Doctor Who: The Flight of the Sun God – Written by Nev Fountain & Read by Nicola Bryant – CD / Audible (BBC Wordwide)
There’s nothing like a properly crafted mash-up to warm the cockles of the Who-fan’s heart.
This absolutely is a properly crafted mash-up that will warm whatever cockles you have left in this dark and cynical age, while also taking quite a neat pot-shot at some recognisable characters, which will make you laugh out loud when your suspicions are explicitly confirmed.
The Sun God is a gigantic spaceship. It’s all a bit Red Dwarf in its initial purpose – it has scoops and such to suck the energy out of suns, sell the energy back to planets at a profit, and massively enrich the already monstrously rich mogul at the head of the company, the oft-mentioned, rarely-seen Spalding Revere.
When the Sixth Doctor and Peri arrive on the Sun God, naturally enough, Something Is Going Wrong. An executive engineer has been missing, apparently yomping among the pipes for several weeks now, and no-one can really be bothered to go looking for him. There are creepy eyes in the darkness of the ducting, and the ship seems to have been dipped in the golden style of one of the gaudier Egyptian emperors. Added to which, the executive board have been waiting for their lord and master to show up to a board meeting for three days, and the ship might, or might not, be where it’s supposed to be.
Oh and Spalding Revere turns out to be a dead ringer for he of the noble brow and the very loud voice – yes, for reasons that may or may not become apparent, this is a Doctor’s doppelganger story, just to add impetus to everything else.
That’s the set of operating conditions with which writer Nev Fountain presents us when we begin our journey on the Sun God. Big sun-sucking ship, looking like an Egyptian sarcophagus, weird goings-on down on the lower decks, missing mogul, Doctor-doppelganger and a ship going less right than would really be ideal.
From this positive cornucopia of elements, he weaves quite the adventure story, the tension mounting as problem follows problem. He manages to separate the Doctor and Peri effectively, each of them gaining an alternative companion for the run-time of the story, as the Doctor hob-nobs with the high-ups (who at least initially think he’s their boss), and Peri – but naturally – gets stuck in the pipes and the venting with all the curious scuttly things and whatever it is that made the engineer go missing.
There are certainly elements that will ring tonal bells here – it’s difficult to escape the feel of Voyage of the Damned, with its big extravagant ship, quest for survival and gittish mogul at the heart of the story, and the initial set-up blends elements of The Sun Makers and 42, with a dash of Pyramids of Mars at least about its décor. But Nev Fountain builds the storytelling up, crisis by crisis, so even though sometimes when a story-element appears, you find yourself thinking ‘Aha! That’ll be useful when the Thing happens!’, when the Thing then eventually does happen, you’re caught up enough in the forward momentum of the storytelling not to mind being right. And far from falling into predictability, there are surprises along the way that you won’t necessarily see coming, but which, when everything is unravelled, make a satisfying sense.
Perhaps best of all is the meeting of the Doctor and the ultimate villain of the piece. You’ll get the feeling of what the plot-behind-the-plot is before you get there, and it will most likely blow your hair back with the sense of the villain’s entitlement and egomania. When they come face to face, not only will you get the full force of that entitlement, some resonances with our own world which will have occurred to you get a wink of confirmation from Fountain which throws the whole situation into a context that will live with you after you finish listening to the story.
Rather joyfully though, while you’ll have worked out a handful of ways in which the ultimate crisis on board the Sun God can be resolved, the actual solution will probably be none of those, but it will make properly plotted sense, underlining that sense you get when watching or listening to one of the better Doctor Who stories that these things have been thought through both as a writer and from the point of view of the potential listener. To some extent, Fountain plots the whole adventure that way, like an Agatha Christie story, giving you clues, allowing you to run a little ahead, then blocking off or opening up pathways to your next big plot point. It all makes for a very satisfying listen.
Nicola Bryant on reading duties here does what she always does when called on to read an audio story – she puts the work in, giving you narration in her more natural voice, and delivering a Peri you remember, but also populating the story with a range of voices which bring the thing to life and let you sink into the drama of it, both in terms of creepy things in the ducting and bigger, less personal, more screaming cliff-hanger style threats.
All in all, The Flight of the Sun God’s a rollicking listen that build and builds, and gives you that connection to our own world and what’s happening to it that will make you nod in recognition of the kind of mind you’re dealing with – indeed, the kind of mind we’re all dealing with – when the villain’s ultimate plan is revealed.
Give The Flight of the Sun God a spin, but pack your Factor 50. Things are about to get hot. Tony Fyler