What’s it about: "Wanted dead or alive for the murder of… William Donovan!” Problems beset the Doctor and Evelyn Smythe as they travel by train to the Wild West town of Fortune. A young woman is investigating the murder of her father nine years earlier, and a wanted poster indicates that the Doctor is the killer! With the TARDIS lost to them and the law on their tail, can the travellers unravel the mystery – or will Rachel Ann Donovan take her revenge first?
Learned Lecturer: Being thrown in prison is a regular occurrence when travelling with the Doctor. All Evelyn has to tell the Doctor is that they need some provisions for him to understand that he is an unwanted third wheel in some girl time between her and Rachel-Anne. One thing I always love about Evelyn is how she always sees the bets in young people which in my experience is a very rare thing as far as the older generation are concerned. She sees maturity and bravery in those that most old people only see ignorant yobs. This is the second time Evelyn has had to jump off of a moving train at speed, it’s a wonder she survived as long as she did in the Doctor’s company! Evelyn is astonished that a man of the law would be so convinced of a mans guilt without any apparent evidence so clearly she hasn’t watched many Westerns in her time! Evelyn has a glare that can force the Doctor to shut up with some speed and even look apologetic – given his usual arrogance I would never want to see that look of hers! After being trapped inside a burning building and seeing death stare her in the face you have to wonder how Evelyn continues to have such excitement for her adventures with the Doctor. Its easy to figure out why – who gets to enjoy such a thrilling time when approaching their seventies? Evelyn is called honest and perceptive and the perfect woman to bring an unscrupulous crook to justice.
Softer Six: It would appear that Evelyn’s take on the Doctor is even more insufferable and arrogant than he usually is! Stables has great fun bringing the most theatrical of Doctors to life, stressing every word as though it is a matter of life or death! The Doctor thinks you cannot beat the smell of the Wild West but he has a habit of throwing open the TARDIS doors and saying that wherever they end up. Evelyn feels the need to tell the people thy meet to ignore the Doctor’s theatrical manner. As soon as the Doctor learns that Rachel-Anne is looking to avenge the death of her father that is enough bait to get him involved. When the Doctor hears a description of himself as being wanted by law enforcement in the town of Fortune I was left wondering which him the description was of! He is an absolute genius in using the explosives to redirect the stream and re-irrigate the land even if he does say so himself!
Standout Performance: Maggie Stables is such a natural on audio and I cannot imagine anybody I would rather curl up on the sofa with on a winter’s night before the fire and be enchanted by the story they are telling. With no disrespect to Stables it feels precisely like my grandmother telling me a story (as she has a wont of doing in the evenings) and it gives me that same feeling of warmth to listen to the story unfolding from such wise old memories. Even a western will do, as it is my least favourite genre of storytelling but from Stables mouth it feels like a gloriously affecting, exciting tale.
Great Ideas: This is one of the more interesting framing devices the companion chronicles have employed – two people recounting a story that has only just happened to get their facts straight as the police are coming and will want to check all the details. Fortune is a shantytown of slave labourers closed in by a railway track of which piles of soil and rock are tipped by the so-called miners – a perfect western setting. The mystery of the Doctor winding up on the WANTED posters is solved – the crooks singled him out in Foundation and telegraphed his description to Fortune to use him as a scape goat knowing he was travelling with Rachel-Anne. The reason Sullivan had so much control over Sam is because he killed Rachel Anne’s father which is a lovely sting in the tale that gives the framing device a nice punchy ending. Not all of the framing devices in these companion chronicles are chosen for any other reason than pleasing the fans so it is nice to see both the narrated tale and the framing working together here to such agreeable effect.
Audio Landscape: This is a hugely impressive soundscape because with some skill the feel of the archetypal Western is generated with some atmospheric effects, American twanging accents and a morose musical score. Crickets, dog barking, pouring whiskey, a train chugging through the countryside, jumping onto the dry scrubland from the train, steam jetting into the air, the train whistle, miners tipping their goods into carts, chipping away at the Earth, carts moving along the railway track, the crack of the door being kicked open, rifles being cocked, the fight breaks out with screaming, gunshots, tables smashing, gunshots cracking the air like ice underfoot, footsteps in the printing room, a match being struck, crackling fire as the room filled with smoke, pulling open the flaming door, dripping water in the mine, laying down the explosive sweating sticks, the sizzling dynamite, a wall of rifles cocking, the mine exploding,
Musical Cues: The Western theme allows the musician to adopt a completely new and fresh style of music and the melancholic score relies heavily on guitar than usual. There is a lovely moment when Evelyn enters the bar and it is full of man singing, somebody attacking the piano and general good cheer. I loved the pacy music as Evelyn and the Doctor try and get far enough out of the mine as it goes up in flames.
Isn’t it Odd: The cliffhanger is so wonderfully awful you have to wonder how it ever managed to make the cut. The build up is brilliant with an uproarious bar fight and law enforcers silencing the room with their pistols but the final line is delivered in such a cheap, wooden manner it feels as if somebody is taking the piss!
Result: A Town Called Fortune is screaming with the atmosphere of a gun slinging western adventure. Lisa Bowerman pulls out all of the stops to evoke the feeling of the era and with Paul Sutton’s script full of lovely kisses to the genre it is easy to get swept into a Middle West mood. I’m not a massive fan of the genre it has to be said but the story pushes along with plenty of energy and revelling in the period clichés and as a lover of the sixth Doctor and Evelyn it wasn’t hard for me to be dragged along with the story. Maggie Stables could read to me any day of the week and she would have my full attention, she’s a superb storyteller I hope it isn’t too long before she narrates another of these adventures. The writing is full of scents, sounds and sights which makes this a very immerse experience and whilst I was never particularly interested in the details of the story (again that comes down to my distaste of Westerns) there was plenty here to keep me interested. I’m glad this was told intimately from Evelyn’s point of view because I don’t think it would have held up as a longer, full cast story but with her unique take on things and getting into all manner of scrapes from bar fights to being trapped in a burning building its very easy to enjoy a trip to a Wild West town with this most eclectic of companions. I like it very much but I can understand why this wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea: 7/10