Despite the huge budget cutbacks and becoming a shadow of its former self in terms of popularity, Doctor Who in the late 1980s developed into something far better than it had any right to be, with stories being in turn freaky, exciting, scary and weird. A perfect example of this was The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, featuring Jessica Martin as a Vulpanine girl called Mags – the classic show’s one and only Werewolf, initially enslaved but eventually, by the story’s end, taking charge of the Psychic Circus. Mags was always an intriguing character, and some fans consider her to be a ‘companion who never was’, but the werewolf-companion was sadly not to be – until now. Over thirty years after her one and only appearance, Mags has been brought back for a brand new trilogy of audio dramas from Big Finish, which concludes this month with the release of Doctor Who: An Alien Werewolf In London.
Following on from The Monsters of Gokroth and The Moons of Vulpana, which saw the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) seek out a lost Mags and then take her to meet her family on Vulpana, An Alien Werewolf In London opens with the Doctor being called to Camden Lock, London, in the early 1990s by his other companion, Ace (Sophie Aldred). Ace needs help to rescue a sentient alien parasite that has been held captive by the wealthy Farat family for centuries. But when their plan goes wrong, and the dark secret of the Farat family is revealed, allies turn out to be enemies and Ace and Mags become the ones who need rescuing …
Now in my mind, popular fiction never stops looking at the unusual, the strange – it’s mildly obsessed with the idea of a dark side to people’s characters (well, we are all dark, strange and unusual, right?) For example, when it comes to monster stories, the concept of characters fighting primal, animalistic urges often raises its ugly head. But, sometimes, colourful characters and an intriguing concept is all we really need to be entertained – and it’s in this lighter aspect that An Alien Werewolf In London really delivers.
Without going too much into spoiler territory, the antagonists of this somewhat convoluted story are an ancient family of vampires. You have got to love a good vampire-versus-werewolf story, haven’t you? With an emphasis on fun, there are hilarious moments throughout, particularly from McCoy, who only improves with age, as well as a parody of certain Australian soaps popular in the 1990s, which is a lovely detail for fans over the age of thirty-five, creating a charming element of nostalgia. Indeed, the fact that Ace called the Doctor to Camden because an actress has “left Brookie” may make you laugh out loud (while also feeling old!). But it’s not all obscure retro-nineties touches; there’s also a running gag throughout the story about how, as an alien, Mags doesn’t get the other characters’ constant pop culture references, much like many of the listeners, I warrant.
But it’s not all entirely successful. The writer Alan Barnes seems somewhat fixated on Goths and Punks – surely they were in vogue a good decade earlier? Barnes also claims in the bonus interview included in the release that his aim was to apply time travel to what it means to suffer from Mag’s condition; as a werewolf, controlled by the cycles of the moon, his idea was that time travel should mess that up. However, it’s soon established that, regardless of what time it is, it’s light that triggers Mag’s transformation, whether it’s lunar or not – meaning this aspect of the story ultimately falls flat.
On the plus side, An Alien Werewolf In London works well as a sequel to Greatest Show; one really feels that everything from the McCoy era is there in spades. In particular, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred just make everything feel right. The necessary stylized soundscape in audio drama can sometimes make everything feel somewhat forced and unnatural; good acting is key to selling it. After nearly twenty years of appearing in audio drama productions for Big Finish, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred have given their characters new depth, and have shown them to develop and grow; indeed, listeners can now re-appreciate their original television performances, making them feel somewhat underrated. When Ace and Mags meet for the first time in years, it’s utterly convincing; it’s clear Aldred and Martin have a natural chemistry.
In summary then, An Alien Werewolf In London is a fun story for anyone with any imagination. Fans have recently complained that the most recent season of Doctor Who on TV has been somewhat monster-lite. If you want your Doctor Who to have to have monsters in it – and you really should – then you will not be disappointed with An Alien Werewolf In London. Ultimately, though, it’s still debatable whether this Mags trilogy is really ‘necessary’ – but even if it’s not, it is certainly a fun ride.
Doctor Who: An Alien Werewolf In London is available now exclusively from the Big Finish website until July 30th, whereupon it will be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading retailers.