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4.0 out of 5 stars Purity Bay!, 17 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Whispering Forest (Doctor Who) (Audio CD)
I enjoyed `The Whispering Forest'! It's one of the most fascinating and inventive stories I've come across in `Doctor Who' written by Stephen Cole.

`The Whispering Forest' is the second story in this new series of adventures with the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough. Following on from 'Cobwebs', the four regulars have re-established themselves as the new team for `Doctor Who' from Big Finish. Stephen Cole especially wanted to write for this TARDIS team since the characters are his favourite and he's served each of the four regulars very well.

The story of `The Whispering Forest' is about the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough visiting Purity Bay on the alien planet of Cherdor. Purity Bay is in the heart of a forest where voices whisper in the trees. It's a settlement where a small group of people live. They have beliefs of `holding tight' and preserving to become clean. They've recently been scared out of their wits by a group of robot drones called Takers that `take' the weak and decrepit of Purity Bay away. Soon the Doctor and friends get caught up in the affairs of Purity Bay and have to solve the mystery as to why these Takers have taken Purity Bay's people away.

Stephen Cole has written for the Fifth Doctor before in 'The Land of the Dead' and wrote the creepy Tenth Doctor story `The Feast of the Drowned'. `The Whispering Forest' is extraordinary in terms of an alien world and intriguing concepts running through it. Steve Cole has come up with a unique setting in Purity Bay. The people like Mertil; Seska; Jestan; etc are obsessed and devoted with cleanliness. The people want to rid themselves of the dirt and disease on the planet. But it comes with a cost, as the people have scrubbed themselves too hard with soap. If you look inside the CD cover and see what Mertil, Seska and Anulf look like, they look pretty disturbing. They have bald-heads and their skin's described as red raw and swollen. Some of these people are pretty fanatical in their cleansing obsessions and they're damaging themselves in spirit and body.

When I attended a convention at Newcastle last year, I asked a question to Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding with Matthew Waterhouse on a panel. My question was `Which Big Finish audio would you like to see turned into a TV story?' Sarah said 'The Emerald Tiger'. Janet said `The Whispering Forest'. Janet said she enjoyed `The Whispering Forest' and said this would be a story directed by Peter Grimwade on TV. And I can imagine this story would have been directed by Peter Grimwade as he would make it very action and pace-driven, and he certainly would have directed it in the way he did 'Kinda', although hopefully filmed some of it at Ealing studios rather than as a studio set.

Sarah Sutton is wonderful as Nyssa in this story. Nyssa has recently re-joined the Doctor in the TARDIS. I was getting into these new adventures with the older Nyssa, played by lovely Sarah Sutton. I'm enjoying how she's slipping back to having adventures and facing new situations with the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough. Nyssa is hoping to provide the cure to many worlds infected with Richter's Syndrome. Nyssa spends more time in this story with Turlough, as they share scenes and get chased by Mertil and her acolytes. Nyssa rescues Turlough from drowning in a river. They both discover the hideout where the Takers live. I love the moment when Nyssa steps in and protests to Mertil who's hell-bent on having Tegan killed. I really like Sarah's performance as she's reassuring as Nyssa and helps to balance the vibrant attitudes of Tegan and Turlough with the Doctor in this story.

Janet Fielding plays Tegan again in this second story of the new TARDIS team-up. I found Tegan very good in this story. She's not argumentative as she was in `Cobwebs'. Tegan has this degree of compassion and concern that balances her fieriness, which I'm sure Janet enjoyed playing. Tegan is supportive of Seska who is the rightful leader to the people of Purity Bay. She's horrified by Mertil's aggressive and hygiene-obsessed beliefs. Tegan stands in the way to save the Doctor's life when Mertil is ordering to have him zapped by the `spark wand'. Tegan gets to be with the Doctor more in this story, compared to other stories especially TV. This was a nice change for me to see Tegan who supports the Doctor and doesn't backfire with hot-temper. Tegan gets spirited away by the Takers to their base where he finds Anulf, the previous leader of Purity Bay.

