Storm Mine is the sixth instalment of the Kaldor City story, and the one that few people expected to be made. The ending of the previous instalment - Checkmate - seemed fairly definitive, if more than a little obscure. When the news broke about Russell Hunter’s sad passing, it seemed certain that the curtain was being drawn on Kaldor City, leaving behind an enigmatic but satisfying conclusion to a very different kind of story.
And then it was announced that Daniel O’Mahony’s Storm Mine was being released.
There were high expectations of Storm Mine: Kaldor City has quickly established itself as one of the most interesting spin-offs being produced, and O’Mahony (author of the excellent The Cabinet of Light, which inspired Telos’ Time Hunter series) has just the right flair for atmosphere and mystery to make something special.
I think it’s fair to say that O’Mahony did just that, but not in the way that anyone was expecting.
The first question that anyone has to ask before listening to Storm Mine is “how do they do it without Russell Hunter?”. Hunter played one of the central characters in the Kaldor City series, and it might be expected that his absence might leave a large gap at the heart of Storm Mine. But it doesn’t: Storm Mine presents us with such a seamless continuation of the Kaldor City story that Chair-holder Uvanov’s absence never overshadows.
Instead, Tracy Russell’s Blayes steps forward to take centre stage, dogged at every step by Paul Darrow’s Iago. Both actors give performances more than strong enough to hold the attention, and barely put a foot wrong. Between them, they carry the play - their distrustful relationship the heart of the story, with Blayes’ investigation of her new surroundings providing an excellent interlude.
The next question anyone will ask is “So what happened at the end of Checkmate?”. And there Storm Mine’s answer is a little more enigmatic.
Storm Mine is definitely part of the Kaldor City series - anyone coming to this without having heard Checkmate and possibly Taren Capel is going to get pretty lost pretty quickly - and more than that it is definitely the next in the Kaldor City series. The last few minutes of Checkmate reverberate throughout O’Mahony’s script, playing with audience expectations and not afraid to ask us to do some of the work as well.
Many people were waiting for the answer to what exactly happened at the end of Checkmate. If they’re willing to expend a little energy, they’re going to find an answer to that question.
Storm Mine is at its heart a detective story, but it’s one where the detective is the listener, rather than a character. Like the rest of the Kaldor City series, Storm Mine is a Chinese puzzle of a story: if you listen to it questioning exactly what happened at the end of Checkmate - and think about the clues the story presents you with - then it will open up and provide you with answers. The more you listen, the clearer things become, and it’s at that point that you realise how intelligently this drama has been crafted by everyone involved. You can listen to it and simply enjoy the story, but the more effort you put into thinking about it, the more it rewards you.
And the clues come from all corners. The choice of cast tells you something about what is happening, even the location itself is a clue. Everything right down to the sound design - there’s an obvious moment that you’ll think of when you hear it (if you remember the end of Checkmate), but there are other moments - is there to help you come to your own theories about the greater story. Alistair Lock has put a lot into the sound design for all of the Kaldor City episodes, but in Storm Mine he has bettered even his own high standard.
Storm Mine also features the return of some Doctor Who luminaries: the original D84 Geoffrey De Polnay and the ubiquitous Philip Madoc. Both play characters who have an unnerving familiarity - De Polnay’s performance could have been recorded the day after The Robots of Death was shot (much like Russell Hunter’s before him) and Madoc gives a brilliantly layered performance that strikes chords with both the listener and the other characters. Which in itself is another clue to the central mystery . . .
Both make excellent additions to the cast, and it would be a shame if we weren’t to hear anything from them again. But, then, the same can be said of any of the Kaldor City regulars: the series has a truly ensemble cast, any of whom can take centre stage at any moment - as Tracy Russell has proved as Blayes has come more to the fore over the last few productions.
But the best thing about Storm Mine is the ending.
Not that it ends, of course, but how it ends: a lesser play would have felt the need to explain things clearly and unambiguously. Storm Mine credits its audience with more intelligence than that, and in doing so delivers a much more satisfying - and much clearer - ending than any of its contemporaries have managed. With a final repetition, the story comes into focus and you realise just what you have been listening to. And more, it leaves you with the hope that there is more to say and more to discover about this exciting little series.
I suspect Kaldor City - like The Prisoner that the team behind it so admire - will never give us a truly definitive answer to any of our questions. But I know that it will provide plenty of fuel for discussion and debate and theory - and good honest entertainment - along the way. I look forward to the next release more avidly than I have waited for any Who spin-off in a long time.
And I recommend that you do, too.