Disclaimer: As I was obligated to switch things around on Monday due to schedule conflicts, I’m posting in the Main Range today. We’ll be back on schedule after this. Thanks!
Disclaimer the Second: It has come to my attention that occasionally it appears I have plagiarized my plot summaries from the TARDIS wiki and/or Reddit’s /r/Gallifrey subreddit. I feel compelled to make it clear that I am the author of the summaries in all three locations. I’ve simply shared my own work where I felt it was of use.
We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re looking at Main Range #21, Dust Breeding, written by Mike Tucker and starring the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and published in June, 2001. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!
In the nineteenth century, troubled painter Evard Munch hears a scream throughout all nature. At the urging of concerned friends Skredsvig and Maggie, he puts it to canvas, producing the now-famous painting, The Scream. Far in the future, in the twenty-sixth century, a technician named Jay Binks is the last man alive at Refueling Station B on the dust world of Duchamp 331. He calls for help, but before his message can be received, he is killed by the invading dust.
In the TARDIS’s art gallery, Ace debates with the Seventh Doctor about his habit of “rescuing”—or stealing, from her point of view—famous works of art just prior to their destruction in the disasters of history. They are on their way to Duchamp 331 to rescue another famous work: Munch’s The Scream. They are forced by a dust storm to land at Refueling Station B, which has been damaged by the storm. They locate the dying Jay Binks, and take him aboard the TARDIS, where he mutters about the dust before falling unconscious. An old friend, Bev Tarrant, is also on the planet, where her ship’s hyperdrive burned out; though she has repaired it, she can’t afford the fuel to leave. She meets an old settler named Guthrie, one of the first on the planet, whose time has made him sympathetic, but eccentric. When the TARDIS lands, she reunites with the Doctor and Ace, and helps them get Binks to the medical bay.
A starship, the Gallery, is en route to Duchamp 331 on a pleasure cruise. Its proprietor, Madame Elsa Salvadori, is irritated to find a passenger has delayed departure—until she realizes it is her anonymous benefactor, Mr. Seta, who made the trip possible. The cruise’s goal is to facilitate a fabulous art auction, crowned by the unveiling of a specially commissioned work. The masked Mr. Seta refuses to reveal anything about himself, but Salvadori sets her servant Klemp to learn what he can.
Ace and Bev hear a strange story from Guthrie. He tells them that a Dalek saucer crashed on Duchamp years ago, and was swallowed up by the dust that composes the whole world; the screaming of the wind is reputed to be the Daleks’ screams of madness. The Doctor reveals that they have been advised to remain onworld until the refueling station’s destruction is investigated. While here, they’ll visit an artist colony, affectionately called the Outhouse. Bev goes along, hoping to sell some of her smuggled artifacts.
As it turns out, the Outhouse is the destination of the Gallery as well. An artist named Damien has been commissioned by Salvadori for the artwork to be unveiled. She terrifies him when she threatens him with disaster if it is not ready when she arrives…in three hours. In the meantime, he greets the Doctor’s party, and shows them around. While viewing the improvised art gallery, Bev gets a call indicating that Jay Binks has died; the Doctor returns to the base to conduct an autopsy, taking Bev with him as his reluctant surgical assistant. At the Outhouse, Ace views a collection of historical artworks, and locates The Scream; she is hit by a psychic attack from the painting, crippling her with fear and pain.
On the Gallery, a security guard named Albert Bootle is checking the cargo hold, when he encounters Mr. Seta; when he states he has to report the guest’s presence, he is killed. Klemp discovers the body, and reports it to Salvadori; the cargo is unharmed, but Seta’s crates have been tampered with.
Conducting an autopsy on Binks, the Doctor finds that he has no blood, and his body is full of dust. The dust begins to move, and Binks’s corpse moves, shattering the window and letting in the winds and dust.
The Doctor reverses the polarity on the air conditioning unit, sucking the dust from the room and causing Binks’ corpse to collapse. Guthrie cleans up the area, offering Bev a light despite the dangers of smoking on a refueling station. Bev and the Doctor retreat to a bar and confer, concluding that the attack was like a staged performance. The Doctor suspects that the dust is being telekinetically controlled. Aboard the Gallery, Salvadori and Klemp conceal the murder, and Salvadori meets with Mr. Seta, who subtly threatens her; but she does not take well to threats.
