“The Doctor and Charley decide to take a well-deserved break from the monotony of being chased, shot at and generally suffering anti-social behavior at the hands of others. And so they end up in Venice, well into Charley’s future, as the great city prepares to sink beneath the water for the last time…
Which would be a momentous, if rather dispiriting, event to witness in itself. However, the machinations of a love-sick aristocrat, a proud art historian and a rabid High Priest of a really quite dodgy cult combine to make Venice’s swansong a night to remember. And then there’s the rebellion by the web-footed amphibious underclass, the mystery of a disappearing corpse and the truth behind a curse going back further than curses usually do. The Doctor and Charley are forced to wonder just what they have got themselves involved with this time…”
I’ve really been enjoying these Eighth Doctor adventures from Big Finish so far, and was excited to dive into another one. This play is slightly surreal in both setting and plot. While it exists in the far-flung future, the characters and things happening in and around Venice make it seem as if it could have honestly been a historical episode. There are Dukes and Duchesses, art dealers and religious cults wandering the streets – all of these scream “medieval period piece” to me. This oddness in setting makes for a serial that revels in atmosphere and characterization over the story itself.
We basically have a group that wants Venice to Sink, another than does not, and a religious cult that believes a long-lost Duchess holds the keys to salvation. These three groups run around and talk to each other for four episodes, and not much else happens. This simple story is kept this way because the author wanted to build an engrossing mystery, but there is one problem. The story is really quite simple, and many will figure out the big M. Night Shyamalan-styled twist at the beginning of episode one. For me, this would be like watching (or reading) a Hercule Poirot mystery knowing the killer from page one. No matter what sort of swerves and red-herrings come our way, it just isn’t that exciting.
I’d say that this is the weakest of the Paul McGann episodes so far, and there is a great explanation for this. When Big Finish did these audios, they actually recorded a few of them at the same time. While we got “Storm Warning” as a smashing introduction to Charley and a great re-introduction to the Eighth Doctor, this was actually the first one recorded. I’m not saying that those portrayals are bad, but they are a bit more subdued than earlier episodes. Keeping this in mind, the episode is a success and an entertaining listen based on the setting alone, although it fails to meet the standards of its predecessors.