As the beginning of the final McGann season, ‘Faith Stealer’ has a lot to do- convince those who were not sure of the last Season that this one would be better, slowly set up a way for the TARDIS crew to escape, and provide a decent story at the same time. I certainly think that this story ticks all three boxes, especially in the entertaining category, and it is certainly a strong beginning to the final Season for Doctor Eight.
Where this script wins and others have lost, so to speak, is in its balance between humour and seriousness. On the one hand, you have a story about how religions should be able to co-exist peacefully, and that is the extreme ones that cause the damage rather than just religion as a concept. On the other hand, you have jokes about people worshipping a cloth, and the Shrine of Serendipity, which in my mind still stands up as one of the funniest things in any Big Finish play ever. This blend of humour and sincerity is not only well-handled, but is also essential in stopping the play from becoming too heavy handed and preachy. Instead, Graham Duff has written a script that never insults its recipient and also illustrates a good point concerning the various views people have of religion as a practice.
One of the things that makes the script rather memorable is its repeated use of “So much lucidity!”, a phrase that certainly stays in the listener’s head for a long time after the play has ended. The more the phrase is repeated, the more sinister it gets since you are slowly given more and more information as to why the Church should not be trusted.
The madness of Bishop Parrash is well written, with the sinister nature of Miraculite contributing to his downfall and setting up the play for future Parts. Duff has pulled off a good trick here; when you first meet the Bishop you have little sympathy with him and spend most of the time laughing at him and his cause, but the traumatic nature of his conversion from sane to insane is done in such a clear and harrowing way that you cannot help but feel sorry for him when C’rizz discovers him later on. The downfall of Parrash also helps to make Laan Carder seem an even nastier character than you already guess he may be; his bitter remarks concerning other religions and the ferocity with which he commands at times help give him an edge that easily marks him out as the bad guy of the piece, and on top of this he happens to be an interesting character to boot. The final revelation that Carder does not in fact exist is truly nasty and quite haunting, especially when Carder works out that he cannot remember his past- because he does not have one. Rather than seem a cop-out, the fact that his lack of faith destroys Miraculite is actually rather touching, although it does carry with it shades of ‘The Three Doctors’: as with that, the discovery by a character that only their will is keeping them in existence leads to their eventual destruction. One could easily argue that it is rather foolish of Miraculite to disappear after Carder vanishes from existence- after all, if it really did dream him into existence, surely it existed before without any anchor to reality? This aside though, it provides a rather touching conclusion to the events in the play.
The other supporting characters are also interesting, with the Bordinan really standing out. Perhaps it’s the way that Duff has written the character- authoritative and knowing more than she lets on- or maybe it is just the brilliant way that Tessa Shaw plays the role, but the Bordinan was for me the highlight of the play character-wise, providing the perfect ‘play mate’ for the Doctor whilst also providing the play with some of its most humorous moments. Her eventual death, which ties in perfectly with the slow progression of the play from light-hearted to dark, is a genuinely sad moment and also a shocking one. Certainly, I did not expect her to die but when she did I realised that it was rather foolish of me to ever think that she would survive the proceedings, which is a real shame as it would have been great for her to return.
The Doctor, Charley and C’rizz are all served well by the script too, especially in C’rizz’s case. Arguably unfairly, poor C’rizz was singled out at being more C’rap than interesting, but here he gets a chance to stand up on his own, being key to the plot and also providing the play with its first two cliffhangers- both of which are based around him killing L’da is ‘The Creed Of The Kromon’. This use of repetition makes the second cliffhanger particularly memorable, as coupled with the Doctor’s comments that this event was psychologically disturbing, you know that something bad is going to happen. On the down side, the fact that he then begins to choke Charley for the second time in as many plays is a little disappointing, as is his possession by Miraculite near the play’s end, as it gives him less to do, but these things aside, it’s nice to see C’rizz stand out as a rather interesting character in his own right.
