Main Range 51 – The Wormery

It’s amazing what good writing and great actors can do with a daft script. Listening to it, I found myself genuinely laughing aloud and grinning like an idiot while walking down a sidewalk wearing headphones. There was a lot of welcome comic relief after the heaviness of the last four audios of the Main Range.

Everything comes together for Katy Manning (Iris Wildthyme) and Sixie in this creative and distinctly Paul Magrs adventure set in a 1930s Berlin caberet bar. It’s co-written with Stephen Cole, but Magrs and Cole work together as well as Colin and Katy do. The atmosphere, the rich yet understated background soundscape, the setting are a solid stage for an interesting character drama with another small radio-play style cast. I detect a subtle homage to Douglas Adams’ Restaurant at the End of the Universe in this audio, although it’s a little more serious a story.

Have a trailer.

Iris is drunk. There’s nothing unusual in this, except that there’s method in her inebriation. The Doctor, by contrast, is weary and deflated, seeking solace and comfort in a quiet club after the devastating ordeal of Trial of a Timelord. Unfortunately, he may not find much peace at Miss Bianca’s bar. Stomach-turning things are stirring in the shadows, and before the night is out the Doctor will be baring his hearts. Meanwhile, Iris has stumbled over yet another dire menace to the entire universe. The Doctor will have good reason to doubt her veracity and even more reason to fear that she may make the situation worse.

“You get me drift now, luvie? There’s many ways to reach Bianca’s…”
“But only one way out.”

Some of the plot is a stretch, not uncommon for classic Who but rare for Big Finish. However, Katy and Colin absolutely sell it. There’s some truly touching moments between them, when their larger-than-life personas and rhetorical styles crumble away and reveal the sadness they hide behind the bombast. There’s also a backstory (or forestory?) reveal for Iris. Not to mention a glimpse of Iris Wildthyme, former caberet star! And Katy Manning, mistress of a thousand voices.

Other guest characters are hit or miss, but there is at least the very solid and down-to-earth voice of Mickey acting as narrator (a framing device that worked well) and her mysterious auditor.

It’s really a very clever, well-crafted, entertaining story. It’s got a lot of pathos, some thrilling scary moments, and some moments of soul-baring for both the Doctor and Iris that work because Colin and Katy can add dignitas to characters that might otherwise be ridiculous. There’s also a lot of great one-liners and sparkling dialogue.

Trivia note: released in Nov 2003 (same month as Zagreus), The Wormery tosses around liberal amounts of libation to celebrate the DW fortieth in a way they would never have been allowed to do on TV. Bottoms up!

Spoilerific Comments

Okay, so we’ve established that Iris is a Time Lady who can regenerate? I thought she said she couldn’t, in Excelis Dawns. It probably doesn’t matter; she lies constantly, or perhaps she’ll pick up full Time Lord status later on. I wasn’t entirely keen on the Valeyard concept in Trial of a Time Lord back in the 80s (it felt like a phony contrivance), but it works a little better here. Maria McErlane did a pretty fair job of capturing a different incarnation of Katy’s madwoman.

The worm plot is so, so, so very Paul Magrs. He likes his creepy crawlies. Disturbing, but brilliant.

I’m less enamoured of the idea of a race of shadowy creatures who are what the worms refused to evolve into. Say what? Is Earth haunted by the ghosts of all the dinosaurs whose evolutionary lives were suddenly cut short by a space rock? Or perhaps the ghosts of all the Permians? Hey, there’s a thought. Having the shadows bootstrap themselves with a fully-corporeal creature when the rest are insubstantial seemed a bit unlikely.

Science quibbles aside, I love the idea of a speakeasy connected by wormholes to every part of the universe.