Audio Drama Review: The Creed of the Kromon

We’re back! Today we’re looking at the next entry in Big Finish’s Monthly Adventures (or Main Range, if you prefer) range of Doctor Who stories. This title, 2004’s The Creed of the Kromon, written by Philip Martin, is number 53 in the Monthly Adventures range, and also the second entry in the Divergent Universe arc of stories, featuring the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard. It picks up immediately after the events of the previous entry, Scherzo. Let’s get started!

The Creed of the Kromon

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!

The Doctor and Charley Pollard walk out of the ruin of the experimental bottle, into an arid and deceptive landscape under two red suns. After some momentary hallucination, they manage to come to their senses, and see a number of habitat domes in the distance. They are stopped by a voice, who tortures them briefly; it is that of a being called Kro’ka. It bargains with them for admission to the world in front of them, which is called the zone of Eutermes; it wants a price to allow them in, and the price must fill a need in Eutermean society. The Doctor offers his knowledge of spacetime, but Charley offers a bigger prize: The TARDIS itself–if they can find it. Kro’ka lets them in; as they proceed, he notes that “experiment 2.70” has begun.

They encounter–and save the life of–a humanoid, reptilian local, named C’rizz, who is recently escaped from a habitat dome. As they progress, he tells them of the Kromon, termite-like insect creatures who rule Eutermes. C’rizz wants to return to the Alpha Sphere–the lead habitat dome–to be with his love, L’da. He explains that the Kromon rule his people, and that he and L’da were chosen to be “royals”, the leaders of their race–but that they will be made to take an elixir that puts them in tune with the Kromon. He further notes that despite the aridity of the area, the rains haven’t ceased; it later becomes apparent that the Kromon’s researches have caused the rivers and water table to dry up. They meet a subterranean creature called an Oroog; then the entire party is picked up by a Kromon patrol, and taken captive to the Alpha Sphere.

The Oroog is put to work as a laborer. The Doctor is assigned to research, and Charley is classed as breeding stock. C’rizz is forced to take the elixir, but he cannot tolerate it and spits it up. In the confusion, the Doctor and Charley escape. C’rizz is sent for execution, but is rescued by the Doctor and Charley. The Doctor finds that L’da has been made the subject of an experiment in hybridization between her species and the Kromon. The try to reach her on level five of the dome, but are intercepted; the Doctor is sent to Research, and C’rizz is put to work. Charley, however, is directed to the Reproductive center on level five.

The Doctor manages to get himself ingratiated into the Kromon space program, which is very rudimentary. He does, however, determine that they do not have the TARDIS, and indeed don’t understand the concept of time travel–or of time, at all. C’rizz manages to reconnect with the Doctor, and Charley–who has not yet been transformed by the experiment–is reassigned to the Doctor’s department. However, they find that L’da is not so lucky; she has been metamorphosed into a hybrid form to serve as a Kromon queen. C’rizz shoots and kills her with a stolen gun.

The Kromon arrest the trio. They immediately decide to use Charley as a replacement for the slain queen. The Doctor is forced to take elixirs to prompt his memories so that the Kromon can obtain his knowledge of space travel. In the process he becomes aware of the Kromon’s history; they were abused by a predatory mining company that ruined their world, but they survived by taking over the company and adapting its policies into their creed. Hence, they in turn have nearly ruined Eutermes. Meanwhile C’rizz is further tortured; and Charley is forced into the metamorphic process.She begins to change, but is disoriented by the process. C’rizz is rescued by the Oroog, and taken to safety. The Doctor helps the Kromon build a prototype rocket–but when it is activated by the Kromon director of space research, it explodes.

The Doctor flees, connecting with C’rizz on the way, and go in search of Charley. Not finding her, they retreat to level two. Her transformation is nearly complete, however. The Oroog reveals the existence of root plants that will clear the confusion from the minds of the Kromon’s victims. He uses them to attempt to free the rest of his kind, while the Doctor and C’rizz shut off the water supply–a crisis for the Kromon–in preparation for rescuing Charley. Charley learns to communicate with and control the larva that are newly hatched from eggs left by L’da–a success for the experiment. However, the lack of water causes chaos before she can be placed in the breeding chamber; without constant water, the Kromon royals begin to die off. C’rizz kills the Kromon breeding scientists, but it’s a needless gesture; as the royals die, so do the rest of the Kromon, who are mentally linked to the leadership. The Oroog tells the Doctor that his people are cutting off the water to the rest of the spheres as well, returning the water to the surface and eliminating the Kromon threat.

The Doctor places Charley in a pool, ensuring her survival, and gives her the roots, breaking the Kromon influence and starting her body on a path back to its human form. She mercifully sleeps through the process, and retains little memory of the transformations. With the crisis averted, and Eutermes saved, the Doctor and Charley leave for other lands, other zones–but C’rizz, now cast adrift from his old life, asks to come along, and is granted permission. However, in the interzone between zones, Kro’ka speaks to the Doctor’s mind again, and warns him to be wary of C’rizz; the Eutermesan was formerly a peaceful monk, but has been damaged by his experiences. As they move to the next zone, the Kro’ka comments that experiment 3.56 is about to start.