Ace recovers when she escapes the room with the paintings, and goes to find Damien. She finds him in his office, monitoring Bev and the Doctor in the bar. He insanely believes that his ongoing work of art will make him immortal, and knows that something is in The Scream; he stuns Ace and takes her back to the painting, and locks her in, exposing her to The Scream again.
The Doctor reviews the layout of the refueling stations and the Outhouse, suspecting that the destruction of station B was deliberate—but, why? Guthrie joins the conversation, and tells the Doctor and Bev about his deceased partner Burton; Burton was killed by the dust, and all Guthrie was able to save was his lighter, which he has kept ever since. The Duchamp Corporation ignored the death, assuming that Guthrie killed Burton, but not particularly caring; but Guthrie continues to seek answers and revenge. However, Guthrie reveals that the Outhouse is not a recent addition; it has been there since the beginning twenty years ago, leading the Doctor to suspect he should investigate Damien.
The Doctor leaves Bev and Guthrie at the base, and takes the TARDIS to the Outhouse’s art gallery, where he is just in time to rescue Ace. Ace believes the thing in the painting is evil; and as well, where are the other fifty people that should be living in the Outhouse? Only Damien seems to be present. The Doctor confronts the painting, attempting to help the being or force inside it, but it overwhelms him.
Salvadori is determined to figure out all she can about Mr. Seta, especially in light of his obvious wealth and his anonymity. She sends Kemp with a team of guards to break open Seta’s cargo crates. He finds that they are full of large eggs. Seta enters the hold, and confronts Klemp; he reveals that the eggs are responsive to a device he carries. He activates the device, and creatures burst from the eggs and kill the guards. The creatures are the Krill, biologically-engineered monsters. Seta takes control of Klemp, and reveals his true identity: The Time Lord known as the Master.
Guthrie and Bev witness the arrival of the Gallery, of which there was no record in advance. At the Outhouse, the entity in the painting assaults the Doctor and briefly takes control of him. Babbling insanely, it explains itself to Ace; it is the Warp Core, a powerful weapon engineered to battle a great enemy. After defeating the enemy, it destroyed and escaped its creators in disembodied form, and ultimately encountered Edvard Munch, who went insane at the contact. Munch’s madness infected the Warp Core as well, and trapped it in the painting, where it has waited. Now, it has been awakened, for its old enemy—the Krill—are approaching, and it will battle them again. It releases the Doctor, who has been fighting its control, and retreats into the painting. The Doctor and Ace go in search of Damien, who is about to make a terrible mistake.
Aboard the Gallery, Salvadori is about to unveil the masterwork—but the Krill burst in and attack. Salvadori escapes to her cabin, but there she finds the Master, accompanied by Klemp, who is in thrall to him. The Master gloats over her before removing his mask, revealing a horribly scarred face. He admits that a force more potent than the Krill waits on the planet below, waiting for him to unleash it. By threatening Klemp with death by tissue compression, he forces Salvadori to order Damien to begin his final work.
On the planet, the storms have subsided, though the sand sharks are becoming more active, as if in anticipation. The Doctor deduces Damien’s plan: He will release the Warp Core into the dust that composes the planet, bringing the whole world to life and making it into a deadly weapon of unimaginable power. He sends Ace and Bev to the refueling station to evacuate the sparse population, sending them in shuttles to the Gallery in orbit. He goes to confront Damien. Damien is out of his mind, raving mad; but he has his orders, and he intends to become immortal through his masterpiece. He reveals that the other artists of the Outhouse have been combined into a group mind, and he joins his to theirs, giving the Warp Core access to the fabric of the planet.
Bev and Ace take Bev’s shuttle—using stolen fuel—to the Gallery. Unknown to them, Guthrie has hidden and stayed behind. Moments ahead of the Warp Core’s merger with the dust, they escape to the waiting ship above. Inside, they find the ship deserted…and then they locate the body of Frederickson, the refueling station’s commander, shredded to death. Ace realizes the Krill are here.
Having failed to prevent the disaster, the Doctor flees in the TARDIS, materializing on the Gallery. He heads to the ballroom—and encounters the Master.
