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Sam reviews: The Minister of Chance

Apr.10, 2011, filed under Reviews

avatarMy last copy of Fortean Times carried a plug for something interesting, although if Frood hadn’t spotted it and waved it under my nose I would have missed it. Knowing that I’d developed a bit of a thing for Doctor Who of late, he pointed it out to me and I’m very glad he did.

Minister of Chance poster

The Minister of Chance is a Doctor Who spinoff describing itself thusly:

The Minister of Chance is a new form of entertainment – a radiophonic drama – made using a combination of film and radio techniques and delivered by podcast. It is the first, but we hope not last, of its kind. By painstakingly constructing soundscapes we create worlds that you can drift into wherever you are.

The titular character was introduced in Death Comes to Time, which I haven’t heard but may now have to seek out for background (although I’m not sure I like the idea of Ace becoming a Time Lord). I do not think it is necessary to have heard that work to enjoy this, however.

The prologue, which is free on youtube, sets the scene: Paul McGann gives it some as Durian, a particularly nasty piece of work who straight away shows that politicians have no need to carry personal arms when they can offer plausible threats of much worse. It seems to be a straightforward sort of fantasy affair, with a bit of added science, but then this is just the teaser.

Episode 1 is available for download for the measly cost of £1.49, which is much less than a pint and much more worthwhile. In this we meet the rest of the main characters, and find ourselves in a beautifully realised world in which science is banned in favour of magic that doesn’t work. The scientists are labelled charlatans and frauds and outlawed, while a witch inhabits one of the primary positions of power. Even as you listen, thinking that their rockets don’t work by magic, their weapons don’t work by magic, asking yourself how can they say that science is a hoax, it is clear that those in charge are all too aware of this. Magic, then, is the opium they feed their people while denying them access to anything that would cause them to question.

Into this come Kitty, a feisty young girl of uncertain origins and unusual abilities, and an unnamed stranger who has a cold dispassion and no-nonsense attitude and who knows so much that his science looks like magic. He’s going to show her things that are as wonderful as they are unbelievable, she’s going to teach him that his brilliance runs the risk of him underestimating those around him, and you are along for the ride.

The Minister himself reminds me of an early Doctor, back when he was young enough to want to act old (I loved that explanation given by Tennant in the Comic Relief special for why the Doctor has been getting progressively younger). Kitty is a good, strong character who is full of confidence and knows how to handle herself. Jenny Agutter’s Professor Cantha is another strong female character, holding out for science in a world where doing so is decidedly dangerous.

The rest of the cast is seasoned with a who’s who of classic British science fiction. It’s almost as if they filled a bran tub with actors from Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who and pulled a few out at random. Having not seen anything from Paul Darrow since Hercules, I was delighted to hear him back in laconic action. Sylvester McCoy is another actor we’re more used to seeing in the role of the good guy.

The soundscapes are immersive. With no special effects to fall back on the writing carries everything, and it is more than up to the task. I am impressed by how clearly I was able to “see” what was happening and I am eagerly awaiting the release of the next episode.

The continued future of this series is dependent on getting the funding, and they more than deserve it. If you like science fiction and pine for the days when budgets were so low the writing had to make up for it, and did; if you want to support talented artists producing great work; even if you just want to hear Avon say a naughty word — head over there, click buy, and make sure to put your headphones on. You won’t be disappointed.

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2 comments for this entry:
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