I’ve been reviewing the Demon Records releases for some time now, and between fresh vinyl audio-related titles including the likes of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, they’ve also been pressing and publishing notable Doctor Who dramas. With that in mind, I’m delighted to say this all-new Demon Quest multi-vinyl boxset is another behemoth of beauty, with stunning artistry and select extras that make it a striking Collectors Set, and thankfully completed by a captivating story arc.
After the rather lovely Hornet’s Nest yellow and black vinyl charmed us, Demon Records have wasted no time in the continuation of the Doctor Who archive with 2010 audio drama Demon Quest, which takes place over five episodes. Written by Paul Magrs, with Tom Baker back as the Fourth Doctor, it steps on from that previous story and centres around Mrs Wibbsey’s recent decisions, because she has chosen to sell an important piece of the TARDIS to someone, in exchange for a bag of unusual artifacts. But you see, the Doctor needs the missing item to make his ship work, and must go hunting through time for whoever has the vital part of his time-travelling machine, but it’s not long before they notice that Wibbsey’s bag of objects may just offer some clues…
“Mrs Wibbsey, you may have done something absolutely catastrophic!”
The story of Demon Quest begins with The Relics of Time, a story that takes us back 100 years after the reign of Julius Caesar and into Roman territory. It’s a turbulent time where magic and wizardry are held in higher regard, and the unknown is a fearful thing. Here, the Doctor and Wibbsey (wonderfully voice acted by Susan Jameson) find themselves stuck between two tribes of quite different beliefs. As you’d expect, the pair are accidentally dragged into a sub-mission, but their relationship is equally funny and serious where the humour is ripe, with a story takes us inside history, with a good dash of mystery and usual happenings aplenty.
The story contains some smart quips about ‘simpler’ times, but the Doctor points out that all time is difficult, you just live in different eras – so holding that context as ever which levels and works so well. It sets up the overall story with added intrigue for sure. At the end of the first record, there’s a bonus interview with Tom Baker, talking about his place as the Doctor, chatting about how the fans have never let him not be a part of the legacy because, after all, what’s life without a lark? Quite right to.
Episode 2 is The Demon of Paris. It’s the late 1800s, we’re in the French capital from Montmartre to the Moulin Rouge. There’s a deeper game at play now, and I loved the switch from the previous story because now the Doctor is a little different with Wibbsey, as we see that well-known darker brooding side. He’s been given these clues but is beginning to dislike someone playing games with him because he doesn’t know why, so he’s frustrated at not being able to see the bigger picture. It’s a good example of his ego taking over, and those distractions are clouding his judgement.
“The devil’s in the detail”
Within the story we discover there’s murder at play, and troublesome times around every corner, as well as something usual happening with the personality of Toulouse-Lautrec. There’s too many deaths in the city, and these are issues beyond ‘actual’ history… and that famous painter has vanished. His artist studio is akin to a madman’s frenzy covered in scarlet paint and slashed wrists in his paintings. It’s all very murky, but what has taken him over? Via singing, labyrinthine passages and shadowy turns, Wibbsey finds and follows him through the darkness, but she’s caught out and further questions are raised. Who’s telling the truth? Who is responsible when more bodies are discovered? And, within it all, a mysterious glow returns from the past…
A Shard of Ice is where we’re led next in Episode 3, and into a frozen world where creatures unknown seemingly fly in the piercing blizzards but is it a trick of the mind? This time we’re with the Doctor and Captain Mike Yates (a nice shift to voice artist Richard Franklin), who definitely aren’t as subtle as they think they are, and after arriving during a storm, across the icy wastes of the Murgin Pass, the Doctor and Mike take refuge in a remote lodge.
This story plays on the classic The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson and here we meet Albert Tiermann, and in this setting he’s famous for fairy tales and a storyteller to the King. But he’s got a secret, he’s only creating amazing narratives because he dreams of an Ice Queen in his mind, and she’s influencing his writing and imagination. Although doesn’t he find it all so realistic? You really feel the coldness and isolation, and the story captures – and adds another layer to the overall arc of the story.
“You’re running towards the scream?”
One of the most curious things about the layering with Demon Quest is that some antagonists within each story have been with the main characters for a long part of their lives, so this isn’t just a ‘mysterious stranger’ who’s arrived. I quite enjoyed that tactic, so most of the stories aren’t suspicious situations as they naturally unfold and reveal. Overall this works, aside from Episode 4, Starfall, which is the weakest of the five stories. It’s forgettable and unintentionally grating in its approach – it doesn’t really add anything fresh and falls a little flat.
Starfall has an interesting premise with an accidental superhero, and a story based around two ‘everyday’ people living in the Big Apple in the late 1970s. But the American narration gives it a cheesy edge instead of a sensational one, and while the darkness built so far is given a little light, and not a completely unwelcome respite, much of it comes across somewhat forced and strangely repetitive. If you like classic comic stories, I appreciated that as a nice homage but it’s my least favourite of the collection.
“This place reeks of melodrama…”
But then back to the drama, and the big finale, with Episode 5: Sepulchre. Opening within an answerphone message from Mrs Wibbsey, the Doctor is lead to a new destination but this time he takes Mike alongside him. Upon their arrival they find their friend but there’s something not quite right with her, or where they are – the Doctor certainly knows things are a-rye.
Over time, we’ll learn we’re on the edge of the Universe, and – without giving things away if you don’t know it – there’s a mysterious glow we’ve seen before, the inklings of a being that might have darkened our doors before – and the big reveal with explanations! I found it all very entertaining, and a fine way to escape into the Doctor Who universe.
Inside the Boxset…
Demon Quest is multi-narrated by the characters, and I assume must span 5-6 hours, and so each contrasting personality and insight/style really helps to split up the stories. The entire boxset is presented across 10 x 140g alternating Red and Black vinyl discs, and this is one of many detailed parts that adds to the impressiveness and helps bring it to life. Within the box, you also get The Doctor’s Journal, which is a 12” x 12” full-colour booklet that breaks down each encounter the Time Lord has with the ‘Demon’ and takes on the role of both a scrapbook and a personal diary. In a world of fantasy and sci-fi, it adds depth to the world created.
There’s stellar design and layout work from Oink Creative, whose artistry brings together Sam Goddard and Tom Fournier’s epically striking illustrations on each sleeve of each of the 10 records. Intelligently picking out elements and representing them and characters in the artwork that adorns each sleeve, and the records themselves. It adds a wonderful component, and especially when you’re listening, throwing you an extra visual of big set pieces.
Yes, there’s more! You also receive an exclusive print of the Fourth Doctor, with that iconic scarf and curly hair, actually hand-signed by the legendary Tom Baker himself. And, looking at the whole thing in reverse, there’s an intricately die-cut, removable outer sleeve that reveals a Demonic-lidded box and inside that sharp red-set is your ten individual LP sleeves – and each of those feature full cast and credits for each of the five stories.
This is exceptionally effortless to recommend, it’s another Demon Records set that’s been produced with hours upon hours of thought, time and dedication.
Produced and directed by Kate Thomas, and recorded at Fitzrovia Post in London, Demon Quest also features the voice talents of Nigel Anthony, Kate Sachs, Rupert Holliday Evans, Rowena Cooper, Finty Williams, Mark Meadows, Jan Francis, Samuel West, Carole Boyd, Tom Lawrence, Lorelei King, Trevor White, Laurel Lefkow, and John Chancer, and never forgetting the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s superb work entwined.