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After the experience of Scherzo, I was, I admit, relieved to have a more linear, stable story here. Call me a traditionalist, I suppose, but I think that Doctor Who works best when it tells more traditional stories, with a clear antagonist and a situation to overcome–as opposed to the internal-view type of story presented in Zagreus or Scherzo. In that light, the Divergent Universe’s circular nature becomes an asset, a nice twist, rather than a source of confusion for the audience.

And The Creed of the Kromon delivers. It capitalizes on the idea that this is all new territory for the Doctor; his usual vast store of knowledge about the universe and its history is useless here. Worse: it’s a liability–several times he makes assumptions and guesses that would probably have panned out back in N-Space, but here are terribly wrong. In the midst of all this, we get some nice touches: a slow-burn body horror (though unfortunately without much in the way of stakes, because it’s a safe bet that Charley will be normal again at the end), and a new companion, C’rizz. I was completely unfamiliar with this character; I knew he was mentioned in The Night of the Doctor (among a rush of Big Finish companions that got a canonical nod), but that was it. It’s easy to overlook that he isn’t actually human, only humanoid; in fact he is of reptilian stock. The body horror here is along the same lines as the Krynoid all the way back in The Seeds of Doom, or the Wirrn in The Ark in Space; both of those stories scared me witless as a kid, but this story is less terror and more tragedy. In that sense, it’s more like Peri’s transformation in Vengeance on Varos.

I want to point out something else that I think is especially relevant to the current state of Doctor Who. The Eighth Doctor is most definitely a classic series Doctor, despite bridging between classic and modern. We can see this most in his attitude toward the deaths of his enemies. The current Doctor as of this writing (Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, at least until someone gets around to numbering the pre-Hartnell Doctors) is a diehard pacifist. Not only will she not kill, but also she will neither engineer deaths secondhand, nor allow her companions to in any way be responsible for a death. She holds that line even when it results in greater deaths through inaction–a point which has infuriated many fans. (To be fair, it’s an outgrowth of the Doctor’s growth after the Time War; but it seems sometimes to be a hard line just for the sake of a hard line, rather than any practical decision.) There’s none of that here. Eight is witness to the death of the entire Kromon race, and hardly blinks. He tacitly admits that justice demands their deaths; that by letting it happen, he is saving the Eutermesans, who are helpless victims. it’s a straightforward morality that has become increasingly grey and muddled in modern times, ultimately giving us its own antithesis in the Thirteenth Doctor–a transformation about which I have not made up my mind.

Continuity References: While doling out information to the Kromon scientists, the Doctor mentions Zeiton-7 as a fuel for his ship (Vengeance on Varos). The Kro’ka will return in The Twilight Kingdom. Charley (AGAIN) relives her averted death on the R101 (Storm Warning, and if we could stop referencing the same story every week that would be great, thanks). The Doctor mentions meeting Charles Darwin (Bloodtide), and visiting Mars before its dessication (The Judgement of Isskar). C’rizz is revealed to be a monk, which will be further explained in Faith Stealer and Absolution.

Overall: I like this one. I think it’s a better setup for the rest of the Divergent Universe arc than Scherzo, and it’s an enjoyable, well-paced story in the bargain. it makes me feel better about the situation overall.

Next time: If you’re keeping up, we’re right in the middle of four in a row in the Divergent Universe arc. Next time–if I don’t take a break to finish up The Wormery–we’re listening to The Natural History of Fear. See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below. 

The Creed of the Kromon

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Audio Drama Review: Scherzo

All my friends are dead

All My Friends Fans Are Dead (!)

Well, I hope not, anyway. But they may have fled the site by now, which comes to the same thing from a readership perspective. After all, this blog has been, for most purposes, dead for some time now. My last post was almost exactly six months ago; and at that point, I left two projects unfinished, in addition to leaving off with our regular series of reviews. I will try to back up and finish those projects, but that’s going to take some work, so bear with me.

In the meantime: I have not forgotten you! Or this site. The lack of posts here has largely been due to a lack of time and energy to experience the stories I cover, not a lack of effort to cover them. In short, I haven’t watched, listened to, or read much Doctor Who for a long time now (with the exception of Series 12 of the television series, and I’m not ready to cover that anyway–I still need to cover the Eleventh Doctor era, let alone Twelve or Thirteen). There’s a variety of largely pointless reasons for that, but suffice it to say I want to take another stab at catching up. If you’re still with me after all this time, bless you and thank you…and if not, and I’m just speaking into the void Time Vortex, well, perhaps future generations of digital archaeologists will uncover these ramblings. Bernice Summerfield, at least, would be pleased.