Mark Strickson plays Turlough in this story. Turlough is with Nyssa for the most part of this story and gets to follow her lead when they're journeying through the forest. Turlough gets a brilliant name by Mertil and her acolytes. Turlough is `Red Thatch'. Apparently that's what the Taker's headsets look like, and the people of Purity mistake Turlough for being one of them with his red hair. The scenes between Nyssa and Turlough are very interesting, as both share their intellect with each other. Turlough's more pessimistic than Nyssa as he doubts about surviving and what goes on with the Takers and Purity Bay. Both he and Nyssa manage to capture on the Takers so that they can bring to people of Purity Bay and also eventually to the Doctor. Turlough gets to help the Doctor in disarming the Takers in the climatic scenes of the story.

Peter Davison as the Doctor is exceptional good as ever in his performance. I like it when he and Tegan try to convince Seska to trust her and when they have to deal with Mertil and her extremist ways. The Doctor gets zapped violently by Jestan with the `spark wand' under Mertil's orders. The Doctor is learning more about Purity Bay and where its people come from in a medical ship and how they crash-landed onto the planet. The Doctor is shocked when Jestan kills Hervey by breaking his neck and putting the blame on him in order to convince the people to adhere to Mertil's leadership. The Doctor manages to get everyone to sleep in Purity Bay in order for him, Nyssa and Turlough to escape with Seska. The Doctor and his companions get into the heart of the matter when trying to break into the Taker's hideout and eventually rescue Tegan.

The story features a superb guest cast by Barnaby Edwards, the director, who's selected people he knows very well and and also actors who want to do Big Finish away from the movies.

Hayley Atwell appears in this story playing Sister Seska, daughter of Anulf. I've seen and heard Hayley a couple of times in TV, movies and audio. As well as doing `Doctor Who', she's also starred with Billie Piper in `Mansfield Park' and the two Sally Lockhart mysteries on TV. She also played Peggy Carter in `Captain America - The First Avenger'. Seska is the current leader of Purity Bay. Seska's a compassionate person who gradually trusts the Doctor and Tegan when she meets them. She wants to lead her people in Purity to a better future. She doesn't get on well with her step-mother Mertil. I enjoyed Hayley in this particular audio, as she provides a lovely performance.

Sue Wallace appears as Sister Mertil, the fanatical step-mother of Seska and second wife to Anulf. Sue is married to Lennox Greaves who also appears in this story with her too. Both appeared in the Paul McGann story `The Chimes of Midnight'. Mertil is a very horrible, nasty woman who fanatical and obsessive in her beliefs of purity and cleanliness. She keeps telling people to scrub harder. She doesn't take to strangers and is determined to see the Doctor and his friends killed. She wants to become Purity's new leader and won't let anything stop her. A ruthless woman Mertil is. I'm sure Sue Wallace isn't like that and is a really nice lady.

Paul Shelly also appears in this story as Jestan, who seems a willing accomplice to Mertil. Paul is well-known in `Doctor Who' circles for playing Enlightenment in 'Four to Doomsday' and has appeared in the BBC production of Charles Dickens' `A Tale of Two Cities'. It was great to hear Paul in another `Doctor Who' story and reuniting with Peter Davison as the Doctor. The character he plays in Jestan is not too dissimilar to the part he played in his TV story. Jestan is sly and cunning and goes to great lengths to ensure Mertil gets her way, by breaking Hervey's neck. It's suggested that he and Mertil once had a thing going on between them, but that's not talked about too much.

