"Tapping into the fear of industrialisation"

Books Stephen Cole’s The Ring of Steel continues a seam of these audio exclusive Eleventh Doctor adventures hoping to give the listener something which the television series in the Moffat era has categorically turned its back on, the epic (expensive) alien invasion story with casts of thousands looking to the sky. Vampires in Venice perhaps qualifies but that was set in the past and didn’t threaten the whole planet, also true of Victory of the Daleks. There have been no Sontaran stratagems or aliens in London in the past couple of years and all the Atraxi were really interested in was Prisoner Zero and not the planet’s natural resources.

Tapping into the fear of industrialisation creeping into our great wildernesses, Cole has the Doctor and Amy land on Orkney in the near future and straight into a local protest against a power generating company using the islands a base of operations with the inevitable pylons blotting the landscape. Fairly soon, the protest turns nasty and not just between the company and plackard wielders. Pylons come to life, roads begin to melt and refashion themselves, a kind of chaos straight out of a Roland Emmerich film when he’s not trying to rewrite literary history (not that Doctor Who would ever do such a thing).

In other words squint and we’re right in the middle of old Who’s season ten, with Malcolm Hulke or Barry Letts putting a group of locals under threat from whatever environmentally unfriendly evil the BBC’s sfx team can pull together given the lack of time and money available to them. Cole has great fun recalling moments generally seen through the noise of a reverse standards conversion, visors pulled up to reveal the “wizened faces” of employees who’ve had the life force sapped from them or the Doctor utilising his sonic screwdriver whilst simultaneously flying a helicopter. All that’s really missing is the Master dragging on a massive cigar from a safe distance.

Oddly in a story it's hinted is set in the period when Amy had forgotten about Rory’s existence, Arthur Darvill's reading. Arthur’s audiobook style is very much to emphasise-every-other-word-in-a-deliberate-fashion which sometimes works against the text, though Cole’s also landed him with the challenge of every character barring the Doctor having a Scottish accent, all of which he fights to keep distinct both from Amy and each other, largely succeeding. He’s aided by some excellent sound design, the whips and scorns of the pylons cutting across the speakers, helping to increase the atmosphere of a generic but not unenjoyable adventure.

The Ring of Steel by Stephen Cole is available now from AudioGo.

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