Today, we’ll take the plunge back into the world of Big Finish’s Main Range (or Monthly Adventures Range–that seems to be their preferred term these days) of audio dramas. It’s a conspicuous time, because I’ve heard rumors that they may be preparing to phase out the monthly adventures as they increasingly move toward a box set model. Definite plans haven’t been announced, but the rumbles have been felt. (My personal thought is they’ll go to three hundred entries before stopping; they’re at 263, Cry of the Vultriss, with placeholders up to 275 on the website.) We left off with the fiftieth entry, the large-scale insanity that was Zagreus; you can read about it at that link. I’m going to do something I usually try not to do, and skip the next entry, The Wormery, for now, chiefly because I haven’t finished it. It’s a bit of an odd man out, a Sixth Doctor (and Iris Wildthyme!) story sandwiched between several continuous Eighth Doctor stories. As soon as I’ve finished it, I’ll post about it and fix the “previous” and “next” links to match. These next few entries will also be a bit abbreviated, as I want to hurry and catch up a bit.

So, with all that said, let’s get started! Today, we’re covering the next Eighth Doctor story after Zagreus, the first in the Divergent Universe arc, Scherzo.

Scherzo

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this story!

Following on the events of Zagreus, Charley Pollard finds herself, the Doctor, and the TARDIS thrust into the bizarre and counterintuitive Divergent Universe. This universe, as we previously learned, was spun off by Rassilon in ancient times to trap its inhabitants away from the real universe. It is a universe without time, where everything constantly circles around to the same point; but Charley doesn’t yet grasp the implications.

She has bigger problems to worry about, though. The Doctor is apparently free of the Zagreus entity, but is far from himself, spouting sad nonsense and refusing to act to save himself or Charley–and the TARDIS is vanishing. They find themselves abandoned in a featureless world, one that sometimes even lacks sight, name, identity. They make their way repeatedly through a world that seems almost circular, leading them in circles–no, spirals–around and around. Repeatedly they encounter a mysterious and variable figure, who tempts them each to give up on the other. Charley faces her own past; the Doctor faces the reality that he has, indeed, lived as though his friends and companions were disposable, interchangeable, for which he is ashamed. And yet, when confronted with the choice of whether each would live for themselves or die for the other, both pass the test.

With the TARDIS fully vanished, the world is revealed to be the inside of a large glass experimental jar; they have been circling it, slowly making their way upward. Now, they are able to shatter the glass and move forward into a new world, which they will explore together…though enemies are already arraying themselves in the shadows.

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There’s experimental, and then there’s experimental. Big Finish has done quite a bit of experimentation with their audios over the years–we’ve covered a few of their experimental pieces, and I expect to cover more. Doctor Who is a series that lends itself well to the practice, at least when not on television (where viewer counts are paramount).

But there’s a vast difference between experimenting with the format (as in Flip Flop or Doctor Who and the Pirates) and experimenting with the content. The former is often a welcome change, a bit of variety in a long series. The latter…well, it either works for you or it doesn’t. For me, in this case at least, it doesn’t. I was fairly kind to Zagreus in my review; for all that it’s the most bizarre piece of DW fiction I’ve encountered, it tells a cohesive story, and it’s a compelling one even if it’s not what anyone expected. Scherzo, though…Scherzo is a bit like dry heaves. It’s not very pleasant, but it’s not even particularly productive as a bad thing. I mean no insult at all to the author, Robert Shearman, who is quite capable in general. I feel, though, that he had a bad task to accomplish here: The transition from Zagreus to the Divergent Universe arc. We went from a scenario of mindscapes (but orderly ones) to a universe with no rules; it was bound to be a bumpy ride.

And that’s exactly what this story is: a transition. It makes no secret of that, and it shouldn’t. The consequence is that it doesn’t have much identity of its own–which is appropriate, given that identity is a major issue for our characters in this story. (It will get better though; we’ll re-establish some order in the next entries in the arc.)

As an aside, the story does do something unusual: It is one of only a handful of performed Doctor Who stories to only involve the main cast, and at the time of its release it was only the second story ever to do so, after 1964’s The Edge of Destruction (which was also the first bottle episode–ironic, given that this story takes place in a literal bottle). It’s also the first “two-hander” story in Doctor Who history, the first (performed) story with only two roles.

Continuity References: Things are going to get weird for awhile, I’m afraid. I don’t usually include references to stories that are still in the future of the same range as the story under discussion; I prefer to look back for references, not ahead. That’s not a valid plan when we’re talking about the Divergent Universe. The universe itself is circular in terms of time, and so stories go out of their way to behave as such. Hence, the Doctor makes reference to several things he has not yet encountered: The Kromon and Kro’ka (The Creed of the Kromon), the Censor (The Natural History of Fear), and Major Koth (The Twilight Kingdom). Additionally, Charley mentions the crash of the R101, as she often does (Storm Warning).

Overall: Not a favorite for me, but I grudgingly admit we need Scherzo to get us over to the Divergent Universe. Better things are coming. Moving ahead!

Next time: Unless I catch up on The Wormery, we’ll continue with The Creed of the Kromon, and meet a new companion! See you there.

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below. 