Cast-wise, this play is pretty darn perfect. Paul McGann. India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas are all on top form, and the supporting cast are also excellent, with Tessa Shaw and Jenny Coverack (the Bordinan and Miraculite respectively) impressing me the most.
Gary Russell’s directing and Russell Stone’s music are also very good; Russell is as strong as ever, and whilst it is fair to say that Stone has done better elsewhere, his score here is very good indeed and works well with the overall sound design by Gareth Jenkins.
In all then, ‘Faith Stealer’ is a strong start to the Season, providing laughs and thought-provoking moments in equal amount whilst also giving the regular and supporting cast members a lot to do. I hope that Duff writes again for Big Finish, as based on this play, I feel that he has a lot more to say.
This is the best eighth Doctor story Big Finish have produced in a while, at least since “Scherzo.” From start to finish it’s a gripping social commentary with brilliant scenes of both humour and horror. Moreover, “Faith Stealer” explores the character of C’rizz more than any of the stories did last season, the ramifications of the killing of his lover now finally catching up with him at last. Add to that the prospect of regaining the TARDIS, the Doctor battling ‘depression’ and some lovely tongue-in-cheek religious cults, and you have a classic story on your hands.
The setting of the Multihaven is welcome departure from the lifeless settings in this universe we were subjected to last season. The Kro’ka sends the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz into the Multihaven to ‘cure’ C’rizz of his guilt from having to murder his lover, L’da in “The Creed of the Kromon.” The Multihaven is a colourful tapestry of different religions and cults, all living in harmony, overseen by the Bordinan. The Doctor and Charley rather amusingly pass themselves off as members of the “Tourist” faith, whilst we finally learn the name of C’rizz’ religion – he was a monk of the Church of the Foundation – though little else about it.
Graham Duff’s debut script impressed me on two levels. First of all, he creates some wonderfully entertaining and diverse religious faiths. Duff’s story reminded me at times of Douglas Adams’ work, at others the script reminded me of something straight out of “Monty Python.” The Church of “Serendipity” has to be a particular favourite of mine – those who worship the Lord Whoops, “…the great neglector…” The followers of that particular faith go around saying things like “…may your path be strewn with obstacles…” and celebrating when they bang their heads, even when their temple is blown up! However, the script isn’t just a send-up of religion, it’s far from it. Much of the subject matter is very dark, the story demonstrating the dangers of extremism, which sadly in the world of today we don’t need reminding of. Textbook Doctor Who villain Laan Carder leads the Church of Lucidity in a crusade to convert all others to their faith – a faith dictated by a parasite substance called “miraculite.”
Secondly, Duff handles all three of the regulars extremely well, especially C’rizz who I felt was short-changed in the previous season. The miraculite substance puts our heroes in the unfamiliar position of having their negative feelings magnified. In the case of the Doctor, this is a feeling of depression, a loss of confidence and even the apparent realisation of his worst nightmare: the destruction of the TARDIS. With C’rizz, his feelings of low self-esteem and guilt are amplified forcing him to relive his killing of L’da over and over again, resulting in his being easily brainwashed by the Lucidians and attempting to throttle Charley in the exciting cliff-hanger ending to part two.
“Faith Stealer” sees Big Finish return to form spectacularly; this is the sort of stuff that we should have had last season. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable ride from start to finish, and it’s left me with the feeling that there is hope for this story arc yet…
Big Finish have excelled with their Doctor Who dramas. Readers of my reviews will know that I rate them very highly indeed for the most part. They just seem to be (far more often than not) what I want from a Doctor Who story. Compare this to the Books, for example, of which about a third are just what I want. Percentage wise the Audios outstrip any other medium.
After the previous 8th Doctor Season, which was patchy yet still reasonably good, I felt it was a little too soon for another similar season. I hate saying that, because the arrival of Paul McGann in the Big Finish range was a treasure found. His first 2 seasons were splendid for the most part. And yet things just haven't been quite the same since - the excellence just hasn't been maintained. The gap between Neverland and Zagreus was far too big - then Zagreus wasn't quite as good as we wanted it to be. Glimpses of excellence came back to the 8th Doctor range in the divergent universe (Natural History of Fear, 1st episode of Creed of the Kromon), but the previous Doctors had outshone him time and time again. Nonetheless I still held out hope for the 4th McGann season - I refuse to judge anything before hearing, reading or watching it. I say this season came a little bit too quick after the last - but the gap could not be helped, with the new TV series inevitably taking priority (as it should).
