30 March 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: William Gallagher

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st March 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th March 2012

In the year 16127, the once devastated and abandoned planet Earth is slowly being repopulated forty years after the colonists of Nerva Beacon returned. Those who have been chosen for the program find living conditions are from tough to the extreme. Transmat scientist Roger Buchman, his wife Veronica and daughter Toasty arrive at one of the new settlements on an island surrounded by the frozen waters of what was once called Loch Lomond.

The island is empty and the other crew members are nowhere to be found. As if that is not enough trouble to deal with, two complete strangers beam in from Nerva city, calling themselves Flip and The Doctor. It isn’t long before the horrific fate of the crew is discovered and The Doctor realizes an old enemy is lurking, hidden under the ice waiting to emerge and feed. But what do the Wirrn want other than hosts for their eggs? Who is the mysterious voice that taunts Flip over the two way radio and just what connection does it have to the Buchman family’s tragic past?

The Wirrn have always been a fascinatingly gruesome foe for The Doctor, and in Wirrn Isle (their second appearance in a Big Finish audio since the superb Wirrn Dawn), we get to see how the absorption of their host’s memories and personality can cause heartbreak and devastation on a galactic scale. The Wirrn were a strikingly visual creature on television, so it is up to the excellent sound design of Simon Robinson to bring every sinister chirp they make to life, creating a instant feeling of dread once they are heard.

The majority of The Wirrn swarm are used sparingly in the play, allowing the scenes in which the character of Iron appears, to have more of an emotional punch producing some genuinely chilling moments, such as the scene where he stalks Flip out on the ice over the radio. It is incredibly creepy and memorable scene.

Colin Baker is of course on top form as The Doctor, playing not only the scientific expert but a mediator between the warring factions of the Buchman family. The Doctor knows the terrible danger that he and the others are in and his struggle to keep them all together in the face of the ever growing danger is riveting to listen to. It is lovely to hear how The Doctor is becoming almost like a worried parent towards Flip and this is really rather touching. The Sixth Doctor has been lucky that Big Finish has provided him with such distinctive and likeable companions and in this trilogy he has struck gold again.

The wonderful Lisa Greenwood utterly shines as Flip, a character I personally am becoming fonder of the more I hear of her. Greenwood’s strong, funny and sweet natured performance has been one of the highlights of this series of plays. The scene in which she lies, broken and battered after a flight in a mini airplane while her blood has frozen her to the ice as The Wirrn begin to emerge is a truly nerve shredding moment and Greenwood sells every moment of it.

What is great about Flip is summed up by The Doctor himself in that he is not sure whether she is incredibly brave or foolhardy. The attention devoted to this idea makes one wonder whether this will be revisited in future stories with Flip of which I hope there will be many more of.

It is a shame when Flip ends up on Nerva City out of the main action, but this is necessary given the extremity of the family drama that plays out around The Doctor. He has enough trouble playing the science fiction equivalent of Jeremy Kyle as he struggles to keep the family together in the midst of coming galactic doom.

The rest of the cast perform very well in their roles particularly Jenny Funnell and Tim Bentinck who play Veronica and Roger. Funnell excels in a role which requires a lot of deep emotional turmoil, in regards to the loss of her son and her anger at everyone, including The Doctor if they so much as lead her on with false hope of any kind.

Some of the supporting characters, including the frankly ridiculously named Toasty, do not come off as well as the main players. I do not think this is a fault of the writing, but they seem to just not have as interesting a dynamic as that between The Doctor, Flip and Veronica and Roger.

I get the feeling that when Wirrn Isle expands the threat to a universal level it loses some of the intense, under siege threat that runs so strongly in the first two episodes. It doesn’t diminish the play at all, but the marvellous sense of claustrophobia is taken away.

Also if you are a lover of transmat action then this is the play for you as the latter half of the story seems to be utterly devoted to it. Although the presence of it adds much to the threat posed by The Wirrn, the story at times ends up being like a game of musical chairs, as one person or Wirrn is transported here there and everywhere for the latter half of the story.

Wirrn Isle is a very good play; a powerful family drama set amongst a horrific science fiction setting that, despite losing some of its momentum towards the end, has enough strong ideas and excellent moments to linger in the memory.

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