Scherzo

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Audio Drama Review: The Nightmare Fair

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! After just coming off of the famous (or infamous) Zagreus, I needed a quick change of pace; and so today, we’re looking at the first in another range, the Lost Stories. We join the Sixth Doctor and Peri in The Nightmare Fair, where they face off against a very old enemy: The Celestial Toymaker! Written by Graham Williams, and adapted and directed by John Ainsworth, this story was released in November 2009, nine years ago this month. Let’s get started!

Nightmare Fair 1

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

Part One: Following their last adventure against the Daleks (Revelation of the Daleks), the Doctor and Peri arrive at the Pleasure Beach fair in Blackpool for a bit of relaxation. They are unaware that they are being observed by an old enemy… Meanwhile, a local man, Kevin, reports to the police about strange events from the night before at the fair—strange lights, a frightened man. It is the latest of numerous reports Kevin has made; but most also involve a strange Chinese Mandarin. Last night, the Mandarin wasn’t there. He also discusses his missing brother, Geoff. The police don’t take him seriously, and run him off.

The Doctor admits that he had an ulterior motive for coming to Blackpool: a disturbance in the time vortex, indicating danger. Elsewhere, the Celestial Toymaker—for that is who watches—prepares his servant, Stefan, to bring the Doctor in; Stefan, meanwhile, provides the Toymaker with the Doctor’s biodata, confirming his identity. Peri begins to hear the Doctor calling her, though he denies it; soon, the Doctor also hears his own name being called. He deduces that there is telepathy in use. As they continue checking out various rides, the Doctor notices Kevin following them. Peri ends up separated from the Doctor on a ride, sharing a car with Kevin as the Doctor follows behind. At the other end, the Doctor is nowhere to be seen. Peri reports to security, but to no avail. Introducing herself to Kevin, she enlists his help—but they are intercepted by the Toymaker’s servants, and forced to fight. Unintentionally, Kevin kills their captor; the duo then runs. Meanwhile the Doctor is collected by Stefan, and escorted to a cell.

In the tunnels beneath the fair, Kevin shares his story with Peri. They happen upon numerous mechanical dummies, as well as the machinery of the rides. Meanwhile the Doctor examines his surroundings, and makes rudimentary communication with something in the next cell by tapping on the pipes. Before he can continue, the Toymaker arrives and insinuates that the Doctor will be forced to play his games, possibly at the cost of harm to Peri if he refuses. Before he vanishes, he causes the wall between cells—which proves to be a solid hologram—to become invisible, revealing a clawed monster. However, the Doctor quickly reestablishes communication with the creature. The Toymaker watches from elsewhere, amused. In the tunnels, Peri and Kevin are briefly separated; and Kevin is taken to the cells. The Toymaker returns to debate with the Doctor about Earth and its inhabitants and their capacity for games, which fits right into his plans. He challenges the Doctor to one  more game, and the Doctor is obliged to accept.

Part Two: The Toymaker commits to not harming Peri. Meanwhile, Kevin rejoins Peri, but he begins to speak and act strangely. Meanwhile, Kevin is also in the cell with the Doctor—clearly only one of them is real. But, which Kevin is it? Kevin and the Doctor compare notes, and the Doctor recruits him to help build a strange device. Elsewhere, one of the Toymaker’s servants, Yatsumoto, delivers a large video game cabinet, and reviews its use; the Toymaker, delighted, authorizes the next phase of his plan, which will see the machines rolled out to the public all over the world. Meanwhile Peri realizes that Kevin no longer has a wound he received in their escape; and she quickly realizes that he is not real. Seeing that the game is up, he has her taken to the cells with the Doctor and the real Kevin. The Toymaker has Yatsumoto try out the game; but when he loses, a glowing creature of some sort is generated by the game, and kills him. Peri catches up with the Doctor, who fills everyone in on their status. The Doctor’s device removes the walls between cells completely, though the corridor wall remains intact. The clawed creature can be seen in one cell. In the other is a humanlike android, who quickly joins their cause, and reveals that he is an old and oft-rebuilt member of an expeditionary fleet, now far away. The creature, the Doctor reveals, is a Venusian, of a type that is known for their mechanical skills; the Doctor dubs him “Mechanic”. With the Mechanic’s help, and a hand—literally—from the android, the Doctor assembles a sort of helmet device, and puts it on Peri. At that time, Stefan arrives to take the Doctor to the Toymaker; the Doctor tells Peri to yell for him if she needs him.

After much debate about his motives, the Toymaker causes the Doctor to play the video game; down in the cell, the Mechanic works feverishly to finish the helmet device, but can’t speak to Peri to explain what it’s for. Just as the Doctor loses the game, and the video monster emerges, the Mechanic attacks Peri, causing her to scream for the Doctor…and the Toymaker screams himself, as if struck, and falls unconscious.  The video monster turns on Stefan, and kills him. The Doctor quickly brings Peri and the others up from the cells, and they ransack the Toymaker’s living space, searching for a device. They quickly find it: the Toymaker’s telemechanical relay, by which he controls the various holographic systems. The Doctor wires it into his own device, just as the Toymaker begins to awaken.

