The Stones of Venice by Paul Magrs

The McGann Audio's are funny things. Succinctly lacking in the resources afforded to plays with other Doctors (to compensate, one suspects, for the magisterial wad of cash needed to secure the main star) the balance is tilted and other such luxuries like big name guest stars, sufficient recording time and anything other but a handful of actors stretched over each season fall off the scales.

One sometimes wonders if it's truly worth it at all; the freedom given to being able to spread wings in a way not possible within the confines of a story trapped between two TV adventures is all but cancelled out by the speed these things have to be churned out. "Storm Warning", "Minuet", "Sword of Orion", "Creed of the Kromon", "Invaders from Mars"... arguably the McGann Audios have proved more likely to throw up a duffer than the plays with any of the other Doctors in. There's a pungent whiff of irony about the way the new adventures of the classy, glossy Movie Doctor starring a famous, household-name lead actor are so utterly cheap. "The Stones of Venice" is the happy exception.

Not an old Audiovisuals script hastily given the Tippex treatment to ready it for 'professional' action, "Stones" even has a 'big name' guest star (just) in the shape of Michael Sheard. It's an odd hybrid of old and new Who, the setting (future Venice sounding like a historical) as schizophonic as the story's genesis, scraped out of Tom Baker's rubbish bin for unexpectedly-hired McGann. But unlike those second-hand Audiovisual scripts, this doesn't take anything away from the story itself. It's new, after all, and that, bearing in mind wads of dull "Storm Warning" stuff that constituted a series of explanations jammed between some TARDIS scenes more than an actual story, makes it practically unique this season.

Not that it ever rises above the usual watermark we would come to expect from the noble McGann play. The man himself is, as per usual, always good, but never great (there's still never been a moment to rival the shoes fitting perfectly, however hammered into twee repetition but undoubtedly magical that scene remains). Likewise, India hovers between having depth and being your sister's undesirable and endlessly chattering best friend. And the script makes a game effort to rise above it all and say something new.

One senses it was effort on the part of someone other than Magrs here though; a character called Ms Lavish aside, all his usual overbearing and insatiably camp nuances are gone. Maybe it was too early to risk scaring McGann off with something too postmodern? This almost feels normal, not a handbag or vodka bottle in sight. Maybe Gary Russell was up late the night before toning down Iris Wildthyme and turning her into Elaine Eves-Cameron.

What's left is the bare bones of something wonderful, simplified down in the wake of a whole hatful of dud concept stories in the season around it. Fresh, but never amazing; worthy but rarely exciting. The city of Venice may sink beneath the waves in a classic Doctor Who disaster-scenario, but the mood rarely bobs above fever-pitch.


CD Facts

Part 1 - Tracks 1-6

Part 2 - Tracks 7-11

Part 3 - Tracks 1-3

Part 4 - Tracks 4-7