Audio Drama Review: The Demon of Paris

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Continuing our side trip into the BBC audio range (as opposed to Big Finish), we’re listening to Demon Quest part two, The Demon of Paris, written by Paul Magrs and directed by Kate Thomas. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!

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Unlike the Big Finish audios, these begin with a brief recap of the preceding part(s) (and you can find my review of part one here if you would also like a recap).

Based on another clue from the bag left at the church sale in The Relics of Time, the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey travel to Montmartre, Paris, 1894 (being obligated to travel via train from Surrey, as the TARDIS still can’t travel in space). The clue is a Tolouse-Lautrec poster of Aristide Bruant (who, in a bit of meta-reference, is considered to be an inspiration for the Fourth Doctor’s costume), which has been “doctored” (pun DEFINITELY intended) to feature the Fourth Doctor’s face—and portrays him holding a piece of the spatial geometer. He immediately meets a girl calling herself La Charlotte, and buys her dinner while seeking information. The crowd thinks the Doctor is Bruant, who is missing and presumed dead; they want him to sing. They have arrived in the middle of a mystery, much to Mrs. Wibbsey’s dismay.

While the Doctor is occupied, Wibbsey meets a drunken man who insists that Lautrec, the artist, is responsible for not only Bruant’s death, but also many other murders—dozens, as La Charlotte mentions—many of which are young women of ill repute. Lautrec is not unaware of the suspicions, and has isolated himself. La Charlotte leads the Doctor and Wibbsey to Lautrec’s home, then leaves them.

The concierge grudgingly lets them in, and they check Lautrec’s studio—but it is empty, Lautrec missing, with the skylight smashed and sketches everywhere. Alarmingly, many of his paintings—many of which are famous in the future—have been defaced, slashed at the wrists and necks of the subjects, and with red paint splashed on like blood.

They leave and return to Montmartre, seeking out the worst part of town, and find the Moulin Rouge dance hall. Inside, the Doctor sees Lautrec enter. The Doctor quizzes Lautrec about the poster, but Lautrec denies having painted it, claiming it was vandalized by someone else. He is unhelpful, but comments that La Charlotte and the other girls should look out for themselves; but he denies being the killer, and claims the public wants him as a scapegoat. Lautrec rids himself of the Doctor by telling the crowd that the Doctor is Bruant, forcing him to sing (badly, but hilariously). Lautrec leaves, and Wibbsey follows him.

Lautrec detects her, and confronts her. She is captivated by him, and frightened; while she is dazed, he asks her to model for him. Again, he denies hurting anyone, and mentions wrestling with his demons. Reluctantly she goes with him, leaving the Doctor searching for her. The Doctor is intercepted by a drunken La Charlotte, who is bleeding from several stab wounds; she hints that Lautrec caused them, in the nearby cemetery. She is disbelieving that Lautrec could do it, but is certain it was him, though she never saw his face, due to the smell of the absinthe that he had been drinking. She takes the Doctor to the cemetery to show him the scene of the attack; he thinks that Lautrec and Wibbsey are there, but is wrong; they have returned to his studio. Lautrec is shocked at the destruction of his art.

Lautrec denies that he destroyed his work, and denies that he hurt La Charlotte earlier in the night. When the concierge exits, he admits that he has blackouts. At the cemetery, the Doctor and La Charlotte meet the concierge coming down the hill, and the Doctor notices an odd green glow as she approaches; the woman insults La Charlotte and drives her away. The Doctor is angry, but the concierge mentions that Wibbsey is with Lautrec at the house; she tries to divert the Doctor, but he insists on returning there.

At the house, Lautrec busies himself preparing to paint Mrs. Wibbsey—but suddenly they both notice a piece of the spatial geometer on his desk. She accuses him, but the Doctor arrives at that moment with the concierge. [editorial note here: Lautrec insists that there hasn’t been any time for him to attack La Charlotte, but there actually is: between the time she runs off outside the house the first time, and the time Lautrec comes to the Moulin Rouge, he could have done it.] Lautrec insists again that he did not hurt La Charlotte; but the concierge breaks down and says she has covered for him. She takes them to the attic, where he says he has never been; a dozen or more desiccated bodies of young women are there. The concierge and Lautrec leave, locking the Doctor and Wibbsey in.

Trapped, they take a moment and look at another item from the sale bag: a book of fairy tales. One of the illustrations, of an ice monster, contains the images of the Doctor and Mike Yates; it seems that Yates is part of this mystery as well.

