The Minister of Chance was originally a character in the Doctor Who series played by Stephen Fry. In 2008 Fry and the creator Dan Freeman had the idea of creating a separate series for the character, but Fry's busy schedule made it impossible for him to continue. Freeman looked for a replacement and found Julian Wadham.
The result is a downloadable podcast of two episodes, plus a short prologue: each episode lasts approximately 35 minutes. A star cast has been assembled to support Wadham, including Jenny Agutter, Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy and Paul Darrow.
The basic story centres around the colonization of a planet by invading forces , who send all dissidents to the dungeon and ask questions afterwards. They believe in witchcraft; their standard salutation to one another is "Happy Spells." Having captured Professor Cantha (Jenny Agutter) they force her to develop an increasingly sophisticated weapon of mass destruction; despite their beliefs in folklore, they understand the power of technology. While trying to smuggle food to the Professor, Kitty (Lauren Grace) encounters the Minister; and the two of them try to find a way to outwit the colonizers. They embark on a fantastic journey through time and space: the Minister leads Kitty through a door that does not exist, and subsequently into a series of different worlds. The subsequent action tells two parallel stories: the one involving the Minister and Kitty, and the other involving the Professor. At the end of episode two, the stories are brought together in an exciting and unexpected denouement.
Despite the futuristic setting, Dan Freeman's story has distinct echoes of the Homeric epic in its use of the journey-motif, as the Minister and Kitty overcome a series of obstacles while encountering strange and often bizarre characters on their way - for example the Horseman (Peter Guinness).
In thematic terms, the plot is structured around a series of binary oppositions: belief/ non-belief, imaginary/ real, dictatorship/ democracy, past/ present. The Minister has a unique ability to transcend such oppositions; he can travel through time and space, while performing the kind of miracles that transfix the more down-to-earth Kitty. More importantly, the Minister shows how such binary oppositions are culturally constructed as a means of excluding those who dare to question the ruling ideology (if you don't support our beliefs, we'll camm you a non-believer, for example). Professor Cantha discovers to her cost how this process works, as she is brought to account by the colonizers for creating a non-destructive weapon of mass destruction.
The action culminates in an exciting climax at the end of the second episode, with listeners being assailed by a variety of siumltaneous sounds: men shouting, the ringing of bells, the growling of predatory beasts, the thud of punches, the crunch of gravel. In the background, the final movement of Dvorak's Ninth Symphony ("from the New World") forms a backdrop to the action. The technical effects are fantastic here: seldom have I heard such an imaginative use of music and sound.
The Minister of Chance is accessible by clicking on the link at the top of this review. There are the podcasts, together with extensive information on the production's origins and creative personnel, plus photo galleries. I urge any listener who enjoys a rattling good story to download it as soon as they can.