What I am getting around to saying, but putting off, is that Faith Stealer is a massive disappointment. Those niggling fears for the new set of 8th Doctor audios came to the fore. And as I listened to the episodes one at a time, my optimism was eroded away. I really don't think it gelled very well at all.
Reasons for this are manifold, and I will try to outline them here.
Was this play a Comedy or a Drama? It tried to be a bit of both, but the 2 sides jarred horribly at times. In most Doctor Who you can have humour and pathos - but here you have it, but it feels clumsy.
What's happened to Charley? The fascinating companion of the first 2 8th Doctor seasons has had to step back considerably. This is because of C'Rizz - and here is where the 8th Doctor audios have lost their way. There has been a new companion for each of the Doctors on Audio - 2 for McGann. I am tempted to say that could be the problem - if Big Finish had stuck to Charley only things would have been a lot better. All their other new companions (Erimem, Evelyn, Hex) have worked a treat. C'Rizz is the first new companion I am not that interested in. Considering his story is a big part of Faith Stealer, this could very well explain why I didn't like it too much.
The religious aspect was rather strange too. Religion is a fascinating bedrock for telling a story around. There's countless Doctor Who stories out there which have used religion in a brilliant way, using the mass of beliefs and ideas out there to tell the best kinds of stories. Here religion is derided and so airy fairy, as to be lacking substance as a whole. I can't recall a single religious group portrayed here that was interesting.
The religious haven was an incredibly dull place, and as the Doctor and companions flit from one church to the next, the inhabitants are equally non-descript.
I just couldn't get in to Faith Stealer. Another listen may well change my tune though. The first time I heard Natural History of Fear I was dismissive about it. After a few listens I really like that now. Somehow though I don't think Faith Stealer is that kind of play though. It seemed a relatively simple tale, but I'm afraid a not very good one, and very badly told. Just bland, and one of the worst Big Finish dramas I have heard. 4/10
'Faith Stealer' marks the beginning of Paul McGann's fourth and final proper season for Big Finish, and after the uneven third season it makes for a good start. As things transpire, this is the only story of the season that doesn't specifically start to build towards the climax, and stands on its own as something of a triumph for first time writer Graham Duff.
'Faith Stealer' ventures into territory which Doctor Who usual steers clear of, in the thorny shape of religion. Wisely, it doesn't set out to be a deep and meaningful religious debate, but rather pokes fun at the subject whilst nevertheless remaining respectful. The setting for 'Faith Stealer' is the Multihaven, "an entire city set up as a religious forum", in which disparate faiths come together in harmony whilst simultaneously competing for worshippers presumably intended to be a microcosm of the increasingly secular United Kingdom. The Bordinan oversees the Multihaven, and tells the Doctor, "I actively encourage diversity of the faiths that make up the city" and there is (initially) no conflict between religions, much to the Doctor and Charley's surprise. It proves to be a great idea, and a source of much wit; everything is worshipped, including water. There are some fine ideas and some great jokes. The Bakoan hymn is a god sustained by the intonations of the Bakoans ("A deity and a ditty") and the resonance of the hymn can be used to heal. In contrast to this example of religion being used to help people, we have the distinctly silly, with Carder telling Bishop Parrash that the supposedly divine cloth Cabali is "not divine, it's handy!" Funniest of all is the Doctor's visit to the Shrine of Serendipity, where worshippers of the great god Whoops convene and tell the Doctor, "All accidents are happy - we revel in chaos for its own sake." This later results in the memorable lines, "Whoops be praised… our Lord Whoops, the great neglector" and "May your path be littered with obstacles." Also worthy of mention is the scene in which the Doctor and his companions are forced to choose a religion in order to gain entry to the Multihaven; improvising, he claims, "Charley and I are members of the tourist faith, we worship C'rizz here, and we always start the day with a cup of tea." Naturally, when C'rizz looks faint, the guard's response is, "Bloody tourists!" There are gentle hints of deeper issues however, with the Bordinan explaining, "Paper comes from the paper draw, worshipped by the paper people." She hasn't heard of trees, which might just be a nod to the alien nature of the Divergent universe, but might equally be a reminder that people often don't question religious teachings as much as they should do.
