“Leave? You mean go away and never know? Wander for all eternity and never know where we were, what might have been, what was to come?”
The Doctor and Peri find themselves in the Museum of Aural Antiquities, where every sound is stored for posterity – from the speeches of Visteen Krane to security service wire taps and interrogation tapes. But they also find an intruder, mysteriously changed recordings, and a dead body.
Before long the Doctor realises that there is more going on than a simple break-in or murder. How can he defeat a creature that is made of pure sound?
Let’s start with the basics; the Doctor and Peri. This is the first time the two actors have played these characters together since The Trial of a Time Lord in 1986 (thirteen years earlier) and I felt they nailed it. The Doctor is loud and brash and at the story’s opening they are both baiting each other as they so often did, this subsides when their ‘adventure’ begins and once it’s all over, the baiting starts again…it fits perfectly. Having said that it does feel like they’re starting to mellow slightly, which is what clearly happened to them between series 22 and 23. Another aspect of this story that’s just right is the music… Nicholas Briggs does a great job of replicating the synthesizer music from this era, which only goes to reinforce the feeling that this story belongs there.
So what of the story itself? The whole point of this story is sound, both in a fictional and a production sense. For the characters in the story, and those of us listening to it, it’s all about what you’re hearing. And who, because this story revolves around a character that is a sound wave so there are times when you’re not sure if the voice you’ve just heard is the person you thought it was. It’s an excellent plot device and leads to some wonderfully chilling and eerily unnerving moments, helped along enormously by the actor playing the sound wave.
Which brings us to the cast. Every character has a reason for being in the museum and every character has their moment, with the exception of Detective Berkeley who really doesn’t do anything at all. Nick Scovell plays him perfectly well, but I feel that the story would have suffered no ill effects had the character simply not been there. Apart from this, everyone plays their parts well, with a nice little turn from Peter Miles and two excellent performances from Lisa Bowerman and Matthew Brenher. And one character in particular is involved in a marvellous twist (but I won’t say who or what).
Unfortunately, the identity of the sound creature is so obviously signposted from Part One, it makes the reveal at the cliffhanger to Part Two utterly ineffective. Aside from that however, I really can’t find anything to dislike about this story. It’s brilliantly written with a good cast and an excellent use of sound, the sparing use of background noise and incidental music is quite a brave move so early on in the range, but it enhances the atmosphere so much as every voice and every noise that you do hear draws your attention completely.
This story could not be done on television as it’s all about sound. If you tried to do it in a visual medium it would be a pale echo of what you get here. Don’t listen to it with your eyes open, you’ll be distracted by everything you look at.
Close your eyes or turn off the lights and let your ears deceive you.
The Doctor: Colin Baker | Peri: Nicola Bryant
With: Steffan Boje (Hans Stengard); Lisa Bowerman (Beth Pernell); Matthew Brenher (Visteen Krane); Hylton Collins (Goff Fotherill/Computer Voice); Rebecca Jenkins (Amber Dent/Car Computer); Peter Miles (Museum Curator Gantman); Jacqueline Rayner (Audio Voices); Justin Richards (Answerphone Message); Nick Scovell (Detective Berkeley); Harvey Summers (Radio Announcer); Mark Trotman (Miles Napton)
Writer: Justin Richards | Director: Gary Russell | Music: Nicholas Briggs | Release Date: November 1999 | Number of Episodes: 4 | Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Set Between: Revelation of the Daleks and The Trial of a Time Lord