The Toymaker threatens dire punishment; but the Doctor stops him. He has placed a holofield around the Toymaker, trapping him—and it is powered by the telemechanical relay. In other words, it is the Toymaker’s own brain which keeps him trapped, and will do so forever. Worse for the Toymaker, the field generates a time loop; he will have a repetitive eternity in which to go mad. It is barbaric; but for the Toymaker, as the Doctor points out, no other punishment is possible.

Meanwhile, Kevin finds his missing brother, who has been trapped here. The Doctor advises him to locate the patents for all the machinery here, which may make him rich—and will allow him to shut down the Toymaker’s entire operation. Peri, for her part, obligates the Doctor to take the Mechanic and the android home—but first, there’s still time for the fair.

Nightmare Fair 2

I was surprised to see how simple and direct this story was—but after recent main range entries, that proved to be a welcome change. The Lost Stories range consists of stories adapted from scripts which were never filmed; this story would have been the first of the proposed Season 23 that was annulled by the temporary hiatus of the series As such this story would have followed directly from Revelation of the Daleks; in fact, allegedly there was a line at the end of that serial which would have indicated the Doctor was taking Peri to Blackpool, the site of this story. That line was allegedly nixed when it became apparent that the show would go on hiatus. The story seems very small-scale for the series; it occurs in a very confined space, with a relatively small cast (though the accompanying interviews seem to indicate that many of these scripts were adapted down from the larger cast that a television serial would have afforded).

It’s a good thing, though, because the story flows very well, and is fun to listen to. The Celestial Toymaker is a villain who wouldn’t work as well, I think, in a highly science-fiction setting; he is the sci-fi element for the story, and needs no support in that regard. Placing him in a mundane setting just allows his particular talents and reasoning to shine. (I don’t count his toyroom from The Celestial Toymaker as a sci-fi setting, because it is only defined by his powers. In and of itself, it’s very nondescript.) He appears rarely enough that he doesn’t feel overused as a recurring villain. He plays especially well against the Sixth Doctor, for the same reasons that he worked well against the First; both Doctors share a high degree of arrogance, a similar wit, and a sense of mirth. To watch the Toymaker and the Doctor bait each other along is almost as satisfying as watching the Doctor debate with Davros. It wouldn’t be the same against, say, the Second Doctor, or the Ninth (or the Eighth!).

Most of all, you can tell that everyone involved with this production had fun with it, and was happy to be there (as confirmed in the interviews). That energy transmits over to the audience, and covers well for what might otherwise be toosimple a story. The story isn’t just simple, either; it’s gimmicky, at least for the time of its original writing—it capitalizes on the early days of the video game industry, when arcade games ruled, and home systems were still rare. The Toymaker’s games this time are electronic, and they have an edge to them.

Continuity references: The obvious reference is to the events of The Celestial Toymaker, with the First Doctor, Steven, and Dodo, for which this story serves as a sequel. The doctor mentions Magnus Greel (The Talons of Weng-ChiangThe Butcher of Brisbane). He mentions visiting Brighton (The Leisure Hive). He mentions Jamie after Peri finds a piece of Jamie’s clothing in the TARDIS (last seen in The Two Doctors, only a few episodes earlier). He mentions a man in Paris who was always hitting things (Duggan, City of Death). He makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to Romulus and Remus (The Twin Dilemma). The Toymaker refers to the 1914 Christmas Truce, which was attended by both the First and Twelfth Doctors in Twice Upon a Time (technically a future reference, but as the First Doctor was there, I’ll mention it). One of the trapped creatures is a Venusian, which have been mentioned many times since the Third Doctor era; of the various Venusian races that have been mentioned, it is unclear which one this is.

Overall: If the rest of the series is anything like this, we’re in good hands. A great start to a new (to me) range. Looking forward to more!

Next time: We join the Doctor and Peri, as well as old adversaries Sil and the Ice Warriors (a metal band name if ever there was one) in Mission to Magnus! See you there.

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below. This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

The Nightmare Fair

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Audio Drama Review: Zagreus

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today—finally—we have reached the fiftieth entry in the main range, which also serves as Doctor Who’s fortieth anniversary story: Zagreus, written by Alan Barnes and Gary Russell. The story was released in November 2003, fifteen years ago as I write this review, and was directed by Gary Russell. It featured every Doctor and companion actor to have performed in Big Finish’s productions to date, although nearly all appeared in new roles here. The story is famously bizarre and trippy; and, well, I will say up front that the rumors are both correct and unable to do it justice. I can’t promise that anything I say here will do it justice, either; it’s hard to even wrap your head around a story like this, let alone sum it up. Nevertheless, we’ll give it a try. Let’s dig in!

Zagreus 1

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

Due to the extreme length and detail of this story, I’m going to break my own pattern today and leave out the usual plot summary. Several good summaries already exist; therefore I will point you to the summary that can be found at the TARDIS wiki, or the summary at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Zagreus 2

Yep, it’s exactly this weird. Credit to Roger Langridge, DWM 340.

