Audio Drama Review: A Shard of Ice

We’re back, with another BBC Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing with the BBC’s Demon Quest arc, featuring the Fourth Doctor, Mrs. Wibbsey, and Mike Yates. We’re listening to A Shard of Ice, the third installment in the five-part series. Let’s get started!

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

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This story is narrated by an incidental character, Albert Tiermann, who is the author (or editor?) of the book of fairy tales which the Doctor received in the church sale bag two episodes ago. He also is the official storyteller for the local king. We open with his narration regarding his starting circumstances, in which he is snowed in at Germany’s Murgin Pass in the year 1847; and he is afraid for his life. He has been interrupted in his rushed journey to the palace, where he fears retribution from the king that he has failed [he had been ordered by the king, who is too blind to read, to bring a new story]. He is interrupted by the arrival of the TARDIS, bearing the Doctor and Mike Yates. The Doctor shows him the book, which he is unwilling to believe, and offers to help him by telling him new stories for the king. They turn back and find lodging for the night.

They take up temporary residence at a mountain lodge owned and operated by one Frau Herz, and Tiermann goes to bed early. The Doctor and Mike reminisce and bring each other up to speed on the current situation, until the Doctor sees a strange batlike creature out the window; unknown to them, Tiermann eavesdrops on them, and believes the Doctor insane. Plagued with nightmares, he prays for a visit from a woman who visited him in his youth, whom he calls an angel and credits with the seeds of all his stories—and he gets what he asks, when the mysterious Ice Queen visits him. She is aware of the Doctor, but not the book of fairy tales. She claims a debt on Albert, and claims to have worked hard to bring the book into his life…she orders him to keep the Doctor from leaving and pursuing his search. She then vanishes.

At breakfast the next morning, the travelers are still snowed in. Tiermann’s footman bursts in and finds that the coachman has been attacked, and is lying in the snow, nearly frozen to death. As they try to save him, the footman says that the coachman had run out of the stable during the night, claiming to see a woman in the snow. Mike suggests it may be the same thing the Doctor saw, but the Doctor is skeptical. Yates and the Doctor believe Tiermann knows more than he is letting on. Tiermann goes to the Doctor’s room and searches his coat pockets for the book; he finds a note that says “look behind you”, and turns around.

The Doctor and Mike confront Albert, having anticipated this move. Albert becomes frantic, and insists he needs the book; the Doctor sends Mike to check on Frau Herz. The Doctor challenges Albert regarding his actions and thoughts; Albert admits that he considers the book, and the legacy it represents, more important than the lives in danger around him. The Doctor hypnotizes Albert, and pushes for answers. They argue over the book, and the Doctor insists he will not give it up.

Mike returns, and says that Frau Herz is missing. The kitchen door is wrenched off its hinges; but Herz, outside, is okay. She says that a creature tried to take her, but instead got the footman, Hans, and took him to the mountain. The Doctor orders Mike to fortify the house, and takes Albert with him to follow the creature. A trail of blood leads the way; the Doctor comments that Hans is probably dead, and grows angry at Albert’s lack of care. The Doctor chides him for consorting with monsters, commenting that sometimes they appear as angels. They hear something go past, possibly the creature. They come upon a cave with a strange green glow inside; the Doctor compares the whole ordeal to a fairy tale.

Inside the cave, they find the Ice Queen, unconscious on a throne. She awakens and is shocked to see them there; but she admits a connection with Albert. He explains his past with her; the Doctor calls her a goblin, and asks what she demanded of Albert in exchange. He explains that she placed a shard of ice in him, preventing him from feeling any love or sympathy for anyone—he only loves his stories. The Doctor calls him her slave, and derides her magic as cheap tricks; he tells Albert that she is the Demon, the monster that killed the others. She accuses Albert of failing in his final task. The Doctor shows him the book, with an illustration of the Ice Queen becoming the Demon, and says that she has manipulated him all his life so as to produce the book, which lured the Doctor here. The Ice Queen confirms it. The Doctor explains that she has had to recharge her energies to maintain her human form; the form he saw outside last night was her true form. She flees the cavern and flies toward the lodge; the Doctor and Albert follow, finding a cache of desiccated bodies along the way. The Doctor tells Albert that the book is a fake—the Demon wrote it, not Albert—and he gives him the book.