In the midst of all of this, 'Faith Stealer' provides a metaphor for one of the most prominent and negative aspects of religion, in the form of Miraculite. Miraculite is actually a parasite, a weird technobabble anomaly caused by the friction between realities, but more importantly it's a religion that is growing in power by suppressing all others through forceful conversion. Laan Carder, Miraculite's chief acolyte, is effectively an Evangelist, who tells the Bordinan, "Diversity of faith was an interesting experiment, but it has become an irrelevance." The Bordinan, shocked, asks, "Totally domination?", to which Cardor replies, "Total harmony, total lucidity". The line, "We must all flee. If our religions are going to survive" sums up the oppressive nature of this particular faith, with others forced to flee in the face of religious persecution, amid cries of "Lucidivism isn't a religion! It's a disease!" Carder himself is particularly interesting; the first time I listened to 'Faith Stealer', I felt that the means of defeating both Carder and Miraculite was rather a cop-out, a contrived means of defeating a virtually unstoppable force. On this occasion however, I found myself reading rather more into the scene in which the Doctor perceptively declares, "There is no Laan Carder!" Carder it transpires is pure faith; he doesn't really exist, and the Doctor defeats Miraculite by destroying Carder's faith in himself, a fitting fate for a man who's faith in his god is unshakeable. Since he is, in effect, the Son of God, it ought to be: interestingly of course, a Messiah who doesn't actually exist converts the followers of Lucidivism, and that's as far down that particular line of thought that I'm prepared to go here…
Having come up with a thoughtful plot and setting, Duff also does well with his characters. The regulars are all captured perfectly, and we get to share the Doctor's worst nightmare, the TARDIS' destruction. Duff gives the Doctor some of the best lines, such as, "No anger, no indignation, no looting - this riot's a shambles!" but rather than simply including a string of weak puns or facile witticisms, such dialogue frequently advances the plot, in this case as the Doctor realises that the rioters are actually sleep deprived. C'rizz also fares well here, as he gets some overdue characterisation. The story opens with C'rizz reliving L'da's death, which naturally enough is still haunting him. Besides this however, Charley's realization that "we know very little about him" Is very valid, and Duff's script starts to address this, as C'rizz elaborates on his faith for the first time, mentioning the Church of the Foundation. We get more insight into his character, as C'rizz is forced to take charge of Parrash; he's increasingly impatient with the man, but not unkind, and almost seems not to acknowledge that the man is clearly disturbed. In short, he seems awkward and unsure how to deal with him. Left on his own in the Accumulator we get to see C'rizz fend for himself, and he proves resourceful and curious. However, Duff also exploits our relative unfamiliarity with him; because he's unstable, the Episode Two cliffhanger, as he tries to strangle Charley, works very well, since it might be a result of the trauma that he's suffered rather than simply an external influence, and we learn later (if Garfolt can be believed) that C'rizz has low self worth and high levels of remorse. Miraculite amplifies these, plus his depression, and he becomes a mind-controlled servant. The Doctor clearly likes him, but seems to have some doubts; he's very hesitant when he says of C'rizz's murder of L'da, "A mercy killing. I've… come to believe he did the right thing."