Despite having discussed it many times on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit, and despite having listened to the audio dramas that lead up to it, I still didn’t truly know what I was getting into with Zagreus. For one thing, the story is very long; it’s the longest entry to date in the main range, at three hours and fifty-six minutes, and the second longest in all of BF’s Doctor Who audio dramas. (Only UNIT: Dominion–which is excellent, and which I hope to cover eventually—is longer, by a measly two minutes.) If the average main range audio is a serial, and the average Eighth Doctor Adventures story is a NuWho episode, then Zagreus is a feature film, or possibly a trilogy of films. For another thing, the story takes many familiar actors and scrambles them like eggs (via new roles); the resulting omelette is…well, it is definitely different.

Zagreus picks up where Neverland–which feels like a very long time ago to me; I covered it more than a year and a half ago)–left off, just after the TARDIS and the Doctor absorb the explosion of the anti-time casket. This transforms the Doctor’s mind into a strange, raging beast that takes the name and identity of the mythical Zagreus. Most of the story then proceeds inside the TARDIS, and also on a place called the Foundry of Rassilon, which is at least nominally located on Gallifrey. The Doctor, Zagreus, and the TARDIS all battle their respective foes and selves to establish their identities. At the end, it is discovered that there is another hand at work in these events; and in the end, the characters are—for the most part—saved from destruction. However, the Doctor still is not rid of the anti-time infection; and he cannot be allowed out into the universe any longer. If he makes contact with the normal universe, the infection will escape, and bring all of time to an end (or worse: a state of never having been). Instead, he chooses exile in the anti-time universe, called hereafter the Divergent Universe after the name of its dominant species, the Divergence. Unknown to him, Charley Pollard chooses to go with him.

Most actors appear in different roles, as I have mentioned; but a few appear as their usual characters. Lalla Ward appears as President Romana; Louise Jameson appears as Leela; John Leeson, as K9 (Romana’s K9, in this instance; Leela and Sarah Jane, of course, have their own, who do not appear here). Miles Richardson appears very briefly as Cardinal Braxiatel, and Don Warrington appears as Rassilon. Charley Pollard is the true central character of the story, and as such, India Fisher appears in her usual role; and Nicholas Courtney, while not appearing as the actual Brigadier, appears as a simulation thereof. As well, posthumous voice clips of Jon Pertwee (taken from the Devious fan production) were used to reproduce the voice of the Third Doctor, though he does not appear corporeally in this story. The entire cast, with roles, can be found on the story pages for Zagreus at the TARDIS wiki and at Big Finish’s site. Of special interest is that Big Finish’s site does not credit Paul McGann as the Doctor, but only as Zagreus, though he fills both roles. This is the first appearance in audio of both Leela and K9, though both will go on to figure prominently in the Gallifrey series and other places. Likewise, Braxiatel appears for the first—and only—time in the main range here, though he too will appear in Gallifrey. The story is a three-parter, and only four actors—Peter Davison, Nicholas Courtney, India Fisher, and Paul McGann—appear in all three parts. More sadly, it is Elizabeth Sladen’s only appearance in the main range, and her only work with any of the Doctor actors in Big Finish, due to her untimely death.

I’ve described this story as trippy, but I don’t want to give the impression that it’s hard to follow. It flows very directly, with two parallel plot threads (one for the Doctor/Zagreus, one for Charley). However, the story is filled with mindscapes and illusions and visitations by past Doctors; in that sense, it can be thought of as a sort of bookend for The Eight Doctors. Both the Doctor and Charley are subject to these visions; and, given that they provide the viewpoints for the story, it becomes a little difficult to know what is real and what isn’t. (Here’s the cheater’s version: almost everything in parts one and two is illusory—though valid and important; there are few red herrings here—while part three is reality.) At first the story feels as though it’s wandering; it tells several narratives that don’t seem to be related to anything. I didn’t have any trouble maintaining interest, though, as each narrative is well-told and interesting enough on its own. Soon enough, they all come together, as Zagreus—the monster, not the story—reaches its endgame.

The problems, I think, are twofold. First and foremost: this story is not what we were promised. Not that I’m saying that we, the audience, were literally promised anything; but the lead-up in the various preceding stories would have suggested something much different than what we ultimately got. Zagreus is supposed to be a universe-ending monster that consumes the unsuspecting and undoes time itself; but when you consider that the entire story occurs within the confines of the TARDIS (or the second location, which is also confined), with no one in danger but the Doctor himself, it quickly becomes apparent that Zagreus is sort of a joke. Were he to be unleashed on the universe, he might become the promised monster; as it is, he’s a Schrodinger’s Cat of unrealized potential. Indeed, the story itself uses the same metaphor in part one, and it’s very apt. It subverts the usual Doctor Who trope of the universe-ending catastrophe, but it doesn’t feel clever for subverting it; it just feels like we were a bit cheated. The second problem is related: this is, for better or worse, an anniversary story; and we’ve come to expect something exceptional from an anniversary story. (Well, perhaps not as much as we expect it after The Day of the Doctor, but still…) As the Discontinuity Guide puts it: “Oh dear. An eighteen-month wait – for this!” I’m not sure what I would have done differently; but I certainly wasn’t expecting this.