Lennox Graves plays Anulf, the original leader of Purity Bay. As I said before, both he and his wife Sue Wallace have appeared together in `Doctor Who' before but also have done theatre productions together. Lennox plays an interesting character in Anulf, who only appears in the last two episodes. Tegan comes across him when he's trapped in the Taker's stronghold at the edge of the forest. Anulf seems a strong and resolute man who loves her daughter Seska and has less love for his second wife Mertil. He's initially shocked when told the news that Seska's mother was killed by Mertil, but it turns out that things aren't what they seem.

The rest of the guest cast include Harry Melling playing Hervey (who also played Dudley Dursley in the `Harry Potter' films) and also Anuerin Barnard playing Antan.

The Takers are a group of robot drones who were from the medical transport ship that crashed-landed on this forest planet. The voices for the Takers are quite eerie and unusual and are done by certain members of the cast. This includes Paul Shelley; Harry Melling; Lennox Greaves and Anuerin Barnard. I'm not sure I get what the Takers are trying to say when speaking since their voices come across as being too distorted. They certainly make little sense when the Shades (the voices in the trees) take over and they say things like `Make fresh; take flesh' or something like that. I'm not sure I fully understand the concept of the Takers but they're intriguing and I like what they look like on the front cover and possibly inside the CD notes.

Cleanliness and hygiene-obsession runs throughout this story especially with the people of Purity Bay. It connects very well to Nyssa's story in that she's a medical scientist on the search of a cure to Richter's Syndrome. It's strongly-evident throughout the story and its intriguing listening to on audio. I don't think I grasped the whole concept of Purity Bay with its being futuristic. But I like the vibrant attitudes and the eerie atmosphere created in the story that provides the full effect of what `The Whispering Forest' is all about.

`The Whispering Forest' is a nice story continuing this trend of adventures for the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough. I found the story interesting and intriguing throughout. I certainly enjoyed the characters in this story like Seska and Mertil who are strong in their attitudes, belief and character relationships with each other. I don't admit to fully understanding the story entirely, but it's definitely one worth the entertainment. I'm positive that this story would have been well-directed by Peter Grimwade for a TV production as Janet Fielding suggests.

The CD extras on `The Whispering Forest' include the following. There's a suite of incidental music from `The Whispering Forest' at the end of Disc 1 that's sweetly eerie to listen to. There are also some behind-the-scenes interviews on the making of the story at the end of Disc 2. These include Peter Davison and Janet Fielding; Sue Wallace; Lennox Greaves; Paul Shelley, etc. No Sarah Sutton and Mark Strickson, I'm afraid. This really disappointed me! Apparently when recording these stories, it was during the winter periods before and after Christmas and there was heavy snowfall. I remember a funny story when Sarah at a convention told us that she had dig the drive clear of snow with a shovel in order to get into her car, determined to make it to the recordings. Ha, ha. Bless her, dear Sarah.

The story ends on a cliffhanger. Tegan feel strange is and acting strangely. She changes. She's not the Tegan we know before. This happened before. Somehow it's returned! Tegan's voice has changed and she lets out an evil laugh! "I live Doctor! The Mara lives!"

There's a trailer for the next story with the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough called 'The Cradle of the Snake'.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 18 Jun 2014 09:39:10 BDT
Timelord007 says:
This was my favourite of the trilogy It has great performances a wonderful story & that cliffhanger & a great performance by Hayley Atwell who if I have my way I want too marry.

Excellent informative review Tim with some excellent points brought up about the adventure, you could see this one made for tv without doubt yet on auduo the imagination can travel further than television centre or the nearest quarry.

Enjoyed reading your review on this one Tim great reviewing my friend.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Jun 2014 14:08:45 BDT
Tim Bradley says:
Have you seen Hayley Atwell with Billie Piper in the Sally Lockhart mysteries and Mansfield Park. She's very good in that.

Thanks timelord for your comments. I enjoyed writing this review. This story is certainly complex with a strong theme of cleanliness and hygiene-obsession at the heart.

I definitely want these audios to be TV adventures. If only they could go back and make these adventures back in the 80s.

Thanks again timelord. Tim.
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