Storm Mine Review
by Marilyn Burge
Previously published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 332
Writing a follow-up to "Checkmate" must have been rather like coming up with a Sixth Act for King Lear, with the stage already strewn with dead bodies and the old order gone. Daniel O’Mahoney was fairly brave to have a stab at it, in my opinion, and he has come up with a remarkable sequel that is entertaining and thought-provoking to an extent which is almost disturbing.
"Storm Mine" follows on from "Checkmate", and the focus shifts to the character of Blayes, whom the listener accompanies on a journey of discovery and development, while at the same time sharing much of her mystification. Blayes awakens in a Storm Mine-- an ore-extracting, tank-like juggernaut-- which is travelling around the Blind Heart Desert and mysteriously unable to return to Kaldor City. Blayes wants to know the reason why, among other things, but finding answers is not an easy task. Tracy Russell provides a really vital strong performance in this crucial role, successfully combining the character’s self-assurance and confused vulnerability. A highlight of her performance is Blayes’s interaction with a robot, and her scenes with Paul Darrow as Iago are also particularly enjoyable.
Iago seems to be in the position of advisor to Blayes, but both the listener and Blayes would do well to question his motivation. He is fascinatingly redrawn in "Storm Mine", as he needed to be after the preceding story, and his influence has become restricted to his immediate surroundings. His bored dismissal of some Diary tapes-- discovered by Blayes in a cabin on the Storm Mine-- contrasts marvellously with his rigorous examination and knowledge of the Capel Tapes in the previous two stories, and highlights the differences between the old Iago and the new one. Paul Darrow’s performance has, in the past, suggested physical activity and alertness; in "Storm Mine", however, he forcefully conveys the frustration and suppressed fury of Iago’s unaccustomed and devastating lack of power. Iago is now the only character to have appeared in all the Kaldor City audio productions, and as always Darrow’s appearance in the role is welcome and intriguing.
While previously Iago has shared the secrets of the man at the top, one can’t imagine for a moment that his self-interested machinations will impress the Commander of the Storm Mine. The Commander’s reserved and unflappable personality contrasts well with the twitchy paranoia and vindictiveness of Firstmaster Chairholder Uvanov, played in earlier stories by the late Russell Hunter. Philip Madoc’s well-judged performance as the Commander is beautifully understated. Unobtrusive on a first listen, it’s actually a stunning portrayal of ambiguity. Is he avuncular? Sinister? Probably neither, but it’s interestingly unclear. His words of advice to Blayes are oracular and enigmatic, and she makes better progress when she uses instinct rather than reason to perceive his meaning (perhaps the listener does too). There is far more depth to this character than can be conveyed here.
The Commander’s subordinate is the Chief Mover, and, like every other character, he’s probably not what he seems to be. Although there are no moments of madness from this Chief Mover, John Leeson effectively conveys to the listener that the character is unravelling without even realising it. The Chief Mover’s lack of insight into Blayes’s perspective is especially damaging and makes for a compelling scene.
"Storm Mine" introduces the robot V23, who is assigned to Blayes, and seems initially to be a rare example of sane predictability on the Storm Mine. As Blayes interacts with the robot, however, she is reminded, yet again, that appearances can be deceptive. V23 is played by Gregory de Polnay, known to many listeners as D84 in the 1977 Doctor Who production, "The Robots of Death". We’ve sadly lost Russell Hunter but de Polnay’s casting retains the continuity with the original Kaldor story, which is very pleasing. V23, like D84 before him, seems constantly on the verge of displaying emotion. This is absolutely critical in "Storm Mine" as O’Mahoney’s script develops the robot in an unexpected direction, to which de Polnay’s subtly ambiguous inflections add great conviction. V23’s reference to ‘a different dream’ seems emotionless, yet is oddly moving and wistful (and his almost pained remark about persevering is very amusing). It’s also extremely unnerving, at one point, to hear a tale of horror told in the robot’s mild tones.
It’s probably no secret by now that the Fendahl has been introduced into the series. It’s well remembered from the Doctor Who story "Image of the Fendahl", where its intentions were always interpreted and relayed to the audience by the Doctor, making its absolute silence one of its more unnerving features. For both the writer and the performer, it must have been quite a responsibility to give this entity a voice. One of O’Mahoney’s most impressive achievements in "Storm Mine" is his imaginative re-identifying of the Fendahl in a way that allows it to interact credibly with other characters, and Patricia Merrick’s brief appearances in this part are creepy, effective and feel consistent with the original creation.
It’s been easy to see the Fendahl as ‘the baddie’, but doing so raises many questions (some of them not dissimilar to those being heatedly debated today). For instance, does creating new life justify causing the suffering of others? Is it a positive activity? What’s the point of it? Is there a single instance of the Fendahl’s ‘bad’ behaviour that couldn’t be defended as an act of survival? Is there any evidence of malevolence, and if not, is that any excuse? There is an echo here of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 series of novels, where human evolution is manipulated by powerful beings. Although Clarke was always careful to describe the aliens as ‘dispassionate’, they do end up fairly unpopular by the series conclusion-- from the human perspective at least. There is plenty to think about here, not least the original Fendahl story, which many of us have seen as one of the Doctor’s most spectacular successes.
As we have come to expect, the talents of Alistair Lock ensure that the production standard of "Storm Mine" is uniformly high. The sound of the Storm Mine rumbling by from time to time is a useful reminder of the characters’ enclosure in an artificial world, and, with its heavy, rock-crushing reverberations, is so well realised that it deservedly has almost an entire track to itself. I also very much liked the sound of the desert. Perhaps the most memorable of the numerous, evocative effects is in a scene which combines a harrowing tale with an escalating sound to create the aural equivalent of one of Hieronymus Bosch’s more disturbing paintings.
Daniel O’Mahoney’s "Storm Mine" is an outstanding and worthy contribution to a series that has become known for being both entertaining and intelligent. There are no instructions on how to assemble the pieces of the puzzle that is "Storm Mine", or what to make of the result. Interpreting this story is the listener’s responsibility.