Finally, the supporting characters also work very well, and the guest cast is exemplary. As Bishop Parrash, Ifan Huw Dafydd sounds utterly mad when the traumatized Bishop shrieks, "It pulled a diamond out of my head" and he also makes the "The bishop wants to go back!" scene very funny. Helen Kirkpatrick's Jebdel also works well, especially when she eventually turns her back on Miraculite, telling the Doctor, "I'm through with blindly following leaders. I'll do whatever you ask me without question." Christian Rodska admirably underplays the role of Carder, avoiding making him what would be, in effect, a stereotypical Bible-thumping madman, and Tessa Shaw conveys quite wisdom as the Bordinan. My favourite supporting character here however is Neil Bett's amusingly sinister Director Garfolt, who ponders on how best to help C'rizz and muses, "I think a harsh regime to start with, don't you?" He obviously sees C'rizz more as an opportunity than a patient, excitedly noting, "We've just had some every exciting new equipment installed" and gleefully using the probe on C'rizz. His best bets line in my opinion comes when C'rizz asks Garfolt, "Garfolt is it?" The answer he gets is, "Please, call me Director".
In summary, 'Faith Stealer' is a promising start to the season and a great debut for Graham Duff. In retrospect, it also fits well into the overall structure of the season, offering an entertaining stand alone story before the build up towards the climax of the Divergents arc, a build up that commences with the following story…
I remember when a new season of Doctor Who was a time of celebration, a chance to hurriedly rewatch all those stories that will lead to the first new episode. Can anyone honestly admit to wanting to take this course of action after the third season of Eighth Doctor audios from Big Finish? Aside from one story (which was so good it threw the others into even sharper relief) the other four were incredibly bad, one almost interesting but losing points for incomprehensibility. The problems with the season mounted up, the desperately dull divergent universe setting, the unengaging set of regulars, the slap-in-the-face shift from trad to rad from one story to another, the unfocussed arc…all combined to leave me with a huge yawn on my face when Simon turned up at work with Faith Stealer (earning me a slap for ungratefulness!). The Twilight Kingdom climaxed on a cliff-hanger that was unconnected to the story and utterly pointless, just there to hope it gives fans the same thrill that the conclusion of Neverland had (note to Gary Russell: it did not). And even that promised more unbearable re-writing of continuity…can anyone blame for not giving a shit anymore?
Faith Stealer is really rather fine. Colour me impressed! It has problems and we’ll discuss them shortly but it is far, far better than anything from season three, bar Scherzo.
What helps considerably is the simplicity of the story; it has a good premise (What if a force started breaking down all belief systems and convert everybody to one ultimate religion?) which it explores at a good pace and has a good smattering of depth but never forgets its main responsibility is to entertain. Several scenes made me chuckle with delight as the Doctor and Charley ‘try out’ the religion of Lucidity as though they are looking for a house to buy! Whilst the theme of the play is serious it never forgets some of the blatant absurdities of religion and good-humouredly pokes fun at those of us that are frighteningly obsessed with their beliefs. Be warned God-farers, this story may cause offence if you don’t have a sense of humour!
Enjoyably the story actually felt like a Doctor Who story and by that I mean it could easily have been televised without much tweaking, the drama and humour mixing imperceptibly and it is remarkably clean for a story written for the new generation. Compared to The Twilight Kingdom, which also felt very Doctor Who-ish, Faith Stealer comes up trumps; unlike that earlier story it doesn’t just deal in DW clichés but strives to tell an original story in the series malleable format. It has that lovely DW feel of opening with an establishing the story without pushing the plot too far episode, moving into a tension building episode two, meandering a little in episode three and pulling all the threads together for a fast paced episode four. As the Church of Lucidity starts destroying all the other religions, the story really picks up for an action packed climax.
Faith is scarcely touched upon by Doctor Who and it is easy to see why. Religion is such a tricky subject that is usually dealt with in totally arse scratchingly dull seriousness so not to offend anybody. Even Face of Evil which is the closest Doctor Who ever got to truly condemning religion treated dealt with the idea by portraying two deadly sombre factions to fight over their belief system. The Massacre is the best example of Doctor Who doing a straight religious drama but you have to admit as fantastic as it, it is hardly a barrel of laughs.
