Blurb: High atop Mount McKerry sits the observatory. For years now it's been watching the skies. Now something's watching back. Something dark and huge that blots out the stars. Something with giant wings. Something that kills.
When the TARDIS is struck mid-flight, the Doctor and Leela crash-land on the mountain to find they are not the only aliens to be visiting. Beings of nothing infest the complex, staff members are dead or mad. As the survivors argue amongst themselves and attempt to take advantage of the situation, a creature vast and terrible is coming ever closer.
A creature called... Stormcrow.
Format: Full-cast audio drama starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson published by Big Finish Productions and released December 2013.
Setting: Earth: Mount McKerry on St. Alban island in the Pacific on June 5, 2014.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Horror of Fang Rock and after the audio story The Oseidon Adventure. Leela mentions that her people were ruled by a false god and also that she once mistook jelly babies for real babies (see The Face of Evil).
Canonicity Quotient: This story fits seamlessly into the existing cannon. 1.00
Discussion: The first season of Fourth Doctor Adventures created a very mixed reaction from the fandom. Some said that it was to much like the original series. Others said that it wasn't enough like the original series. Some said that they wanted it like the original series. Others said that they wanted it to be new and fresh. Since people disagreed both about how much it was one way or the other as well as how much they wanted it one way or the other opinions varied across the spectrum as far as how well the series met expectations. Despite that, Big Finish went forward creating new Fourth Doctor Adventures. As a subscriber's special they moved forward a story that had been planned for the next run of Fourth Doctor and Leela stories and made it into a bonus CD that was originally only available to subscriber's to the main range but is now available to anyone.
For my money, I was pleased overall with the first season of Fourth Doctor Adventures but had preferred Foe from the Future in the Lost Stories range most of all. I felt that the shorter format didn't give them the time to tell interesting stories and I'd felt that some competent writers turned in some very lackluster work. I've since learned that they were under a considerable time crunch to get that first season of stories together, so I gave it a pass realizing that the poor quality of a few stories may have been because of the need to hit their deadlines to record.
I was very pleased with Night of the Stormcrow. This is the first story since Foe from the Future that actually felt like something that may have been made at the time. The atmosphere is so dark. First, you have the claustrophobia of a small group of people who don't like each other working together working in confined spaces. Then you have the mysterious goings on that spook them. The Doctor and Leela arrive and the original characters are immediately suspicious. Then they find out that they're cutoff. Finally, it seems like there's no way that the regulars can win. It's a perfect setup that feels so much like many of the stories that came out of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era of Doctor who even if it seems closest to Image of the Fendahl a story that actually came during the period when Graham Williams was the producer and Holmes was still script editing.
Platt also makes the two-part format work. I didn't come out of this story feeling like I'd really lost anything. I did feel like the Stormcrow and the No Things were not adequately explained, but I don't think that extra time would have really helped with that. As Platt says in the interviews this story was conjured out of his own nightmares and I think that it was part of what he wanted to leave these things as alien and unknowable to leave that air of mystery about them and to make them scarier. As a result, I'm of mixed minds about it. I thought that this story was so wonderfully dark and tense and spooky but at the same time I would have liked more understanding of just what went wrong.
One of the things that I really like about this story is the development of the characters. Gesima starts out seeming like such a nice, old lady. Yet then you find out that she's the most ruthless of everyone. She's the epitome of the scientist that has lost her sense of perspective. She thinks that her discoveries are worth any cost, but because of that she's the one who reaps the consequences. Ann Bell does a wonderful job with the character. She seems so nice and seems like she could be similar to the character of Amelia Rumford from Stones of Blood. Trevor starts out as a nice guy but his fear builds over the course of the story and he allows it to consume him to the point that he's willing to sacrifice others so that he can survive. Jonathan Forbes does a fair job with this part although there's really not a whole lot that's very interesting in what he's given. I kind of like the fact that Trevor and Gesima are the sacrifices to Stormcrow. If it's carrion that feeds on death then people like that are the ones who would smell of death and that seems rather fitting.
I have to say that one of the nits that really annoyed me was having the character of Peggy Brooks who is American played by American actress Chase Masterson but yet she talks about "looking for torches" when the lights go out. Sorry, no. An American operating out of Hawaii is not going to look for "torches". She's going to look for "flashlights". The choice of Chase Masterson seemed like an odd one. She had some talents on display in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine but her voice wasn't one of them. Here she does a competent job, but her delivery is pretty flat. It makes Peggy into a monotone character. Maybe that's intentional but I feel like more could have been done with her with someone whose talents went a little further into the vocal range. I also found it a bit odd how much Nick Briggs felt going on like a sexist pig in the CD liner notes about her. It's nice to know that the guys running Doctor Who these days want to be so inclusive to the ladies so that they can drool all of them.
Tom Baker is on top form in this one. He goes from silly to dire and back again at the drop of a hat. It is lots of fun to listen to. They even broke new ground here, having the Doctor decide that he wants to storm off due to some events here and it really makes the relationship between he and Leela incredibly tense. Louise Jameson steals the show again, though. She is wonderful as Leela and it comes out in so many ways. There's the scene where she misunderstands Trevor's lack of desire to eat jelly babies and explains to him that they're not real babies. There's her desire to hunt the hunter. There's the way that she works to inspire the Doctor, the person who has inspired her by showing her so much about the universe. Her enthusiasm and open-mindedness are just fantastic and Jameson is wonderful in how she portrays it. I'm so happy to have the Doctor and Leela back and thrilling us with their adventures after so many years.
The sounds design is really good on this one. I really like how they're not afraid to cause sudden, loud noises to cause some real fear. Juxtaposed with that we have the familiarity of the season 14 TARDIS console room and I absolutely adore hearing those sounds every time that they play them. I always loved that room and hated that they reverted back to the white, futuristic design, so it's so great to imagine these adventures continuing in that setting. I also like the way that the TARDIS materialization sound is distorted to show that things are wrong. The music in this one is fairly minimal, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as it allows the performances to set the mood. However, I do like how the piano score increases in prominence as the story weaves towards the end and the discordance put into it to underscore the changes in the plot.
Final Rating: 9/10
Recommendation: If you want to really relive the glory days of classic Who but with a budget as great as what your mind can come up with, do yourself a favor and check out Night of the Stormcrow. It doesn't spell out everything but that's part of the authorial intent and it makes for a decidedly atmospheric story. I highly recommend it.