The Master expects that the Krill will kill Ace and Bev; but they manage to elude the first of the creatures as it escapes into space. Its exit tears a hole in the docking bay, and the emergency bulkheads cut them off from Bev’s ship. The Master prevents him from aiding them. He reveals that he doesn’t intend to control the Krill; they are only here to revive the Warp Core. He reveals that Duchamp 331 is the Warp Core’s point of origin, a formerly living world, until the Core killed it. He admits that he previously attempted to control the Warp Core, but miscalculated its rage; the Warp Core destroyed his body, which he previously stole from Tremas of Traken, and left him in his original, decayed, Time Lord body, incapable of regenerating. It is the Master that caused the painting to be brought here, and that caused the Outhouse to be established. He intends to exhaust it by pitting it against the Krill, and then capture it and connect it to his TARDIS, thus controlling it. He will then acquire a new body, and enslave the universe.
Bev and Ace encounter Salvadori, whom the Master allowed to survive. She reveals that everyone is dead, save herself, Klemp, the Master, and three Krill (to her knowledge). They determine to find the Doctor and escape in the TARDIS. On the way, they see the planet below—now controlled by the Warp Core—reaching out to battle the Krill that escaped the ship. A Krill attacks Salvadori; Bev refuses to leave her, and runs to shout at the creature, and surprisingly, it flees, allowing them to escape.
On the planet, Guthrie initiates an emergency purge of all the fuel tanks in every station. The Warp Core confronts him, and mocks his desire for revenge against the creature. It dismisses him and leaves, planning to kill him after the Krill, but he swears to make it regret the decision.
The Master intends to kill the Doctor now—or rather, have Klemp do it—but is interrupted by the arrival of Ace, Bev, and Salvadori. The Doctor introduces the Master, who looks very different from his appearance at his last encounter with Ace. However, the Warp Core’s tendrils of dust have reached the ship; and it speaks to Salvadori and the Master. It recognizes Salvadori via Damien’s connected mind, and mocks her for her past humiliation of him. It denies any alliance with the Master; in an attempt to win its favor, he orders Klemp to kill Salvadori. Klemp’s loyalty to her is too strong, and he refuses; the Master grapples with him for the tissue compression eliminator, and Klemp is killed. The Warp Core breaks in, and the Master flees to his TARDIS and escapes, while the others escape in the lift.
The Krill are between them and the TARDIS, but when Ace recounts their last encounter, the Doctor realizes it’s the dust that coats their clothes. Though minimal, it is imbued with the Warp Core’s essence, which terrifies the Krill. He collects the dust, and takes telepathic control of it, using it to clear their way. Still, they can’t make it; and when the Krill break through the defense, Salvadori—who blames herself for everything—sacrifices herself to allow them to escape.
The Doctor intends to use the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits to force the Warp Core back to the planet, but the Master uses his own TARDIS’s circuits to oppose him, summoning the Core to him. The Core resists them both, fighting for freedom rather than entrapment or enslavement. However, Guthrie takes that moment to strike. Having expelled all the fuel into the atmosphere, he strikes his dead partner’s lighter, setting the atmosphere alight, and triggering a destruction that rips the planet apart.
When the Doctor recovers from his battle, he learns that the planet really did have a history with the Daleks—it was a Dalekanium power core inside the planet that ignited with the atmosphere, causing the explosion. In the conflagration, the Gallery and the Krill were destroyed, and the TARDIS was expelled into space and time. The Master’s TARDIS, presumably, was also cast out, meaning he is free to pursue more plans. The Warp Core is dispersed, and will cause no more harm. Seeking rest, the Doctor takes Bev and Ace to Oslo in the twentieth century, where the painting resides in an art gallery prior to the Master’s purchase of it. Ace suggests removing it now and changing history, but the Doctor insists the future is already written. They realize Bev is missing, just before the gallery’s alarms go off; she’s a professional thief, after all. Perhaps another hobby is in order.
Usually I start to listen to these audios after reading up on them a little, so that I have an idea of major points to listen for. I didn’t do that this time, and so I was completely blindsided by the return of the Master. I suppose I should conceal the identity of the character he turns out to be, so that it’s not a spoiler, but I will say that in hindsight it should have been obvious. Still, I’m a huge fan of the Master, so I won’t complain; and this story came at a coincidental time, as just a few days ago I covered Utopia, which introduced the Master to the revived television series. This story is his first appearance in the audios, and he is played here by Geoffrey Beevers, whose last appearance as the Master was twenty years earlier in The Keeper of Traken. Interestingly, this story takes place in the Master’s timeline after his last appearance in Survival, but Beevers plays the decayed version that we last saw stealing Tremas’s body; there’s an in-universe explanation given within this story. However, I understand that this contradicts some other appearances of the Master, including the novels First Frontier, Happy Endings, and Prime Time, some of which also contradict each other. Perhaps if I reach those stories, we might look at some associated fan theories, but for now we’ll let it slide.