They find the lodge in shambles. The Queen dominates the kitchen, transforming into its true form; she has a battered Mike Yates in her arms. Frau Herz is out of commission with the coachman, possibly dead. Albert feels the ice inside him break as the Queen releases him from her control; he is outraged at her actions. The Doctor concludes she wants to take him somewhere; and the room transforms into the dematerialization chamber with the mosaic floor. Having acquired the Doctor, she releases Mike; the Doctor sends him out. Albert flees the building, taking Frau Herz with him, then looks back and finds it to be a plain box with one door; he slips back and watches as the chamber builds up to dematerialization. The creature claims that she originates from a place called Sepulchre, which the Doctor denies knowing anything about; she wants him to go there with her. The Doctor darts out the door just as the box dematerializes, leaving the creature howling in fury.

The Doctor and Mike drop off Albert and Frau Herz near the palace. Yates reveals that he picked up a strange item in the lodge, which the Doctor is happy to note is another piece of the spatial geometer. They then receive a message from Mrs. Wibbsey, who calls them home, and tells them that the final item in the bag, a 1970s-era comic book, features all three of them—and the message cuts off mid-word. It seems they will be making a side trip to New York.

Albert’s narration winds up as he explains that the Doctor asked him never to write down their story—but he had no problem speaking it aloud to the king.

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I was more impressed with this story than with its predecessor. It’s almost a gothic horror story, which is something I think that Doctor Who has always done well (no matter how improbable that may be!). This entry is not much of a mystery; the Demon is for once not masquerading as one of the humans in the story, though it does take a mostly-human form. Still, it’s a fair trade—we trade mystery for atmosphere, and I’m fine with that. The setting—a mountain lodge in a snowed-in pass—naturally limits the cast; there are none of the crowds we saw in Montmartre last time. There are still enough characters for the requisite blood and death, however; this is, after all, still Doctor Who (and unnamed characters, like the coachman here, are the Doctor Who equivalent of Star Trek’s redshirts).

I appreciate the addition of Mike Yates, who only had cameos in the first two entries. I’ve always liked all of the classic UNIT characters, and Yates is no exception, despite having failed and been quietly removed from UNIT some time ago. It’s unfortunate that Mrs. Wibbsey is relegated to cameo status here; but then, she’ll be back in the next entry, according to the teaser at the end.

This story is a bit of a subversion of the fairy tale genre; it’s deliberately set up in that form by the villain, and everyone is well aware of it. Doctor Who doesn’t often do fairy tales, at least not onscreen; when it goes gothic, it tends to stick to classical monsters such as vampires (State of Decay, The Vampires of Venice), mummies (Pyramids of Mars, Mummy on the Orient Express), werewolves (Tooth and Claw), and zombies (New Earth), and gives them a technological twist. It could have been much worse; I could see this story being heavy-handed with the fairy-tale motif, but it really isn’t. Nor is it a historical, despite its setting; the isolation of the characters and location negates everything that could have made it stand out as a historical. Even the science-fiction is downplayed; other than the TARDIS, the dematerialization chamber at the end, and a tiny bit of dialogue, there’s little sci-fi here. This story is a thing of its own, and that’s fantastic.

For all that we’ve seen, we still know very little about this demon. The Doctor seems sure that it’s not from Earth; that seems to be verified when it comments about taking him across the universe to Sepulchre. However, we don’t know its species, or anything about its technology; its dematerialization chamber seems similar to a TARDIS, but the Doctor makes it clear that it is not a TARDIS. There is still much to be learned (and as the final installment is titled Sepulchre, I think we’ll get there).

The TARDIS can now make some limited trips through space as well as time; each succeeding piece of the spatial geometer makes it easier (what a strange device! If you only have one piece of a car, you’re not going anywhere).

Again, references are few here, and mostly come from the Doctor’s dialogue. He plies Albert with stories of his own adventures early on; the scene is abridged, but we can pin down four of them. He talks about The Keys of Marinus, Colony in Space (making a meta-reference by calling it The Doomsday Weapon; the novelization was titled Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon), Genesis of the Daleks, and Pyramids of Mars (though he is cut off before actually telling that last story). He also refers to the Yeti, which he encountered in both The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear; with those stories, we have references to stories in the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Doctor eras. Mike Yates also refers to the Brigadier, Liz Shaw, and Jo Grant, to whom he told the story of his adventures in the preceding series, Hornet’s Nest. As well, Albert mentions his father, Ernest Tiermann, who is a character in a Tenth Doctor novel, also by Paul Magrs, titled Sick Building.

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Overall, not a bad story—in fact, the best in the arc so far, in my opinion. Next time: We’ll continue with the fourth installment, Starfall! 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.

A Shard of Ice (Out of Stock at time of writing; check back later)

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