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Doctor Who: A Death In The Family by Steven Hall

01/01/2011. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Doctor Who: A Death In The Family in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: A Death In The Family in the UK

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pub: Big Finish. 120 minute CD with extras. Price: CD: GBP 14.99. Download: GBP 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84435-499-3. stars: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Philip Olivier, Maggie Stables, Ian Reddington, John Dorney, Alison Thea-Skot, Andrew Dickens and Harriet Kershaw.

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The tale of ‘A Death In The Family’ is told directly by its protagonists and unfolds in a momentous way as a story should. It is appropriate that we have the return of the Word Lord who appeared in an episode of ‘45’ as one of the scariest foes the Doctor has ever faced.

This audio picks up directly from ‘Project Destiny’ and Hex is very disturbed. His realisation that the Doctor has at the very least omitted to tell him the truth about his mother means he need to get away. This is very bad and when Hex walks into an inquisitive stranger at the duck pond, he gets into conversation. The Word Lord twists his words and is out to get the Doctor and thereby hangs a tale.

Possibly one of the greatest Big Bads, Nobody No One is badder and bigger than ever. As this is essentially totally dependent on the words in it, I am thrilled that this episode is a ‘war of words’. It needs more than one listen to appreciate its intricacy.

Ian Reddington as the Word Lord gets his teeth into the plot and works hard for his fee. This is a complex episodic story that not only extracts great meaning from its words but also manages to create some extended and poetic images. Often simply created backdrops such as The White Rabbit pub or a cave on a far away planet are beautifully brought to life by the efforts of both the writer, Stephen Hall, and the actors interpretations.

Maggie Stables is guest-starring here as a much older Evelyn Smythe who has fond memories of her time with the Sixth Doctor as she tries to break through a wall of science, denying religious zealots on a planet far away in space and time. Ace’s story unfolds into the future as she deals with the death of her greatest friend. Hex is abandoned on a planet as he, too, comes to terms with life without the Doctor.

As the song says, ‘words are all I have’ and this story written down and then brought to into being is a representation of how fiction can transcend the everyday and weave a little magic into our sometimes mundane existence. If you can believe the Storyspeaker, no one ever dies.

It’s only when you get to the end that you realise how densely packed the whole story is. This is a four episode story and it utilises every moment in a tense atmospheric journey. As each episode finishes, there is a genuine ‘what the?’ moment as the music kicks in. There’s a great supporting cast again including John Dorney (who also wrote the excellent ‘Echoes Of Grey’), Alison Thea-Skot and Harriet Kershaw. Each one plays three characters each.

This forms part of a three-parter for the Seventh Doctor and wraps up what commenced in ‘Project Destiny’. The following episode ‘Lurkers At The Edge Of Sunlight’ is more self-contained. Extras on this one include six minutes of the incidental music from the soundtrack by Richard Fox and Lauren Yasen. There is also about ten minutes of mini-interviews John Dorney chats with author Stephen Hall. It offers an interesting insight into the process of creating the four part story which as he says is more like a sixteen part story. You may need to draw a diagram. I think he might have one somewhere.

Sticks and stones may break my bones…but words…they’re a killer. Thank you Big Finish for proving once again how much power words can have.

Sue Davies

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