Still, it’s not entirely out of step with Big Finish’s other stories; and we did just come off of a run of experimental stories. Perhaps Zagreus is best thought of as the last of those stories, rather than as an anniversary story; in that regard it fits right in. For me, the worst part is that I greatly suspect that Zagreus–the monster, not the story–will turn out to be forgotten and never mentioned again. You can’t just create a universe-ending threat and then pretend it didn’t happen–but it won’t be the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. So much wasted potential!

Continuity: There are a great many continuity references here, and I can’t be sure I’ve found or compiled them all. Charley has met the Brigadier before, in Minuet in Hell; Romana also has done so, in Heart of TARDIS. This story proposes that Romana and Leela are meeting for the first time; but this contradicts the events of Lungbarrow, which takes place at the end of the Seventh Doctor’s life, and which makes it clear that they have known each other on Gallifrey for some time. The Doctor refers to the TARDIS briefly as Bessie (last seen in Battlefield). The Doctor finds a copy of Through the Looking-Glass; Ace previously read it in Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible. There are hints that Project Dionysus (seen in one of the simulations) was under the auspices of the Forge (Project: Twilight, et al). The Brigadier paraphrases the Doctor from The Five Doctors regarding being the sum of one’s memories—a quote he shouldn’t know, but…spoilers! The Yssgaroth get a couple of mentions (State of DecayThe Pit). The Doctor sees a vision of the planet Oblivion (Oblivion), the Oracle on KS-159 (Tears of the Oracle), the removal of one of his hearts (The Adventuress of Henrietta Street) and a crystal Time Station (Sometime Never, and possibly Timeless). The effect of all of these latter visions is to place the novel series—from which all of them are drawn—in a separate continuity from the audios, which allows for various noted contradictions going forward. Likewise, another vision shows the Time Lords with great mental powers (Death Comes to Time).

The Sisterhood of Karn appears, though not by name (The Brain of Morbius, et al). The TARDIS has a history of generating sentient avatars (A Life of Matter and DeathThe Lying Old Witch in the Wardrobe). Gallifrey has a watchtower (The Final Chapter). The statue from Sivler Nemesis is mentioned, as well as Rassilon’s various accoutrements and the De-Mat Gun (The Invasion of Time). The Oubliette of Eternity is mentioned (Sisterhood of the Flame). Cardington appears in a vision (Storm Warning). The Doctor mentions meeting Rasputin (The WandererThe Wages of Sin). Charley mentions the Doctor escaping from Colditz Castle (Colditz), which she did not witness, but the Doctor has mentioned. The Doctor refers to John Polidori (Mary’s Story). Charley and Leela have met before, but do not remember (The Light at the End). The Fifth Doctor paraphrases the Fourth Doctor from Logopolis: “I very much fear that the moment’s not been prepared for.” The Tower of Rassilon appears, along with the Death Zone (The Five Doctors). Fifth Doctor lines from Warriors of the Deep and The Caves of Androzani are also quoted, as well the Seventh Doctor from Survival: “If we fight like animals, we’ll die like animals!” Gallfrey will in the future be empty (Dead RomanceHell Bent). The Doctor suggest that power will corrupt Romana; this comes true in The Shadows of Avalon. The Doctor mentions a beryllium clock (TV movie). Vortisaurs are mentioned (Storm Warning, et al). Transduction inducers are first mentioned in The Deadly Assassin. The Rassilon Imprimature—mentioned here, but not by name—is first mentioned in The Two Doctors. The TARDIS has a back door (LogopolisGenocide). Various monsters are mentioned in quick succession—Mandrells, Hypnotrons, Drashigs, Daleks, Yeti, Quarks.

Overall: Not a bad story. I enjoyed it quite well. On the other hand, it’s definitely not what I expected—if I expected anything. Certainly it feels more appropriate as an experimental story than as an anniversary story, as I mentioned. Most importantly, it serves to get the Doctor and Charley into the Divergent Universe, where they will spend the next several adventures. It’s a story I am glad to have heard once, but I probably won’t come back to it. Still, it’s unique, and I can’t say I regret it. Moving on!

Next time: Well, that was a lot to take in. We’ll take a break with the Sixth Doctor (and introduce another popular character, Iris Wildthyme!) in The Wormery. See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below. This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Zagreus

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Audio Drama Review: Master

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Master, the forty-ninth entry in the Main Range, and also the penultimate entry in the tetralogy of villain-centered audios which ends with Zagreus. Released in October 2003 (just in time for Hallowe’en!), this story was directed by Gary Russell, and features Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor and Geoffrey Beevers as the Master. Let’s get started!

Master 1

 

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler free review, scroll down to the next picture.

Trailer: A Doctor John Smith reads off a letter he is sending to some dear friends, inviting them to a celebratory dinner at his old and expansive manor house.

