Doctor Who: The Demons Within – Written by Gary Russell & Read by David Banks (BBC Audiobooks)

Probably one of the more underrated pairings in the New Who era, the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones were marked on screen by complex emotional turmoil – she loved him, body and soul, he was healing poorly after getting too close to a human being, Rose Tyler, and feeling the transformative power she had over his life.

That had a tendency to drag down the emotional energy of their stories together and make the whole thing feel a little spongy. 

Gratifyingly then, bar one brief quip about a date in a graveyard at the start, Gary Russell parks all that emotional sturm und drang in The Demons Within, and just delivers us a fairly straight-down-the-barrel creepy, atmospheric, aliens-as-demons story.

The location lends itself to such a vibe – a remote clifftop in Ayrshire in the 1860s, where electrical science is being conducted by two dedicated Scots scientists, and where everyone else has been scared off by “demons.”

“I’m in an episode of Scooby Doo,” quips Martha, and she’s not far wrong, for all the century – and technically the continent – is out. 

From the moment the Tardis team turn up, it’s obvious that the electrical experiments of Forbes and McCullen are responsible for the red-eyed demons that have been scaring the bejesus out of the locals – but quite why and how only unfolds over time. That makes effective use of the relatively compressed runtime of this story – it doesn’t waste time trying to be a whodunnit, but focuses on the howtheydunnitandwhy. Because gratifyingly, they’re not especially sure.

There’s a mysterious upside-downness to the house on the clifftop – it’s built into the rock itself. There’s a big door made of rowan wood (famously thought to keep demons at bay), and in fairness to Russell, the story here is more or less paintable by numbers the moment all the elements are laid out.

Yes, there’s the age of great invention and advancement, leading to electrical research. We’re 45 years on from Frankenstein, but there’s a whiff of Mary Shelley’s ozone about the place. 

Yes, there’s also a certain Scottish nationalistic pride – for all that feels perhaps a little ahead of its time, given Victoria’s love of everything Scottish and the country’s recorded reciprocation.

But there are demons beyond the door, and once you meet them, there’s little that’s complex in the script. Demons bad, reasons for opening door to demons, both scientific, profitable, and Something Else – albeit the most predictable of Somethings Else, particularly in the Tennant era, which thrived on emotional conflict. 

Then what you have is more or less a straightforward case of Tenth Doctor exposition, negotiation, sonic-waggling and being double-crossed so someone else can be the hero, with appalling consequences.

As we say, so far, so Tenth Doctor Paint By Numbers.

But there are two things to take into account before writing The Demons Within off that way. Number 1 – they’re very good numbers. There’s an atmospheric quality to the writing which reminds the listener of some of Tom Baker’s finest, in particular The Horror of Fang Rock, with perhaps a smidgen of Capaldi’s The Eaters of Light around the story-beats – big door, bad things trying to get through, etc. 

Number 2 – it’s read by David Banks.

David Banks, bless his bass, is the actor whose voice and intonation made the Cybermen a viable threat again for Eighties Doctor Who fans, just as they’d been in the Sixties. His Cyber Leader was a constant presence whenever the TinLids appeared throughout the decade, and he arguably made them scarier than they’ve ever been, before or since.

He’s been brought back into the fold a little recently, reading BBC Audionovelizations of key Cyber-stories, and the truth is that he’s rarely been allowed to deliver on the power of his CyberVoice – the modulators are different now, perhaps, but it’s never been as effective as it should be.

Solution – get David Banks to read things…as David Banks, rather than relying on him to deliver the CyberGoodness of yesteryear. His reading here resonates with all the big, booming sound you want from That Voice, without any of the modulated nonsense. It’s a voice you could spread on toast for a Sunday morning treat, and it fully delivers both the narratorial darkness you need to sell a story of blasted Ayrshire clifftops and pan-dimensional demons, and the light and shade you need between the cheeky chappy Tenth Doctor and Martha “to the point” Jones.

Yes, The Demons Within would have worked well enough with many other narrators, but bringing in David Banks for this story? Freaking masterstroke. More please, BBC Audio, the man’s clearly a vocal powerhouse, and we love it.

So is The Demons Within worth your money?

Ordinarily, it would depend on how much you like the Tenth Doctor and Martha era. There’s certainly nothing especially surprising in the story to make you gasp and slap your thigh. But there’s solid storytelling of a tale that would fit in between the televised episodes, a kind of podcast story, rather than an episodic nightmare, but nevertheless, worth diving into.

What makes this one definitely worth your time is David Banks and the rolling rumble of a voice that imbues the scenes with power, trepidation, humanity and fear, turning a workaday story into a vivid, full colour adventure you’ll remember – perhaps for longer than the writing strictly deserves. Tony Fyler

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