This is Magrs' first contribution to audio-based Doctor Who, although not his first time writing for the Eighth Doctor. Magrs had previously written The Scarlet Empress and The Blue Angel (with Jeremy Hoad), two novels in the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures range.
And so they end up in Venice, well into Charley's future, as the great city prepares to sink beneath the water for the last time...
Which would be a momentous, if rather dispiriting, event to witness in itself. However, the machinations of a love-sick aristocrat, a proud art historian and a rabid High Priest of a really quite dodgy cult combine to make Venice's swansong a night to remember.
And then there's the rebellion by the web-footed amphibious underclass, the mystery of a disappearing corpse and the truth behind a curse going back further than curses usually do.
The Doctor and Charley are forced to wonder just what they have got themselves involved with this time...
Duke Orsino of Venice asks the whereabouts of a woman, named Estella, from Churchwell, who claims no knowledge. Churchwell tells him that Estella won't vindicate the city's current predicament, but Orsino remains firm as the end is near.
In the TARDIS console room, the Doctor is taking Charley to the Venetian Renaissance in the sixteenth century. As the Doctor talks about the beauty of Venice, he realises that they've landed in the twenty-third century instead. The Doctor remarks that this isn't the best time for Venice as there's not much left of it. The Doctor and Charley exit the TARDIS and the former explains that soon, the city will fall into the Adriatic Sea. He tells her that they should stay around and watch the city crumble into the water, but Charley doesn't really want to. The Doctor then notices a female local and she tells him that they will all die. As the Doctor asks her why is she staying around, she asks if he is always this impertinent. Charley apologises for the Doctor's behaviour of forgetting "good manners and introductions" and introduces herself and the Doctor to her. The woman introduces herself as Eleanor Lavish and the Doctor tells her that he's simply curious and asks why is she staying where it's about to be destroyed. Eleanor replies that she is too old to be gallivanting and refuses to leave her home. Charley then scolds the Doctor for bringing her to a mopey place where everyone wants to die, but the Doctor states that Venice has always been sinking for a long time. Eleanor scoffs at this and says that "the curse" will destroy Venice. The Doctor and Charley ask her what the "curse" means, but Eleanor walks off, saying out loud that they might meet up again soon when the sinking starts. The Doctor encourages Charley to "poke around", but then wonders if there's a transport.
Meanwhile, Orsino points out that there are masses of people gathering for the final carnival, but Churchwell insists that they must protect the treasures otherwise people will die in the next twenty-four hours. Orsino, despondent to do anything, refuses to move any piece of art out of Venice before it's too late and orders Churchwell to attend the carnival while he still can. After reluctantly agreeing, Churchwell requests to see Orsino's gallery one last time.
Charley then changes her mind about leaving because past or future, it's still Venice and still beautiful. The Doctor is happy to hear that she's enjoying herself and decides to snooze. Charley jokes that the Doctor always sleeps on judgement days just when a web-footed gondoleer named Pietro appears. Pietro reminds Charley what is happening and that the revellers are taking over the city. The Doctor wakes up and tells Pietro that he and Charley are here to pay their respects as the city falls. Pietro respects them for that and the Doctor asks to be taken to the museum to admire the paintings when Eleanor spies on them. She utters to herself that the Doctor and Charley are part of some sort of cult, hoping that the city would rise again to its former glory.
Charley goes with Pietro to another section in the gallery while the Doctor runs into Churchwell. Churchwell tells the Doctor that he is in the private part of the gallery while the Doctor recognises him as Francis Churchwell, who is saddened that all the art is going to rot in the sea soon. Churchwell then decides to give the Doctor a deluxe guided tour as he is amazed by his intellect.
