Feeding the Fear

You might think that we’d be reviewing the last part of this year’s Master trilogy right here, but the thing is – at this point in time in the Folly, the Seventh Doctor hasn’t actually met the McQueen Master yet. And since that play indicates that he has met that incarnation of the Master, logically it can’t happen before Unit: Dominion. Which we can’t see from here. So hush – and wait. Meanwhile…

Big Finish Folly, Part 144 – The Fearmonger, by Jonathan Blum

The FearmongerOne would-be assassin is in a mental ward. Another’s on the run. Their intended victim is stirring up the mobs. Terrorists are planning a strike of their own. A talk-radio host is loving every minute of it. A Whitehall insider whispers about a mysterious UN operative, with a hidden agenda. Everyone’s got someone they want to be afraid of. It’ll only take a little push for the situation to erupt – and something is doing the pushing. But you can trust the Doctor to put things right. Can’t you?Others would put the adaptations of the early New Adventures novels (Nightshade, for example) here first, but while that range still has some miles to run I’m going to launch into the main 7/Ace arc. The New Adventures can always be placed post-Hex… no, we’ll get to Hex in a bit…

Anyway, The Fearmonger. Do bear in mind that we’re all the way back in February 2000 as far as release dates go, the very early days of Big Finish’s massive Main Range run. Even so, it’s a brave decision to put a charged political story slap bang in the present day, and a prescient one too given Britain’s current socio-political climate. Jacqueline Pearce plays the charismatic politician inciting hatred and violence – and it’s a more sympathetic portrayal than the outright evil of Servalan. Arrayed against and alongside her are a coterie of desperate activists, civil servants, and radio talk-show mouthpieces, all manipulative and manipulated by a formless creature that feeds on fear and bigotry.

Absolutely nothing like today, obviously.

There are two very good twists in this story. The first is that as the listener, you’re never quite sure up until the end that the Fearmonger truly exists. Is it all in the mind? Is there nothing to fear but fear itself? It’s the sort of twist that thoroughly suits the Seventh Doctor, and that was (in chronological terms on this site)/will be (in pure release number terms) explored with less success in something like RED. It makes the listener wonder whether Jac Pearce’s horrendous bigot needs an alien influence to be evil. (Trump. Farage. Cameron. Gove. We do it to ourselves, we really do.)

The second twist, once we’re certain that the Fearmonger is real, is that the darned thing isn’t hiding quite where you think it is. A lesser twist, but still effective.

Atmosphere-wise, Blum takes a lot from the New Adventures direction and the apparent post-Survival signposting. The Doctor is playing a game by his own rules for a lot of the time, rarely explaining himslef in full. This can be a little frustrating. The decision to have Ace wounded is brave and startling, definitely something that the TV show would not have done. You can imagine the deserted streets and warehouses of London though, and the mob scene is truly scary. Hugh Walters plays a creepy civil servant with a sort of prescient nod to Sit Toby Kinsella (let’s face it, all civil servants are creepy manipulators, aren’t they?).

While it might be slightly dated now, technologically speaking, The Fearmonger is still relevant to modern Britain – and in itself, that’s something to be scared of.
****

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