Doctor Who and The Natural History of Fear

The Natural History of Fear

Story 054
Written by Jim Mortimore, Directed by Gary Russell
Released February 2004

“A fist is not a threat, a gun is not a threat, a word is a threat. An idea is a threat. Ideas are patient.”

In Light City, everyone enjoys watching their favorite emotionally-charged adventure program provided for light entertainment. The program is actually a rehash of the events in Neverland in which the Doctor and Charley struggle to express their true emotions to each other while the universe hangs in the balance. But this is a fiction in a bland world where every question is a crime punishable by removal.  When one of the citizens rejects the distraction, he is forcibly removed from his home. Fleeing his captors, he launches into the air and falls to his death beside a fountain.

No one reacts or questions the event.

In an abstraction of reality, familiar voices of the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz swap from character to character as the truth is edited and rewritten over and over. Citizens start to see the cracks in the foundation of Light City, but are quickly silenced by censors and the editor.

The Natural History of Fear is the strangest and most post-modern Doctor Who story I have ever experienced. Not only does it feature the a fictionalized version of Doctor Who used as a tool to control the masses, but it also utilizes the creative writing process including revision and editing in order to control the course of a story… or society. This is a world that is struggling to maintain a static state and keep the masses from questioning their world or changing. It is the ultimate tyrannical empire where free thought is impossible.

The true nature of this story takes its time to unravel, but it is clear early on that this is not a simple tale of the Doctor and his companions fighting an alien despot. In fact, the Doctor inadvertently introduced chaos into this world while he was simply passing through. The rest is post-script as Light City nears a period of violent revolution and a toy top that the Doctor left behind spins languidly on.

A deeply sophisticated and mature story, The Natural History of Fear dwells on the question of identity, of the purpose of entertainment and the price of freedom. It is a disturbing and moving piece that teeters on the edge of being far too clever for its own good but never topples over. Author Jim Mortimore shows that he could be one of the most brilliantly gifted writers to ever pen a Doctor Who story with this one.

I have to admit that I was thrown by this one at first, desperately trying to figure out if our heroes had gotten their minds wiped by some evil entity or placed in some trap to derive secrets from their brains.  The proximity to Zagreus in which several familiar actors and actresses voice different characters is unfortunate as it makes the innovations in this story seem familiar (and nothing should remind anyone of Zagreus).  The shifting characters grants the actors ample opportunity to stretch their creative muscles and try on some different emotions which is a real treat.

The Natural History of Fear is a gift to the cast of McGann, Fisher and Westmaas who rise to the occasion and give life to what could have been a nonsensical audio story.

When it was first released, The Natural History of Fear had a somewhat split reception; some praising it as genius others derided it as delusional nonsense. There are some cliched moments (as one would expect in a story such as this), and some strong similarities to popular films such as THX-1138 and the Matrix as well as the novel 1984 but it introduces so many wonderful new ideas that engage the listener with its energy.

A welcome break from the journey through the Divergent Universe, The Natural History of Fear is a real stunner that reminds fans that one can truly do almost anything with a Doctor Who adventure. The only limit is imagination.

The Natural History of Fear can be purchased from Big Finish and from local retailers such as Mike’s Comics.


One thought on “Doctor Who and The Natural History of Fear

  1. Following the highly unimaginative Creed of the Kromon, Big Finish’s 3rd season of 8th Doctor adventures goes all experimental again, with Jim Mortimore’s The Natural history of Fear. A challenging and unique audio adventure, the play highlights the effect of the Doctor’s arrival in a regressive regime where questions are forbidden for the good of the state. The story plays with the audio setting itself, with the authority figures constant ‘revisioning’ of characters leading to a heady mix of sound collages as characters rewind each others memories. The series regulars don’t play their normal roles – Paul McGann spends most of the play as The Editor, frantically attempting to stop a revolution that no-one else can see, and unwittingly ending up brining it about – but the impact of the Doctors arrival is crucial to the story. Sparkling dialogue, great performances, some thought-provoking ideas and a lovely twist ending make this not only the sole worthy play in an otherwise lacklustre season, but one of the best audio Doctor Who stories ever. Essential.


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