I am so glad there are some controversial writers like Rob Shearman and Graham Duff (Shearman wrote a similarly thoughtful/hilarious discourse on religion in The Holy Terror) out there who are willing to risk causing offence to drive some humour out of religion because to me it is a rather hilarious subject. People living their lives to a set of rules, promised divine intervention at the point of death but not actually knowing it will come until it happens! Please don’t mistake me, we all have our own beliefs and I truly respect everybody’s individual beliefs no matter how much they may differ from my own, I understand that religion has far too often been portrayed as something evil in the media when I have seen so many examples of the good that it generates. But part of me takes a look at the wholes world and the hundreds of religions out there with each individual believing theirs is the true one…the hypocrisy is readily apparent…everybody can’t be right, can they? Is there one true faith? Or is faith itself the true religion?
Faith Stealer manages to take these questions and have some fun with it. The very idea of the Multihaven, a harmonious community of varied and spectacular religions, is gorgeous, the sheer fact that everybody gets on with each other despite their differences straight away highlights our society as barren and wicked, despicable acts committed in the name of religious ideals. The story keeps pushing; religions created around bizarre deities (such as mishaps and a profitable material!) exposes how a ridiculous idea can be pushed too far, a man standing at the gates of the Multihaven jotting down your beliefs (the Doctor quickly makes something up which throughout the course of the story gathers followers) and asks “Are any of you Gods?”, the tale of how the Multihaven came about (two children meeting in the desert and squabbling over their beliefs, other joined in and before they knew where they an entire city was built around their differences) proves how easily a new religious community (or communities) can spring up…Faith Stealer never condemns religion or suggests it is wrong but it does make you ask some questions and that can never be a bad thing.
It is also tremendously witty in places with some very funny lines. It is quite wonderful how the Doctor explores each religion with a knowing wink at the audiences, outwardly mocking them but never disrespecting them. When he stumbles across the religion of misfortune I was roaring with laughter.
The acting across the board is perfectly fine and in some cases excellent. Christian Rodska plays a delightfully traditional Doctor Who baddie, he has a touch of campness about him but he uses it like all the best villains to be really pleasant and really creepy at the same time. I really enjoyed Tessa Shaw as the Bordinan too, its one of those gravely voices that stands out so well on audio and she plays the role with the right amount of authority to make the role really work. All the actors seem to be enjoying the script but they seem to understand the golden rule of Doctor Who, to always play the story with total conviction so no matter how absurd the story might seem it is portrayed very realistically. I have to single out Chris Wallter-Evans though because his northern accent is so funny I treasured every scene he was in!
It seems a shame to have to have moan now but it would hardly be a subjective review if I didn’t reveal the few issues I had with the story, most importantly the regulars. The is a familiar feeling now with Chris Eccelston’s ninth Doctor on the horizon that the eighth Doctor has had his day and with eight years of being the head of the TARDIS it is easy to see where the feeling has come about. Both BBC books and Big Finish seem long overdue for a shufty about to let a new hero into the light and there is a real feeling of let’s get it over with now.
Although there is nothing instinctively wrong with Paul McGann’s performance it fails to stoke the fires in me any more. There is something remarkably bland about his character these days (BBC books got around this by gloriously re-inventing the character to their own designs but Big Finish is stuck with the movie persona), he’s a perfectly nice chap who says some witty things and saves the day but he rarely does anything to truly stimulate any excitement. The same goes for Charley, who is fortunate enough to be played by the glorious India Fisher (so remains bubbly at least), but doesn’t have much more to say since the attention she was lavished in season two. The Doctor loves Charley, Charley loves the Doctor. Now they are just hanging around together. It’s hardly thrill a minute.
But even worse is C’rizz who has to be one of the dullest companions ever. I feel so sorry for Conrad Westmaas who is clearly a very talented performer (his work on Natural History of Fear is proof enough!) but lumbered with this dead end character that is going nowhere. We still know next to nothing about him except the fact that he killed is missus. Whopidedo! He has no background, no personality, no sparkle…its not the writer or the actors fault, the flaws are in built and unless we have a thorough examination of his character that reveals some previously unexplored depth I suggest he is booted from the series quick march!
