29 April 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Matt Fitton

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The people of Gokroth live in fear of the monsters in the forest. Creatures with scales and fur, teeth and claws. But worse than these, perhaps, is the strange doctor who does unspeakable, unholy work in the high castle on the mountain…

A doctor who’s about to receive a visit from an off-worlder. Mags, formerly of the Psychic Circus. A native of the planet Vulpana… with a monstrous secret of her own."

I do not think it’s unfair to say that Big Finish have decided that their target audience right now is a niche section of fandom. To get anything out of their releases now, you really need to know your onions.

If you don’t know about the plot and cast of The Daleks’ Master Plan, the last Fourth Doctor series will leave you cold. Can’t remember your Gallifreyan history and the timeline of Rassilon both on-screen and in the Big Finish audio pantheon? I’d skip the second volume of Gallifrey: Time War. Unaware of who Susan is? Or the backstory of the Eighth Doctor’s audio companions, or Katarina, or Eric Roberts’ incarnation of the Master? That’s various series and volumes of The First Doctor AdventuresRavenous and The Diary Of River Song that are set to confuse you.

 

And now, just after Kamelion has exited the trilogic spotlight, Mags turns up, she of the Psychic Circus from The Greatest Show In The Galaxy, in a brand new set of adventures. If you aren’t a fan steeped in lore, Doctor Who on audio just isn’t for you right now.

 

The trilogy kicks off with The Monsters Of Gokroth by Matt Fitton (the sort of title destined to be misspelt for the rest of our days). Set on a pseudo-medieval planet plagued by monsters, Gokroth concerns the plight of the villagers beset by said baddies; a scientist mistrusted by the masses who dwells in a castle with her servant; a ne’er-do-well showman who arrives to take care of the monster infestation… for a price; and a werewolf named Mags who is seeking help for her condition, which of late seems to be spiralling out of control.

 

If it looks like Fitton’s script has all the trappings of a classic horror movie or creature feature, that’s because it does and it fully embraces this, much to its strength. The familiarity of archetypes lends Gokroth a playful air and heightens the scares and drama throughout, and it means that it (just about) gets away with the antagonist speaking aloud to themselves and the audience, or otherwise clichéd lines such as Mags worrying aloud about “the monster inside”. (The Seventh Doctor all but quoting Jodie Whittaker’s line about always helping people, however, is less homage and more tired rip-off.)

 

I’d say that this is Fitton’s best script for a long while now, with only Whodunnit? in Series Four of The Diary Of River Song coming close to stealing that crown. Like that script, his one here is a playful sending up of tropes that doesn’t descent into farce and has enough twists and good characters to not outstay its welcome.


The Monsters Of Gokroth is boosted further by solid direction from Samuel Clemens, his first time in the director’s chair for the monthly range, and an extremely strong performance from Victoria Yeates in the guest cast, which only proves yet again that new blood can work wonders for these monthly jaunts.

 

Sylvester McCoy is on good form, too, and Jessica Martin impresses, though the chemistry between the two leads isn’t quite there yet. There are hints and the first few sparks, but expect more to come as the plays go on.

 

This does bring up the thorny subject of Mags though. Martin, as noted already, is very good and it’s nice to have her back in the fold, but one has to question “why?” Of all the characters from the show’s past to return, it feels like a strange decision. Why not Ray from Delta And The Bannermen, for example, or Glitz or any host of other supporting characters from the Seventh Doctor’s past? I am not disputing that Greatest Show isn’t good (it is) or that Mags isn’t a good character in it (she is) or that Martin isn’t a good actor (she is) but does the character have enough going to warrant the solo focus?

 

The answer is uncertain as it stands, mostly because (as Martin herself points out in the play’s extras), Mags doesn’t really have all that much character. She’s an intriguing puzzle bolstered by superb execution in Greatest Show, but here she has to had to start over with regards to writing and approach.

 

You can just about reconcile the Mags here with the Mags there, but only just about, because in the end she is moving from plot point to companion and that brings with it a huge shift in dynamic range and backstory.


Fitton gives us hints of potential, and Martin is clearly excited to be back, but is this goodwill enough? We shall see over the next couple of months. For now, the jury is out but I have my fingers crossed.

 


+ The Monsters Of Gokroth is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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