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Big Finish's first full length release to feature Colin Baker's Doctor is in marked contrast to Phantasmagoria. Whispers of Terror is much more experimental, plays around with Doctor Who tropes more willingly and tells a story that you could only really tell in the audio medium. And yet, it is just as successful, with an engaging script, good performances and a layered soundscape combining to make an enjoyable adventure for the Doctor and Peri.
The idea of a 'sound creature' isn't really a novel one, but, while Justin Richards does make the creature a key part of the script, it isn't the story's main focus. There are other elements that feed into the plot, in order to make it a richer and more interesting experience. Some of the moral and political issues the story raises are fascinating, and are just as relevant today as they were back when the story was released. I also think the story has a number of clever twists, with one that caught me completely off-guard on first listening. The way writer Justin Richards weaves these twists into the story is just as impressive: they don't come out of nowhere, or feel forced. Rather, they are a clear part of the story, and each twist ups the stakes and the danger well.
Across the board, this is an incredibly well acted play. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are, as you'd expect, amazing, despite the fact that, in the first episode at least, the Doctor and Peri are back to their Season 22 bickering. Lisa Bowerman is also excellent as the story's villain, Beth Purnell. Purnell is ruthlessly driven, and that comes across clearly in Bowerman's performance. Peter Miles, Nick Scovell and Steffan Boje are also excellent as well, while Matthew Brenher takes on the deranged Krane with skill. This is a story that relies on the subtleties of the voice: a slight change in tone, pitch or inflection says just as much as the words on the script. This is something that the actors get perfectly.
The soundscape is vital to this story as well. Nicholas Briggs' sound design is very daring, and, for 1999, is very impressive. He manages to communicate the most slight changes in voices with ease, and, providing it is listened to on the right speakers, provides a very immersive experience. His music isn't quite as impressive, however, occasionally coming across as a little obtuse and out of place, sounding just like its torn from an 80's TV story.
Despite a few niggles, however, Whispers of Terror is still a very impressive production. The technical ability, skill and creativity on display here would, undoubtedly, secure Big Finish's future, much to this listener's delight. It isn't perfect, but it shows how willing Big Finish were, even at this early stage, to experiment, to great success.