La Charlotte rescues them, and says she saw Lautrec and the concierge leaving. Lautrec left in a carriage, but the concierge is at the cemetery; it seems she is more involved than the Doctor thought. The trio rush to the cemetery. Arriving there, the Doctor suddenly realizes that La Charlotte’s wounds don’t seem to be troubling her anymore; he confides to Wibbsey that the girl may have been faking. The green glow can also be seen again, near a small mausoleum. They find the concierge on the ground, and she claims that Lautrec came back to attack her, but pulled back at the last second. She claims Lautrec is inside the tomb.

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When Lautrec calls out for help, Wibbsey darts inside…and finds herself in the mosaic-lined chamber from Claudius’s hut in the preceding story. Lautrec is tied in the floor, but the Doctor frees him. The concierge drives them back inside, and activates the chamber; the Doctor and Wibbsey try to stop the door from sealing, and La Charlotte joins them. The concierge kills La Charlotte by sapping her life force.

The Doctor explains to Lautrec that the concierge is a shapeshifter and an alien, who has framed him while carrying out the killings. She admits it, and says that they can now depart. Lautrec attacks the concierge, giving the Doctor and Wibbsey enough room to lever the door open, allowing the three of them to escape. As they do so, the mausoleum vanishes, as it did from the tribal hut before.

The Doctor thinks La Charlotte was killed some time ago, and kept alive just as a slave. The bodies in the attic will disintegrate, and Lautrec will be free of suspicion; he can also try to find the real Bruant. The Doctor urges him to forget it all, and to plead ignorance.

Back at the TARDIS, the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey arrive back at Nest Cottage on the same day they left, December 23, 2010. They have just enough time to prepare a bit for Christmas, when Yates (and his hound, Captain) arrive. The Doctor admits they have enough time for dinner…and then they must get back on the case.

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I was not as impressed with this story as with its predecessor. I found it difficult to pin down why, exactly; it’s certainly not a bad story, just not as interesting to me. Certainly it’s not the terrible entry that the Discontinuity Guide would suggest:

“Hm. Perhaps best filed next to The Stuff of Nightmares under ‘story ideas designed to appeal to the star’ — in this case, setting the Doctor’s adventure in Bohemian Paris, allowing Tom Baker to indulge his inner Francophile.”

Still, in some ways it is better than The Relics of Time; while that story was quite predictable, this one is anything but, as it gives us several likely candidates for the identity of the titular Demon, and manages to withhold final revelation until the last few minutes. Fortunately, we are spared the ordeal of listening to the Doctor sing in the cabaret; there’s that for which we can be thankful!

This is a period of history with which I am not very familiar, nor am I an art scholar; therefore most of the real-world references were lost on me. It’s not so deep as to present an obstacle to enjoying the story; but it probably has more depth for someone who does know their art history (or their French history, for that matter). I was not aware of the influence of Aristide Bruant on the Fourth Doctor’s costume until I started to read up on this story; it’s impossible to miss here, however, as the Doctor spells it out in the dialogue. In researching, I learned that the “vandalized” poster of the Doctor is based on an actual poster of that type, which was produced as convention merchandise in the 1980s and 1990s; I haven’t seen those posters myself, but I think that’s a clever bit of meta-reference.

Again, we get few if any references to stories outside this series. Mike Yates appears in the flesh this time, though only momentarily; he will have a larger role in the remaining entries. He makes no mention of UNIT, however. I should have mentioned it last time, but it’s worth mentioning that this is not the only house on Earth that the Doctor will ever own; he also owns Smithwood Manor on Allen Road in Kent, which he purchased in his third incarnation while working for UNIT. That house was used most often by his seventh incarnation, appearing for the first time in the comic story Fellow Travellers and subsequently in many other comic and prose stories. We do get some of the history of Mrs. Wibbsey’s family, but that does not refer back to any other stories.

All in all, there’s little to report about this story. It’s a decent entry, but I hope for more exciting things to come; it does give us some satisfaction, at least, in that it identifies Claudius/the concierge as an alien of some sort (although it doesn’t name the creature’s race or origin, and the Doctor still calls it a demon). It’s narrated by Mrs. Wibbsey, giving us some variety (the Doctor narrated The Relics of Time, in first person, no less). Otherwise, it’s a decent but unremarkable period piece.

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Next time: We’ll check out Demon Quest, part three, A Shard of Ice! See you there.

All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

The Demon of Paris

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