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Doctor Who Monthly Series: Witch From The Well by Rick Briggs

01/02/2012. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Doctor Who Monthly Series: Witch From The Well in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who Monthly Series: Witch From The Well in the UK

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pub: Big Finish. 2 CDs 120 minute story. Price: CD: GBP14.99 (UK), Download: GBP12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84435-602-7). cast: Paul McGann, Julie Cox, Simon Rouse, Andrew Havill, Serena Evans, Lisa Kay, Alix Wilton Regan and Kevin Trainor.

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As the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) continues his travels with Mary Shelley (Julie Cox), it’s about now we get some timey-wimey action as ‘Witch From The Well’ switches swiftly from present to past and back as the Doctor tries to unravel a ghastly mistake made in the 17th century.

When the Polish builders find what appears to be a well under the old cottage, Tranchard’s Folly, they are renovating they don’t see any problem about wrenching off the lid. But something terrible is waiting to be released from the well and it’s not just those Polish accents that are appalling. The owner of the house, Portillon (Andrew Havill), won’t be around long enough to pay that first tranche as something emerges out of the well and it’s hungry.

As two teen-agers observe the killing, they are looking for a device in a dead man’s pockets when they are attacked by the monster and saved by Mary Shelley. Finicia (Alix Wilton Regan) and Lucian (Kevin Trainor) are both teen-agers and the Doctor manages to get a reference in about Twitter in less than one hundred and forty characters.

The twins reveal that the monster is the witch from the well and has been trapped there for four hundred years. They need to go back in time to Tranchard’s Fell to find out the truth about the witch. A time of superstitions and blind obedience but also a time of clean air so its swings and roundabouts in the 17th century. Where there are witches there are witch-prickers, jealous neighbours and those that would take advantage.

It’s not long before the Doctor meets the supposed witch, Agnes Bates (Serena Evans) who is hauled off to be interrogated by the Witch Finder, Master John Kincaid (Simon Rouse). Then the Doctor meets the Squire Claude Portillon (Andrew Havill) and it rather holds him up from finding the real source of the problem, the crashed spaceship on the Fell.

Mary Shelley is well into her role as companion and quite relaxed about leaving her marriage and baby alone. Strangely, she is easily reassured that she can return to her duties the moment after she left them. Mary assumes the care of the teen-agers quickly enough but doesn’t see that they have their own agenda.

Before you can say ‘sulky teen-ager’ there are not only two sets of twins but there some unauthorised flying of the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor abandoned in the past with no means of escape. Ever resourceful, he takes on a new companion in the form of local girl, Beatrix (Lisa Kay), who he gets to show him the area. The two stories run parallel as the Doctor tries to survive the past and Mary recruits the future squire to find out exactly what the twins are up to.

‘The Witch From The Well’ manages to combine some dramatic running and hiding with the Doctor’s wit as provided this time from writer Rick Briggs, who has the Doctor wisecracking to a thankless audience, the 17th century is not big on comedy. The Doctor finds the past generally unreceptive to his intelligence and charm and must survive on his wits rather than his wit. He’s also beholden to others for last minute escapes.

A real boon to the audio here is Simon Rouse, known to many as Inspector Jack Meadows in long running dram ‘The Bill’. His voice has a lovely cadence as the Witch Finder thundering against the power of Satan and his minions. There are some clever uses of the cast who manage to double up parts without us ever suspecting and, as usual, the sound and music fills in the atmosphere.

The new theme to the Eighth Doctor is growing on me and the longer running time gives a more leisurely pace to the story and a chance to develop relationships. Mary doesn’t spend a huge amount of time with the Doctor in this though, so they do end up having separate adventures to write home about. I particularly enjoyed the expansion of Mary Shelley’s role which keeps the thread about her real life firmly attached. Her discovery that Byron is a huge figure in modern times is nicely played. He ‘was always hiding behind the skirts of women’ is her remark about his supposed status.

The extra dimension of having a historical figure as companion gives an added fillip to the relationship. We are teased by the Doctor’s references to her work and how these adventures will influence her novels.

These adventures set quite a different tone from the very 21st century Lucie but they are proving to be quite the grand tour.

Sue Davies

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