Doctor Who: Short Trips: The Turn of the Screw – Written by Eddie Robson, Narrated by Yee Jee Tso as Charlie Sato & Directed by Lisa Bowerman – Download (Big Finish)
It can’t be easy being a time traveller. When you skip out or run off at the end of your adventures, it must be hard to remember where you left your litter, and clean up after yourself to prevent any temporal contamination.
Step forward Warrant Officer Charlie Sato, a UNIT officer played by Yee Jee Tso, deployed here on timey-wimey garbage collection duties in Puerto Rico. Charlie Sato was invented more or less so Eighth Doctor movie companion-actor Yee could appear in Big Finish audio stories without his character in that movie having to do so. He’s appeared in a couple of really quite excellent Doctor-light stories before now, including the must-buy Mastermind, but here we see Charlie Sato the action hero, out in the world, rather than stuck in the UNIT Vault, which has been his lot for most of his audio life so far. Charlie out in the world feels like a good new direction for the character, and Eddie Robson gives him an action drama to be part of, as he tries to collect a piece of alien tech from a ship where people are trying to get very rich off the back of it. At least, as far as Charlie knows.
Charlie running into the Eighth Doctor and uncovering what the alien tech actually is, where it’s from, who the aliens are who actually want to get hold of it, and what they plan to do with it when they get it, is a high-octane, highly entertaining way to spend the length of a Short Trip. Yee Jee Tso barrels the story along with a likeable, knowing tone that makes us want to hear more from Sato in future audios (New spin-off, possibly? UNIT’s Irregulars? Agents of Shield, just saying…). He probably should get tiresome, but a combination of Robson’s writing and Yee Jee Tso’s derring-do, gung-ho and flinging himself into the role really makes for something that will grab your attention and won’t let go till the world’s been well and truly saved and you’re back at UNIT HQ for a cup of tea and a Jammie Dodger. And you’ll want to hear more Charlie Sato stories as a result.
Robson deserves a gold star for the flower-like structure of his story – starting off tight and contained, with an objective of ‘recover the piece of space junk from a ship’ and blooming into ‘Do this now or it’s the end of the world, because of the humungo-alien from a dark dimension.’ You can imagine it working as a full-length audio, but the Short Trip length allows it to be made of all the best bits.
That feeling is enhanced by Lisa Bowerman, an experienced hand who directs this short story like an Editor’s Cut of a longer space-time spy thriller with a budget of millions, without all the tedious mucking about drinking weak Martinis and being a sleazebag. As such, it listens like a fast-talking, twinkle-eyed bullet from a storytelling gun, and you run along after it, keeping it in sight at all times.
There’s an extra special Easter egg for New Who fans here, which feels almost like Robson saw a thing on screen and thought ‘What happens to that?’, and so wrote this story as a result. Whether that happened or not, The Turn of the Screw is pacey, cheeky, joyful Doctor Who sprinkled with peril that grows and grows to a gulping pinnacle. It’s great to break Charlie out of the Vault, and, occasional instances of being clobbered into unconsciousness notwithstanding, he’s an energetic, intelligent UNIT member, who with stories like this and a broader canvas, could really begin to make a name for himself in the wider world of Who.
Seriously – UNIT: The Irregulars. Benton, Yates, Sato and his boss Ruth Matheson. Occasional drop-ins from Osgood and Sam Bishop – it could be The Professionals for a new audio generation. I’m just sayin’… Tony Fyler