Doctor Who: The Scent of Blood – Written by Andrew Lane & Read by Dan Starkey – CD / Audible (BBC Worldwide)
Victorian Edinburgh is where we’re headed for this new hour-and-change audio adventure with the Eighth Doctor. Victorian Edinburgh of course has lots to recommend it – architecture, authoritarianism, a rising working class and potential strife between the old guard and the new. That gives the place and time all the essence of gothic horror it needs to thrill us, and Andrew Lane builds his story on that basis – there appears to be a monster stalking the streets of Edinburgh, and journalist James MacFarlane intends to get to the bottom of it, come what may. When he runs into a flamboyant man known only as the Doctor, and in the morgue at that, he gains a companion on his quest to find out exactly what’s going on.
It’s rather more complicated than even he suspects.
In The Scent of Blood, Andrew Lane delivers on both the initial gothic premise of Victorian horror, drenches the listener in Doctor Who history – this is very much a sequel story in some respects, so you’ll need your Doctor Who Reference-Spotter’s Guide – and takes us into a new way of thinking about a classic villain, and the classic response to them, all while on a darkly-tinged romp round the streets of a Victorian city with an increasingly febrile atmosphere of class warfare boiling away. There are lords and ladies in Edinburgh, to be sure, and there are frightened urban peasants – but that’s not the whole story either. Everything we know about the particular villain features here suggests a symbiotic relationship between at least two creatures, but if that relationship is broken, can either survive alone, and if so, how would that be possible? Lane tackles what we think we know and adds new dimensions to it, which makes The Scent of Blood rather more satisfying than it would have been had he been determined to simply re-tread familiar ground in a different time and place. Here, he also takes aim at rigid notions of good, evil, and what people will be prepared to do to save their own from dark and dangerous fates. It’s like a Scottish Downton Abbey, but with secrets, important portraits, and a raving mob in the town square.
Dan Starkey, TV and audio Sontaran Supreme, has lent his voice to a solid handful of different Doctors now, and his Eighth Doctor is pretty convincing – it’s by no means an impersonation, but it has enough of a tinge of Paul McGann’s tone and manner to be an active help in convincing you you’re listening to an Eighth Doctor story, while Lane’s writing conjures a bouncier, earlier Eighth Doctor than his later, Time War-troubled version. This is a Doctor looking for interesting things and answers to mysteries, and finding them – and then having to decide where his lines are drawn. After all, there are rules about what he should do in the circumstances in which he find himself in The Scent of Blood.
But then, the Doctor and rules have rarely gone together with any particular comfort. When he uncovers the truth about what’s happening on the streets of Victorian Edinburgh, the lines he has to draw are rather less clear-cut than they were when he met this villain before, because the lines of harm, of damage are more blurred now too.
The Scent of Blood is a vivid replaying of a particular scenario, with more complication, more complexity and more of a sense of moral ambiguity than before. In its tone and location, it channels traditional gothic horror very effectively – but as the Doctor and MacFarlane discover here, sometimes you have to look beyond the tone of a thing to find out what’s really going on.
What’s really going on in The Scent of Blood will surprise you, make you give a little cheer at its references to Classic Who mythos, and sweep you briskly through its newer elements to a satisfied smile at the end.
It’s an audio story that feels fundamental to the Eighth Doctor, to what he’s learned and how he approaches the universe. Give it a listen and revel in Lane and Starkey channelling the McGann Doctor’s enthusiasm, open-heartedness and sudden seriousness as he deals with a most unusual problem. Tony Fyler