Friday 3 December 2010

A Thousand Tiny Wings, by Andy Lane (Big Finish Audio)

During the height of the Mau-Mau rebellion in British-ruled Kenya, the Seventh Doctor meets an old adversary who has no place in space or time.

Given that the fate of Elizabeth Klein was left uncertain at the end of Colditz, it was fairly likely that she would return as a villain. But who would have guessed that Big Finish would bring her back as a companion? The Klein trilogy is an absolutely brilliant idea, perhaps one of the best that Big Finish have come up with.

To set the scene, Elizabeth Klein (played by Tracey Childs) was a Nazi scientist from an alternate timeline in which the Third Reich won the war. This timeline was erased by the Seventh Doctor in the events of Colditz. Klein was left stranded in our timeline, unwilling to accept that 'our' version of history was correct (presumably two Elizabeth Kleins exist at the time of this story; the alternate Klein and the real one, as Klein was born before the war. Thankfully they do not meet). At the start of this story, Klein is trapped with a group of British women in a remote house in Kenya, fearful of Mau-Mau rebels. Add the Doctor to this situation, plus a series of horrific killings.

A Thousand Tiny Wings is very much in the vein of traditional Doctor Who and is effectively a 'base under siege' story. The incredibly high standard of acting helps to reinforce a real sense of claustrophobia, as a small group of strong characters have to deal with a terrifying situation. The alien menace they face is a very interesting and unusual one (no spoilers here). Unsurprisingly, given this is by Andy Lane, it has very much a Virgin New Adventure feel. The Thing From Another World is a definite influence in terms of the format, but the tropical setting helps to give it some originality. The music score is very effective in setting the mood.

The Doctor and the fascist Klein have a great chemistry together and spend a lot of time arguing about ideology and philosophy, though they make a very effective team. Klein's insight of seeing history in her timeline plays a key part in helping the Doctor to deal with the alien menace. In the end, the Doctor invites Klein to come aboard the TARDIS to 'expand her horizons,' and invitation she accepts. The idea of making Klein a companion is brilliant, not just because her way of thinking clashes so much with the Doctor's, but also because she is an older companion (she must be in her forties following on from her displacement in Colditz). It does get tedious that the Doctor so often takes young people as companions. It's nice to have an attractive, elegant mature woman on board the TARDIS.

The guest part of Sylvia O'Donnell, played by Anne Bell offers some friendly right-wing camaderie for Klein. The British upper-class woman turns out to be a bigger racist than Klein. Personally, I thought it was unnecessary for O'Donnell to have been played as such a clear Nazi sympathizer (were there that many in 1950s British Kenya?). Would it not have been enough for her just to be a racist colonial? My favorite line was Klein's comment that in the event of a nuclear holocaust, the BBC World Service would still be playing light classics to an audience of mutated cockroaches!

I also love the fact that the Seventh Doctor is wearing his New Adventures safari suit. I absolutely hated the tweed suit and waistcoat combination that he wore in the TV Movie. It simply did not suit his character. That the Seventh Doctor is wearing his safari suit indicates that this story is set sometime in the New Adventures continuity during the absence of both Ace and Bernice.

This is a truly great Dr. Who drama that is well worth ordering.

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