After the somewhat average "A Shard of Ice", I remained confident that things would pick up again in Paul Magrs' Demon Quest. And that's what we've got with part 4 of this wonderful Doctor Who audio series, which moves to the Big Apple in 1976 as the Fourth Doctor and his companions (Mrs Wibbsey and Mike Yates) search for the last TARDIS component and uncover the truth about the final artefact; a comic book cover featuring themselves!
"Starfall" feels like such a breath of fresh air. Throughout Demon Quest, the Doctor's search has taken him to Ancient Britain (43 AD), 1894 Paris and 1847 Germany, investigating the Doctor's likenesses on mosaic tiling, a Toulouse-Lautrec painting and inside a fairy tale book respectively. 1976 Central Park, New York is a perfect environment for the Doctor's travels, and investigating a mysterious comic book ties in naturally to the arc's rhythm/theme.
Immediately, I will confess that I am SUCH a comic-book nerd. I grew up on Marvel and DC Comics, so it's no surprise that I was drawn by the premise and Ben Wilsher's spectacular cover illustration for Starfall. The episode's premise of mild-mannered secretary Alice Trefusis coming into contact with a cosmic-powered meteor, transforming her into the awe-inspiring Miss Starfall...is a clichéd comic origin story, but that's why I love it.
There are blatant elements of Spider-Man and Superman inspiration in this chapter, but Magrs clearly relishes in it all, resulting in an entertaining romp of a story. Mentions of "the Incredible Comics company" and "True Believers!" are bound to bring a smile to fans of DC, Marvel and Stan Lee. As will Alice's capabilities/prowess as Miss Starfall, and the fantastic narration/involvement of boyfriend Buddy Hudson (wonderfully portrayed by Trevor White). It's a most colourful setting indeed, and complete with the atmosphere of seventies America, some great piano music and sound effects, Starfall is just bags of fun to listen to.
Of course, none of this overpowers the Doctor's (still) ongoing investigation of the Demon's game, or the malevolence of the mysterious antagonist. The Doctor's mysterious ailment, the ever-so-strong supporting role of Mrs Wibbsey, and the sheer, disdainful aura of washed-up Hollywood star Mimsy Loyne; facets of yet another engaging chapter.
Any criticisms? Well, I admit there ARE a few holes in the storytelling, and some of the American accents may grate on other listeners, but it's all down to preference, really. I personally loved all the American voices, piano music and the whole culture represented here. The only real problem I have with this chapter (and the one before) is Mike Yates. Unlike Mrs Wibbsey, Yates' role in Demon Quest is minimal (boardering on pointless), making his inclusion in the series seem to have been done for nostalgia's sake, which is disappointing.
But there are many other reasons why I love Starfall. Tom Baker (The Doctor) and Susan Jameson (Mrs Wibbsey) remain on form, Richard Franklin (Mike Yates), Laurel Lefkow (Alice) and Trevor White are all excellent in their roles, and unlike A Shard of Ice, Starfall DOESN'T feel like filler. There's a MAJOR TURNING POINT in the climax of the story, and startling new revelations come to light about the Demon itself, its machinations and motives. It's a perfect set-up to Sepulchre (the final chapter), and the tense music and sound effects, plus Magrs' engaging writing, re-establish the dark mood from The Demon of Paris.
Honourable mentions must go to Lorelei King also for her versatile performance as Mimsey Loyne. On the outside, the character seems your typical, vain, self-centred and egocentric has-been; a role that King plays to perfection, but as Loyne's character develops and more is revealed about her, so to does Lorelei change with her voice-acting. Reeling you in with delicious arrogance, mystique...and menace.
While The Demon in Paris still remains the best part of Demon Quest so far, Doctor Who: Starfall surpasses both The Relics of Time and A Shard of Ice. Granted, I maybe a tad biased given my love for the subject matter, but I can't help it. Starfall is just so much fun and colourful, and what I needed to restore my interest for Demon Quest. Paul Magrs' saga sounds set to go out with a bang! And I cannot wait!
To be concluded!