I crusade regularly against bad science fiction in popular culture, such as the obnoxious, trendy steampunkeries that seem to litter the audiovisual landscape like so many jackhammers in a virgin wilderness. I am also not a huge Doctor Who fan by any stretch of the imagination. Probably, then, there will be some surprise in the ranks that I have only glowing things to say about the new audio drama, The Minister of Chance, set in the Doctor Who universe.
As I understand it, the original ambition behind The Minister of Chance was to create a simultaneous web cinema and “radiophonic” (i.e., audio drama) series based on the characters from the Doctor Who mythos, completely funded by fans and supporters of the original television series. At this point, Minister of Chance writer and producer Dan Freeman seems to have abandoned the cinematic side of things to concentrate on the audio work. Judging from the quality of the three available episodes, this has been a fruitful move. The voices are fabulous, including two actors of former Doctor Who incarnations, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann, and the overall sound design is truly wonderful. This is a series made with care and not a little love as well.
Discussing a continuing series that has, as yet, no ending is always problematic. Nevertheless, I can make some observations.
1) If there is any single salient feature of British science fiction in the cinema it is that the British value acting far more than we do in the US. Not surprising, then, that the voice acting here excels. The cast is absolutely phenomenal. Julian Wadham’s impatient Minister and Paul Darrow’s villainous Lord Rathen are exactly as good as you would expect them to be, but the women in the cast are also exceptional, with the outstanding Jenny Agutter leading the roster.
2) Lauren Crace as Kitty strikes me as fairly annoying with her brutal naivete but undoubtedly this is precisely what Mr. Freeman requires of her. I sense that she will become the linchpin of future stories, surely as some sort of apprentice to the Time Lord. This would be consistent with the tropes of the Doctor Who universe. She’s a marvelous actress, as capable of charming a listener as infuriating a listener.
3) The first two episodes (or three, if one counts the Prologue) form a sort of conclusive story–as conclusive as any story in the Doctor Who universe ever is. It reminds me of another salient difference between American and British science fiction. The British science fiction writers create their worlds and work within the constraints they have set without any tip to the reader (or viewer) that something is strange. By comparison, American science fiction tends to over-explain and indulge in far too much exposition, as if they need to prove something’s reality superseded the need for dramatic speculation. True, the Doctor Who universe has been around almost fifty years and even casual viewers are certainly familiar with its tropes by now, so certain things need not be stated at all. But The Minister of Chance still shines in this regard by not explaining the mysteries within its story, relying instead upon the listener to fill in the gaps–or simply to accept them as mysterious. This is truly refreshing for any audio drama series and lifts the show into another, higher realm altogether away from the navel-gazing, retrofit sci-fi exposition often found in American podcasts even at their finest.
As I write this, I have heard from Dan Freeman that Episode Three of The Minister of Chance has received enough funding to go ahead into the studio. Truly I look forward to it. Mr. Freeman’s vision for the project seems assured and clear, his writing excellent, and his cast impeccable. With its grassroots approach, I am certain it will retain its vision and remain a strong story as long as it holds together–which I hope will be a long time.