The Minister of Chance is an audiodrama starring Julian Wadham, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Paul Darrow, Jenny Agutter, Tamsin Greig and Lauren Crace.
After the exhilarating opening two episodes of The Minister Of Chance, the much-anticipated third instalment of this science-fiction audio drama with a twist is now available.
The twist is that the production of each episode is funded by you – the listener!
Devotees of the series will have endured an agonising wait to hear the newest episode, Paludin Fields, which is released today. At three quarters of an hour’s duration, it’s slightly longer than previous episodes and takes the story off in startling directions whilst introducing a new big-name guest actor.
The story so far: the nation of Tanto has been occupied by the neighbouring Sezuan on the orders of Ambassador Durian (Paul McGann). The invaders promote witchcraft and ban science. Libraries and universities are closed and outspoken academics like Professor Cantha (Jenny Agutter) are imprisoned. A strange traveller known only as the Minister (Julian Wadham) arrives looking for Professor Cantha and is joined on his travels by local barmaid Kitty (Lauren Crace). Little does she realise that following the Minister will lead her into different and dangerous worlds, encountering deadly Horsemen and frightened locals; whilst back home the political jostling for power over Tanto rumbles on.
In Paludin Fields the Witch Prime, who should really be in charge of the Sezuans, plots against the suave Ambassador Durian, whose stealth invasion of Tanto has made him a national hero. This allows for some delightful interplay between Sylvester McCoy as the slippery and permanently angst-ridden Witch Prime and Paul McGann’s ice-cool, charismatic Durian. Fans of the classic series of Doctor Who can delight in witnessing the last two Doctors playing each other’s mortal enemy here.
One of the major strengths of The Minister of Chance is that its large cast of well-written characters allows actors to make an impact with few lines. Paul Darrow, whose conniving Lord Rathen has little to do in this episode except to lend his loyalties to whom he judges will win the skirmish between Witch Prime and Durian, still raises a good few chuckles with his irresistibly fruity delivery. Likewise Frances Tomelty, engaged by Witch Prime to take out Durian, makes for an enjoyable political assassin.
Whilst the Sezuans fight amongst themselves, the Minister and Kitty look for the Sage of the Waves, with some help from the locals whose superstition is to drown a girl every full moon. It’s a startling plotline that echoes the human sacrifice religions of civilisations such as the Aztecs, and gives fuller exploration of the already established theme of the consequences of ritual and superstition which arise when scientific enquiry is undeveloped or suppressed. The Minister of Chance can be enjoyed as a fantasy story entirely on its own terms, but it does skilfully utilize the science-fiction genre in drawing allegories to our own world.
As in previous episodes, Julian Wadham as the mysterious Minister works brilliantly opposite Lauren Crace, who is deliciously earthy as the intelligent but uneducated Kitty. In contrast to Wadham’s delightfully matter-of-fact realisation that he’s been misunderstood in a bar, “Ah, no, I see: you’re a pimp. I don’t wish to fornicate,” you have Crace’s incredulous dismissal of a girl who tells her she’s happy to be drowned for the Sage of the Waves: “That’s just bollocks”. Opposites attract, and Wadham and Crace prove a terrific pairing, acting as foils for one another.
The interplay between certain actors in the different plot strands is a joy to listen to. A world-class cast lifts Dan Freeman’s scripts off the page and breathes magic into the lines. The superb performances and production values (the forest and garden landscapes are haunting, as is the signature tune) create a consistently engaging world for the listener to lose themselves in. The plot is intricate and commands close attention, but the story world has been so well-realised that as an audience member it sucks you in and holds you. Even the moments that border on the inexplicable, such as the precise nature of the Horseman and the threat he poses (presumably all will be revealed in later episodes) the writing is so poetic that you’re happy to go along with every twist in the tale and worry about what it all means and how it interlinks later.
The part that many listeners will be waiting for is the introduction of the Sage of the Waves, played by Tamsin Greig. With her highly distinctive voice she establishes her character instantly, imbuing in her strange apothecary the same level of aloofness as Julian Wadham’s Minister. She’s wonderfully off-hand, especially learning of the tradition that’s built up in the town in her name. Her introduction is a clever way of creating surprises and sustaining the audience’s interest in the tricky middle episodes, and it will be fascinating to see how her secluded Sage will fit in to and influence the rest of the story.
The other strong female character is Jenny Agutter’s Professor Cantha, who is now becoming impassioned in her defence of the scientific method and witnesses an appalling act of vandalism. The episode resolves with the various plot strands remaining intriguingly open, and a multitude of directions the story could possibly take.
Overall The Minister Of Chance is a gorgeous audio experience where new and exciting worlds explode into life inside your head. It’s also terrifically engaging and frequently a hoot. Let’s hope it’s not too long before we can get our next fix and enjoy episode four of The Minister Of Chance.
To find out more about how you can get involved in supporting the project, or to download the first three episodes, visit www.ministerofchance.com.