This story gets away with it because the plot is so interesting but if we reach a point this season where the regulars have to hold up a dodgy storyline I fear we will be in serious trouble.
The only other complaint I have is the horribly rushed ending which in a shockingly awful moment of exposition the Doctor reels out exactly what the nature of the threat is in three really long, garbled sentences and proceeds to despatch said enemy in the blink of an eye. The story does not have the resolution it deserves, almost as if Duff realised he was out of time and just scribbled out a blink and you’ll miss it ending.
However the majority of Faith Stealer is very good indeed and that is something of a minor miracle in the divergent universe. Finally a writer has realised we are in another universe and is using that to his advantage. It’s a funny tale that will make you think and probably leave you wondering why every eighth Doctor audio can’t be this good.
Funny how a few months can change everything isn’t it? All of a sudden Faith Stealer becomes the opening story in what will be the Eighth Doctor’s final season of audios; we know that the Doctor will escape the Divergent Universe at the end of the season; and suddenly Paul McGann is – in our minds at least – an ex-Doctor. Personally I can find one good side to this; the fact that this story continues with exactly the same status quo as established back in Creed of the Kromon just reminds me how bored I am by the Doctor’s quest through the interzone’s to find the missing TARDIS, at least we’re guaranteed an ending soon Anyway – we know he won’t find it in this instalment, so following the usual cryptic nonsense from the Kro’ka what treats does this adventure have in store for us?
I don’t know about you, but I’m scared witless by religion. I know some people can find great comfort in religious beliefs (so this next bit will offend you!), but to an outsider seeing people abandoning rationality for blind faith is terrifying – people who will quite happily damn you to eternal hell (in their heads at least) for not sharing their beliefs. Compared to the Daleks I find the sight of glazed-eyed religious zombies singing songs of praise on TV far scarier. Faith Stealer should terrify me then, and to be fair the author does make good use of such material as the faithful ‘seeing the light’ and being literally ‘converted’, but the play never really rises beyond traditional Doctor Who storytelling to really tackle the issue of religion. As expected, the charismatic religious leader Laan Carder who is converting the inhabitants of the Multihaven turns out to be under the thrall of some alien menace. Not only is the explanation for what this creature is utter gibberish (and an alien the Doctor even seems to recognise from outside the Divergent Universe to boot!) but how much more terrifying would it have been if there was no alien puppet master for the Doctor to fight – just blind faith itself?
One thing the play does have in its favour is that C’rizz finally gets a decent chunk of running time. After his debut in Creed of the Kromon he was necessarily barely touched upon in The Natural History of Fear, and The Twilight Kingdom didn’t really give him any particularly interesting material. Way back when first introduced in Creed of the Kromon C’rizz chose to kill his girlfriend rather than trust the Doctor to cure her – on the good side we finally get to see some repercussions for that moment, though one cant help feel that this really should have been examined nearer the time, rather than 3 stories down the line. C’rizz gets a nice meaty chunk of the story this time round as he is sucked into a new religion, and personally I now find C’rizz less annoying than the increasingly-past her sell-by-date Charley, but even here the character doesn’t feel as well used as he could have been. This is a story about religion, and C’rizz was/is a monk, but beyond a brief namecheck we learn nothing about his religion. The fact that he goes through a ‘de-faithing’ machine should be a pivotal moment – is his original faith so strong that it cannot be erased, or does he undergo momentous changes losing his original faith? – but we never find out.
In a way that typifies this story – it’s decent enough, and it hits all the right dramatic notes, but it feels a bit stifled, as though an interesting idea has been straightjacketed into a bog-standard four-part Doctor Who run-around. In all Faith Stealer is a reasonable start to the new season, but nothing spectacular. Even Paul McGann sounds a bit bored at times here – he’s not alone.