Charley talks with Pietro and wants to know more. Pietro then takes Charley somewhere private. Suddenly, some people in black robes walk by and Pietro and Charley hide from them. Pietro informs her that they are the Cult of Estella, lead by High Priest Vincenzo, who tells his men to search for something. As they head out, Pietro tells Charley that they have a hidden base somewhere.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Churchwell examine paintings that were part of the Duke's grandfather's collection. As the Doctor expresses sadness that the paintings will be lost, Churchwell says that he has lost all hope and will seal himself in the vault with the paintings when the city sinks. The Doctor asks why the Duke has lost interest, to which Churchwell answers that the Duke's beloved and last queen of Venice, Estella is longer here. There was no recorded painting of her because her beauty was ineffable. Churchwell then tells the Doctor that there is a Cult of Estella, which is convinced that the people hoard Estella's likeness somewhere here. Because they worship her in their infernal ceremonies, they believe they have a claim on such an object. The Doctor then realises that it's been a hundred years have passed and the Duke has been living this long and all are convinced that Estella is dead. Churchwell explains that it's part of the Duke's curse to live so long and regret his loss. The Doctor then notices a painting that depicts volcanoes and the foxes in overcoats and finds it familiar. The Doctor then tells Churchwell that there might be a way to get the paintings to safety-- the TARDIS. As the Doctor thinks of this, he sees that Charley is nowhere in sight and calls out to her. Churchwell proceeds to tell the Doctor that Estella was gambled away in a game of cards by the Duke. Some say Estella committed suicide thereafter by flinging herself into the Grand Canal in her wedding dress. Before dying, it is believed that she laid a curson on him.
Meanwhile, Pietro tells Charley about Estella and the Duke and at night, he sends his spies to look for her, hoping to bring her back to life and end the curse. Pietro informs Charley that the revellers are waiting for Estella to return and in order to distract him, she will need to act as a decoy.
The Doctor and Chuchwell continue their search for Charley, but now it's very dark outside. Suddenly, the Cult of Estella runs into them. Vincenzo announces that tonight is the eve of the anniversary of Lady Estella's death. He orders the Doctor and Churchwell to be knocked unconscious as they are to be the witnesses of her resurrection.
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- The Doctor - Paul McGann
- Charley Pollard - India Fisher
- Count Orsino - Michael Sheard
- Churchwell - Nick Scovell
- Pietro - Barnaby Edwards
- Ms Lavish / Estella - Elaine Ives-Cameron
- Vincenzo - Mark Gatiss
- The Doctor likens the cult worshiping Estella to Liza Minnelli being the daughter of Judy Garland, in that the Duke's wife and Liza Minnelli's mother were both "taken away" and deified by the populace.
- The Doctor says the TARDIS is his oldest friend in the world.
- The Doctor suspects that there is alien life form in Venice because of a painting with volcano and foxes which doesn't belong to Earth.
- This audio drama was recorded on 15 and 16 May 2000 at studios in Bristol. It was the first that Paul McGann recorded for Big Finish Productions, though was the third to be released.
- This is Michael Sheard's last contribution to Doctor Who before his death in 2005.
- Russell Stone's score to this story was released on the CD Music from the Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures, alongside the other three initial Eighth Doctor audios.
- The story formed part of an Eighth Doctor series on BBC Radio 7 in 2005, alongside the stories Shada, Storm Warning, Sword of Orion, Invaders from Mars and The Chimes of Midnight, and has been repeated on multiple occasions since. This led to the commissioning of the original series The Eighth Doctor Adventures, debuting on the digital station in December 2006. Due to a limited timeslot, scenes were edited out of these versions; excluding Shada and The Chimes of Midnight, these were collated into The Eighth Doctor Collection in 2008 with an exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary and booklet. Minuet in Hell was excluded from broadcast due to its adult themes.
- This story was originally released on CD. It is now available as a download only.
- Ramsay is still living in the TARDIS. (AUDIO: Storm Warning)
- The First Doctor previously visited Venice in the company of Steven Taylor and Dodo Chaplet in 1609 (PROSE: The Empire of Glass) whereas the Eleventh Doctor, Amy Pond and Rory Williams would later do so in 1580 (TV: The Vampires of Venice).
- The artwork in Churchwell's collection of the woman in the jar is most likely a reference to the Empress' predecessors in Paul Magrs' PROSE: The Scarlet Empress.
- The Doctor mentions waiting 100 years is not that long. (PROSE: The Burning to Escape Velocity)
- The Doctor says his belief that good will always prevail was his inciting reason to leave home. (TV: Twice Upon a Time)
- The Stones of Venice Transcript
- DisContinuity for The Stones of Venice at Tetrapyriarbus - The DisContinuity Guide