richards. The Doctor and Peri arrive at the Museum of Aural Antiquities where all sorts of audio recordings have been stored. The museum curator Gantman, is obsessed with the recordings of the greatest actor of all time Visteen Krane which are due to be given their first public airings. But someone or something is changing these recordings in a subtle way with the odd phrase or emphasis changed. Plus people are dying in the museum too, and it seems that the Dcotor must try and solve what is going on.

With Whispers of Terror, Richards has created an audio drama that is actually focused on the audio part of the drama, and he chooses a story that will primarily involve the use of audio to create much of the atmosphere. By setting it in a Museum whose contents are audio recordings the importance of the audio format to the story is realised from the beginning.

The main element of the plot is the fact that a recently deceased great actor named Visteen Krane's, who was about to run for the Presidency, speeches are about to be broadcast. These recordings will endorse his associate Beth Pernell, who would have been his Vice President and is now seemingly going to become elected because of the endorsement from Krane's speeches. But there is a creature which seems to be made purely of sound lurking within the Museum which seems to have murderous intentions.

Colin Baker puts in a tremendous performance as the Doctor. On television he was constrained badly by poor scripts plus an inability on the part of the producers to decide just what the character of the Sixth Doctor was like. Here Baker gets to play the Doctor in a way that he obvious likes, and you could hear the relish in his voice as he gets to grips with Richards' script. Onscreen Baker and his companion Peri were often arguing with each other and the television writers used this too much and it hampered their relationship. There is still some of the arguing between the pair on show here but it doesn't dominate their scenes together as it did on television and you can see that the Doctor and Peri actually like each other. Baker is allowed to relax into his role well and this works as it succeeds in combining the bombastic nature of his Doctor, but this is not his main characteristic any longer, his inquisitive side takes over and makes him far more likeable and consistent.

Nicola Bryant's performance as Peri is good too. Her American accent isn't as strong as it once was, but it does sound more natural and less forced than it was on television. Her performance is good and the development of her relationship with the Doctor works well. The fact that Big Finish have chosen not to develop this further with more Sixth Doctor and Peri stories is a big disappointment.

The guest cast here is first rate too. With the museum curator Gantman played by Who veteran Peter Miles, whose previous Doctor Who stories include The Silurians, Genesis Of The Daleks and the Paradise Of Death, and Big Finish's Bernice Summerfield actress Lisa Bowerman there are some tremendous performances. Miles' character knows the recordings contained within his museum perfectly and when they begin to change, the fact that he can't comprehend this is conveyed well. Lisa Bowerman plays Krane's would be Vice President Beth Pernell with gusto, and she makes a convincing character who you truly believe would go to any lengths to obtain what she wants.

The production on Whispers Of Terror is quite fantastic. Richards' script has at it's heart a creature of sound that would be incredibly difficult to have portrayed on television. On audio it is created through a variety of ways which really does convey a sense of terror in the way it builds up. Nicholas Brigg's music here is also worthy of note. He really does manage to capture the feel of the incidental music of the Colin Baker television stories and this adds to the feel that you are listening to how the Sixth Doctor should have been on television.

Overall, Whispers of Terror is an excellent production. The script is superbly written with some excellent dialogue and a uniformly good cast. Colin Baker excels as the Doctor here and benefits tremendously from having a script that knows what the Sixth Doctor should be like. After an unconvincing start in The Sirens Of Time, and a big improvement in Phantasmagoria, Whispers of Terror was the first of Big Finish's audio dramas to really impress me, and although they have produced better stories since, it remains their first classic.