Bev Tarrant returns, sans team this time; she was last seen in The Genocide Machine, and Ace and the Doctor recognize her, indicating that this story occurs sometime after that one. That’s simple enough, but it does seem odd when we consider Ace; Ace is much more like her younger, televised incarnation here, in both speech patterns and behavior. In The Genocide Machine, we saw Ace in her customary more mature form. It’s doubly curious, because this story also takes place after the BBC Past Doctor Adventures novel Storm Harvest; I do not yet know the placement of that novel in the series, but at a minimum it is probably later in the Doctor and Ace’s timeline. We know Dust Breeding takes place after Storm Harvest because of the Krill, which featured in that story; Ace refers to having encountered them during that story’s events. Bev, I should mention, travels briefly with the Doctor and Ace after this story, but no media that I know of have addressed it yet; she will eventually end up in Bernice Summerfield’s orbit in The Bellotron Incident.
The Warp Core is an interesting villain, but not a particularly original one. It’s hardly the first disembodied energy being we’ve seen, even in the Main Range; it joins the likes of the Fearmonger (The Fearmonger), Harding Wellman (Winter for the Adept), Visteen Krane (Whispers of Terror), the Wire (The Idiot’s Lantern), the Mara (Kinda, Snakedance), and many others. The name is a bit silly, chiefly because of the ubiquitous use of the term “warp core” in Star Trek, and I wish they’d given it a little context here; but I can overlook it. This particular disembodied monster isn’t evil so much as insane; it was created to destroy the Krill, and it did so, but then also destroyed its creators as it escaped. Later its encounter with the fragile mind of Edvard Munch caused both Munch and the Warp Core itself to go insane. It’s just another run-of-the-mill villain…until it’s released into the fabric of the planet, Duchamp 331, and animates the planet itself. (I don’t usually get into real-world references much, but the title of the story and the name of the planet come from an interesting 1920 photo by Man Ray, titled Dust Breeding, which is worth a mention. You can find the photo and some background information here. There are also numerous references to other artists and other science fiction series—for more information, check the Discontinuity Guide entry.)
The Master is definitely old-school here; he’s still using his tissue compression eliminator, though he doesn’t mention it by name—we get this from his description of corpses shrunken to the size of toys. He has acquired another TARDIS, having not been seen to possess one in Survival; his plan is to tether the Warp Core to the heart of his TARDIS and thus gain its considerable power. In keeping with numerous classic Master stories, his plan is ambitious, but he underestimates his would-be ally, and is forced onto the defensive. It’s probably something that has been implied, though I don’t recall it ever stated; but we see here that he has the same telepathic power as the Doctor, as he links with both the Doctor and his TARDIS’s telepathic circuits (“CONTACT!”). At the end, he’s unaccounted for, and free to appear again.
For the Seventh Doctor, this is a good middle-of-the-road story. He’s not particularly manipulative, his usual defining trait; but he’s hardly incapable as well. We glimpse one of his hobbies here; he likes to rescue works of art before their historical destruction. He does get defeated once here, when he fails to prevent the artist Damien from merging the Warp Core with the planet; but he makes up for it shortly thereafter.
The Daleks get a mention here, but they’re not really relevant to the story; there is a crashed Dalek ship buried in the planet, which is instrumental (though purely by chance) in the final resolution in the story. It’s useful, but it feels a bit like a deus ex machina. Also noteworthy: Caroline John, who previously played UNIT scientist and Third Doctor companion Liz Shaw, makes an appearance as Salvadori. I’ve covered most of the continuity references, but there’s one more I should mention: the Doctor has a copy of the Mona Lisa in the TARDIS’s art gallery, but he tells Ace that this one has “This is a fake” written on it in felt-tip pen beneath the paint. This refers back to a plan initiated by the Fourth Doctor in City of Death.
Overall, this is a good, solid, enjoyable story. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it doesn’t need to be. It re-introduces the Master, and that’s sufficient excitement for this week. I can’t complain.
Next time: On Thursday, we’ll begin the first War Doctor box set, Only the Monstrous; and on Monday, we’ll return to the Main Range with the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe in Bloodtide! See you there.
All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this audio drama’s purchase page is linked below. This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.