01/03/2010. Contributed by Sue Davies
pub: Big Finish. 2 CDs 120 minutes Price: CD: £14.99 (UK), Download: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84435-433-7) cast: Sylvester McCoy, Tracey Childs, Ann Bell, Abigail McKern, Joannah Tincey, Chuk Iwuji and Alex Mallinson
check out web site www.BigFinish.com
It's Kenya and there's unrest as the Mau Mau are blamed for a series of deaths and riots in the colonial outpost. Several women are hiding out in the home of Mrs Sylvia O'Donnell. She's a colonial down to her boots and puts her protective arms around young Lucy who is unable to get to her own home. Joining them is Denise who seems able to rustle up a meal based on war rations. Christine, a woman who's husband was 'in trade' and not really in the same circles as Sylvia, is already ill and confined to her room. Then there is the rootless Doctor Elizabeth Klein, pitched into a world she couldn't relate to when the Doctor took her from an alternate reality where the Nazis won the Second World War.
'A Thousand Tiny Wings' is the first of three new stories to feature Elizabeth Klein who was a reluctant aide to the Doctor in the story 'Colditz'. Removing her timeline has made Klein rootless and bitter and yearns to change it all back to where the right result was the supremacy of the German state. She is surprised and not entirely pleased when the Doctor who cruelly abandoned her in a bleak world turns up on Sylvia O'Donnell's doorstep.
The basic plot revolves around the women in survival mode and the Doctor's intervention. When Christine is found dead in her room, it becomes a whodunit or maybe whatdunit. She's covered in mysterious scratches and now Lucy has an odd rash on her neck. The women have also brought a baffling stranger into the house and it's definitely not human. For one thing, he's unable to communicate with the Doctor even with the help of the TARDIS translator.
This classic siege situation has a neat historical setting. The air of menace is genuine. There is no help coming with only the Doctor and Klein to find out what has caused the attack. It transpires that Klein has knowledge of this outbreak from her previous life in another version of history. She failed to find the cause last time and doesn't like failure. She has made it her life's work in the new reality to discover the cause and wipe it out.
What the women fear most is assault from the natives but there is far worse in the jungle surrounding the isolated house. As they pull together and knit in the evening whilst listening to the comforting sounds of the BBC World Service, something is coming and it's not just the Mau Mau.
With an atmospheric soundtrack, this story has a definite nod to 'Tenko' (a BBC women as prisoners of war 70s drama series) is a creepy experience. McCoy's enunciation is matched up against the softly spoken but deadly Klein (Tracy Childs) and Sylvia (Ann Bell, previously a camp stalwart in 'Tenko') plays up the redoubtable Sylvia to the hilt.
Allowing for some plot inconsistencies, the drama steadily builds up into a nail-biting conclusion. The plot and sub-plot interweave in a not always subtle way. Bringing Klein into the story is cleverly done. Some background is given to allow the new listener to understand where and how she is part of the Doctor's past. The 'philosophy-to-go' interaction with the Doctor is also nicely shovelled in, too. Klein's not the only one with a secret past and as barriers break down there are some truths to be discussed and beliefs brutally exposed.
I thought it was a very clever drama and like many of these audios exposes more on a second run-through. It has the virtue of being thought-provoking. Bringing back Klein is a good development allowing this character to mature as an unexpected companion to the Doctor, who needs someone to bounce ideas off and discuss philosophy. This particular companion allows him to think aloud and thereby examine his own role in history the way the new TV Doctor does. The extreme views of Klein and others force the listener to consider their own response to the nature of the drama.
There are the usual extras which offer some more background to Elizabeth Klein. With two more episodes to come, I'm wondering how her qualities are to be utilised fully.
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