We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Fearmonger, the fifth in the Main Range of audios. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!
This story begins at a run, with an assassination attempt. Stephen Keyser and Walter Jacobs attempt and fail to kill Sherilyn Harper, the head of the right-wing New Brittania political party; Keyser encounters something strange as he attempts to flee the scene. We jump ahead a few days, then, and find the Seventh Doctor and Ace already on the scene, investigating the situation, which has taken a turn for the weird. In so doing, the Doctor uses—abuses, really—the radio show of Mick Thompson, a talk show host and humorist. He’s trying to flush a monster into view, but Thompson is having none of it. Ace, meanwhile, is working with an old friend from Perivale, Paul Tanner, who is something of a hacker. He’s happy to see her, as she’s been missing for fifteen years (Dragonfire established she disappeared from Perivale in 1987, making this 2002), but not so thrilled at what he’s dragging her into.
With Paul’s help, Ace locates Walter, and through him, Keyser, who is now hospitalized. She and the Doctor attempt to enlist them to stop the monster, which they call the Fearmonger. It’s incorporeal, and parasitic, and it feeds on fear and related emotions; and it lives inside Harper. Walter, in fact, can hear it in the tones of Harper’s voice. However, his fear is too powerful, and is even directed toward the Doctor, about whom he has been warned; and Keyser is completely broken. Meanwhile, Harper has also been warned about the Doctor, via her PR consultant, Roderick Allingham. He is a former Ministry employee, and is familiar with the Doctor’s file, including his time with UNIT. He lays plans to bring the Doctor in, suspecting him of terrorist ties.
Walter attempts again to kill Harper, this time with a bomb at a rally, but the Doctor and Ace intervene. They are forced to flee to avoid arrest, and return to Paul’s apartment, only to hear a broadcast message from Karadjic, the leader of a terrorist group called the United Front, announcing strikes against New Brittania. They discuss the Fearmonger, which is the real enemy here; and the Doctor builds a force field generator that can contain and destroy the monster without harming the host. They go to New Brittania headquarters to confront Harper, but are intercepted by Allingham, and allowed to escape. Back at Paul’s apartment, they discover the disembodied Fearmonger waiting for them; the Doctor tries to reason with it, but fails, and is forced to ground it out with a metal frying pan, temporarily delaying it.
Using Walter, the Doctor arranges a meeting with the United Front, and attends with Ace; but Karadjic proves to be under the influence of the Fearmonger, and shoots Ace in the shoulder. The Doctor persuades Karadjic to let them go, and gets Ace to a hospital. While there, he is confronted by the Fearmonger again, but it cannot harm him; his one fear—for Ace’s safety—has already happened.
Three weeks pass while Ace recovers, with the Doctor trying—mostly unsuccessfully—to slow down the United Front. At last he gets an opportunity to confront Harper again, during a live broadcast of Thompson’s show; but it does not go as planned, and Ace and Walter are revealed to be at the hospital. Worse, Ace hears something terrible: She hears the Fearmonger in the Doctor’s voice. The monster has jumped hosts.
A mob is on its way to the hospital for Walter, and he and Ace are forced to flee. They meet up with the Doctor and Thompson as the mob turns to a riot; the Doctor prods Thompson to attempt to take some control of the situation. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Allingham himself has ties to the United Front, though he has been using the situation in New Brittania’s favor. He arrives onscene as Thompson interviews Karadjic, not realizing that they are broadcasting live; and the entire house of cards tumbles down around Allingham. However, he has the decency to make it clear that Harper was unaware of the deal with the United Front. Karadjic and Allingham are arrested, and Walter is taken in for psychiatric treatment.
However, the Fearmonger is still at large. Ace sends Paul to obtain the bomb left behind by Walter, and places it near the range of the force field generator built by the Doctor. She then traps the Doctor in the field, and threatens to detonate the bomb if it doesn’t leave him, even though it would kill her as well. Slowly and gently, the Doctor persuades her to listen to his words, not his voice; and he makes her understand that the Fearmonger is not in him, nor in Harper, but in her—just as it was in Walter. This is why they are the ones who heard the voice—it was the Fearmonger working from inside, not outside. She turns the forcefield on herself, and the creature is destroyed.
I enjoyed this audio quite a bit. I’m a regular fan of Seven and Ace anyway, and they have lost nothing in the intervening years; McCoy and Aldred are at the top of their game. This audio is Seven’s first solo outing with Big Finish (after the group appearance in The Sirens of Time) and Ace’s first appearance; it is set sometime after Survival in their timeline, but it is difficult to narrow it down any further. A suggestion has been made as to how it fits into the Virgin New Adventures novels, but even that has some inconsistencies, and I won’t go into it here, as I haven’t read the books. It is also their first appearance together in performance media since Dimensions in Time in 1993. Ace’s last name, McShane, is given here by the Doctor; it is the first mention in performance media, though it previously appeared in the VNAs.
The theme of the Seventh Doctor using people for his own ends is prevalent here; he uses Walter, Keyser, Paul, Thompson, and Allingham as tools in his quest to expose the Fearmonger. Personally, I never felt that that theme was as prominent in the television series as others have suggested; but it’s very obvious here.
We get quite a few ties to series history here. The beryllium laser weapons which Allingham supplies to the United Front are a descendent of the one developed in The Seeds of Doom; the Doctor says they are illegal on most worlds, and will be illegal here in twenty years. Allingham refers to the Doctor’s time with UNIT and also credits him with connections to the C19 organization. Other connections are more meta in nature, including my favorite line by Allingham to the Doctor: “Isn’t this the point where you usually arrive in the midst of chaos and sidle into the good graces of the authority figures when they’re not paying attention?” Well, now that you mention it, yes. Ace also gently mocks the early monster-of-the-week format of the show in speaking about the Fearmonger: “It’s a Fearmongoid from the planet Fearmongos!” Even the Doctor himself gets a little meta: “Just for once I’d like to come up with a very good plan that doesn’t involve a lot of last minute rewiring!”
There’s a very overt racist element to Harper’s speeches, which she uses to create paranoia in the audience. Note that with the reveal that the Fearmonger was never actually in her, it becomes clear that she is doing this on her own. Racism is always a tough subject to handle, but I think the audio handles it well; it doesn’t sugarcoat, and doesn’t try to make her look good despite it, or even sweep it under the rug. She may have some good political points, but she’s not a good person. (I hear comparisons to the current American presidential election rising in the comments as we speak, but I assure you, that was not my intention.)
The Fearmonger is a somewhat more believable monster than other recent ones; the story doesn’t try to explain the medium in which it exists, and thus we avoid the problem we had with Visteen Krane in Whispers of Terror. It was a created being; Ace and the Doctor don’t know its exact origin, but they have reason to believe there were several, based on different emotions, which fled to different worlds once theirs was destroyed. This leaves the field open for the concept to be revisited, which I like.
My only real complaint is that this audio was difficult to follow, not in terms of plot, but in terms of presentation. It moves quickly, which is good, but it also jumps around quite abruptly, and it’s easy to miss the setup for those transitions. As well, there is a ridiculous amount of whispering going on; I was listening in the car, and it got difficult to understand at some points. Otherwise, it’s a great addition to the Big Finish library.
Next time: I’m still deciding between the Eight Doctor Adventures’ second entry, Horror of Glam Rock, and Main Range 6, The Marian Conspiracy. Either way, I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you are as well. See you there!
All audios reviewed in this series can be purchased here from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below. This and many other audio dramas are also available on Spotify and Google Play.