Audio Here we are then. This is it. The moment I became a Doctor Who fan again.
There’d been plenty of building up, the visit to the exhibition in Llangollen, watching old episodes recorded from UK Gold by my Auntie, starting to buy Doctor Who Magazine, reading the odd novel, listening to the odd audio, but Storm Warning was the moment when all of this switched from passing interest to an obsession which would eventually lead me to writing all of this in the anniversary year.
But curiously, it happened earlier than the commercial release of the story.
On the cover of Doctor Who Magazine 300 was a special cover disc containing a new Big Finish story, Last of the Titans starring Sylv and a preview version of Storm Warning.
I was already excited having followed the period leading up to the release in the magazine but not really knowing what to expect.
But I was torn. Did I want to listen to this knowing I’d probably buy the commercial disc anyway? Didn’t I just want to hear the whole thing in one go?
That lasted about three seconds once I had the thing in my hands.
I was at home alone that day, I remember. Sunny day, the flat was bathed in light through all the windows, in my imagination, like the opening moments of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We didn’t have a cd player in the living room, so I carried one in from the balcony, and sat it on the floor.
CD in. Pressed play.
The sound of the TARDIS then brilliantly Paul McGann right up front, no beating around the bush, holding him back during some scene setting elsewhere as is so often the case with classic Who. Paul McGann is the Doctor and here he is in the TARDIS.
“TARDIS manual, TARDIS manual, TARDIS manual. Not here are you?”
He’s in the library looking for a book and dives straight into reading through the various books he finds and he’s already fantastic, writer Alan Barnes’s script already smirking away as it references Byron (which was a touchstone for describing the incarnation when the TV movie was first broadcast) and the night when all those horror stories were apparently created (a story which would later be told in prequel).
The approach is an exact opposite of what you might expect for introducing a new Doctor, where the companion’s always up front as the viewpoint character. Except this isn’t a new Doctor. He’s already been knocking about in the franchise for four or five years in comics and novels. Fans know who he is. Sort of.
But I didn’t. Not really. I read some of the comics. Might I have read the odd book, but he was still a bit of a stranger.
Yet, here he was, burning as bright as the sun, if someone’s able to burn bright in audio.
So the episode continues, through an encounter with monsters from the time vortex, to the introduction of the story’s scenario the maiden voyage of the airship R101 (accompanied by Alistair Lock’s bombast soundtrack), the first visit with the story’s supporting characters, the Captain and crew of the ship including Tamworth played by Blake’s 7’s Gareth Thomas along with some suspicion that there’s more to this journey than meets the ears and then by track three we’re back with the Doctor again.
Structurally, it’s a straight down the line bit of classic Who. It’s not attempting to do anything that extraordinarily different, no great paradigm shift.
Not that I knew that then. Everything, everything, seemed fresh, new and well, new. Even by track three, it felt like after over a decade, despite all the Big Finish releases in the mean time, it felt like Doctor Who was back.
The Doctor manages to escape. All the while he’s talking variously to the TARDIS, the Vortisaurs but mainly himself, though in that way in which its obvious he’s really talking to us, and Barnes’s writing is essentially reintroducing this Doctor to us, as though during these opening scenes we’re the companion.
Then moments later she’s there.
It’s Charley, Charlotte Elspeth Pollard, working that other great audio device of writing in her diary, or memoirs.
It’s India Fisher, long before Masterchef made her voice synonymous with other things, giving a remarkably assured performance, the writing again already sketching in all we need to know about her.
Edwardian adventuress who’s so adventuress she’s unafraid to pretend to be a boy in order work on this airship.
It’s one of the best companion introductions ever and arguably an influence of The Snowmen's Clara’s later, with its dual identities.
At the time, I’m not sure I knew she was going to be the companion, but I remember thinking at the time I hoped she would be. It’s still one of the best introduction the franchise has ever seen and for one of the franchise’s best companion. She’s still my favourite.
More plot with the crew of the R101, which I wonder how many listeners really paid attention to first time around, the Doctor lands, investigates the area, decides on a plan, Charley’s unmasked and …
… then I became a Doctor Who fan.
The Doctor’s expostulating, Charley’s running away, they bump into each other … and …
… then I became a Doctor Who fan.
It’s the meet cute. Charley running, the Doctor notices she’s in trouble, they hide, her pursuer disappears and then they make the introductions. The Doctor’s all “I’ve met Lenin”, Charley’s all “I do declare, you many just be the oddest man I’ve ever met” and there’s instant chemistry, the Doctor says “I’m the Doctor by the way”, Charley says, “I’m Charlotte, Charlotte Pollard, Charley to my friends.”, the Doctor replies, “Charley it is then” before continuing, “I tell you, I tell you what, shall we explore?”
And my fate was sealed.
It’s difficult to exactly say why. But there was something about their chemistry, the way it was written, the whole sense of the screwball comedy dialogue which I hadn’t really heard before in the show in quite that way, a little bit in the Tom Baker era especially when written by Douglas Adams.
Something about that the instant friendship, a wish perhaps that such things were as easy in real life. That you could meet someone who’d instant get you and you’d be friends within moments. The ease of the performances. But otherwise I don’t know. It was just sort of all there, the whole of everything, in just a few lines of dialogue.
I knew, at least, I wanted to listen to these characters in the ensuing adventures, handily trailed on the disc once the episode had ended.
Luckily, once I bought Storm Warning, it fulfilled its promise (the roaring scene!) (the intrigue) and I didn’t look back, much.
Looking back, I think I was potentially mostly a fan of these audios firstly but thanks to the brevity of the series leading to starvation, Doctor Who Magazine, cheap VHS copies of the classic series at Music Zone and car boot sales and all the other sources that suddenly present themselves when you do become obsessive about something which you’d thought previously to be relatively rare, I began the plunge into the bottomless expanse of adventures.
Storm Warning, and that moment in Storm Warning aren’t everything. There’s something about the random nature of the stories, the potential for anything to happen, the writing, the wit when Who’s at its most wittiest, the fact that it is one character without a finite number of stories authored by hundreds of writers all with their own interpretation. Plus the sense of community which surrounds it, the in-jokes, the fact that you’re not so much a fan of Doctor Who, you live it, and in that it's collectively sustained.
In other words, what Capaldi said.
Perhaps if the show itself hadn’t returned in 2005 I might have moved on to something else by now, put away childish things. But it continues and I’m here with it. For now, still.
“This way, do you think?”