Part One: An old man awakens from a nightmare of evil voices promising death. Elsewhere, overlooking a parade and a large crowd, an assassin waits for his target. However, he is interrupted by the arrival of a strange little man, who offers him a story—and all the assassin must do is wait. The assassin begins to listen to the story:

In an imitation-Edwardian village called Perfugium, on a colony world of the same name, Dr. John Smith meets his guests at the door. They are Adjudicator/Inspector Victor Shaeffer and his wife, Jacqueline, who is a well-known philanthropist. They are met by John, and also by his maid, Jade. They talk of various local matters; but later, as Jacqueline goes in search of a kitchen knife to replace hers (which has gone missing), Victor reveals that there has been another murder. It is the latest in a series of murders of young women, mostly prostitutes, though this one was not. Victor is quite unsettled by the deaths,  They are interrupted by Jade’s cat. Meanwhile Jacqueline speaks harshly to Jade, assuming that Jade has romantic designs on John Smith. She reveals that John has amnesia, and doesn’t remember anything before his arrival here ten years earlier; she suspects an accident, perhaps fire, which would explain not only the amnesia, but the disfigurement of his face. Nevertheless Jade has no such designs. After dessert, Victor suddenly grows moody and has a brief outburst against John, which nearly turns to violence; but it passes, and the group returns to their talk. Jacqueline gives John a birthday present—a sort of primitive Ouija board. Against everyone’s better judgment, they try it out; it spells out the letters D-O-C-T-…and suddenly there is a crash of thunder, followed by two screams.

Part Two: One scream is Jacqueline; but the other is from a man outside the window. John and Victor bring him in, finding he was struck by lightning; he is incoherent at first. Meanwhile, the assassin argues briefly with the storyteller about the veracity of the story, before letting him continue. Victor and Jacqueline temporarily withdraw, letting John work on the man; the man recovers, and seems to be healing quickly. After some awkwardness, the two begin to discuss the murders, and find much common ground. The man calls himself Dr. Vaughn Sutton. They discuss the nature of evil in the heart, and whether a man can be purely evil without motive. The Doctor—for that is who Dr. Sutton really is—tells Smith about a truly evil man he once knew, called the Master. Pushing the issue, Smith reveals his own evil impulses, for which he cannot account, but which he steadfastly resists. Does this make him evil?

John is taken by a sudden fit; and a new voice speaks through his mouth, promising death to all present if the Doctor does not do what he came to do. As John revives, a book–*Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde*–falls off the bookshelf. John goes to check on the others, and the Doctor picks up the book, getting the point at once; the voice speaks again, telling him he has one more chance to keep his word, or everyone will die.

Part Three: The assassin wants to know if John Smith really is the Master, as the storyteller—who is obviously the Doctor—implies. And what other force is at work here? The Doctor resumes his story.

Jacqueline thinks the newcomer is dangerous; but regardless, some force is at work, as she slaps Jade and drives her out of the room. However, Smith tells them that the Doctor will be staying the night, as will they, due to the storm outside. They are interrupted by Jade’s scream; her cat is dead, its throat cut and its heart removed—just like the murder victims. Victor believes the killer is taunting him personally now. They gather with the Doctor, who now claims to have been attacked by books in the library—and indeed, the library is a wreck. In the midst of it all, John admits to having invited his friends over to test the alleged curse on this house—but now he regrets it, because they all seem to be in danger. John becomes convinced that the Doctor knows him from his past life, but why won’t he admit it? Smith feels something evil inside him—and he happens across Jacqueline’s missing kitchen knife. The Doctor tries to get Victor and Jacqueline to leave, but John interrupts by taking Jacqueline hostage with the knife, and demanding to know the truth. The Doctor gets him to relent by agreeing to talk—and talk he does.

He tells the story of himself and the Master as children. They were bullied by an older boy—but one day, one of them had enough. In the midst of the bullying, he killed he bully. The two boys burned the body together, but after that, the killer become more distant and angry, full of guilt, while the other went on to be a good man. One became the Doctor; the other, the Master. And John, he reveals, is the Master—though he does not remember it. Worse, the Master’s innate telepathy has projected that evil onto those around him, affecting their actions tonight. Jacqueline defends him; the Doctor offers to take them all away from here. However, they are interrupted by Jade—who reveals her true identity: Death itself.

Part Four: Jade—no, Death—mocks them all, and especially the Doctor. She quickly shares everyone’s secrets: the Doctor is here to  kill the Master; Jacqueline is in love with John; and Victor is the murderer. Victor flees the room, screaming from the revelations, and the lights go out. In the dark, Jacqueline admits that she has always loved John, and still does—but he rejects her, accepting the revelation of who he is. He cruelly dismisses her, and she leaves in tears, leaving only John and the Doctor. The Doctor says that he knows John truly loves Jacqueline, and ran her off to save her from Death. He says that the Master has been Death’s servant—her Champion—but that, ten years ago, he struck a deal with Death. For ten years, Death would release the master, allowing him a normal life, but at the end, the Doctor had to kill him. She arranged tonight to push the Doctor to do just that, perhaps in punishment for his past role as Time’s Champion. The Master urges him to do it, and hands him the kitchen knife. Meanwhile Jacqueline finds Victor in the scullery, and talks with him about whether anyone is truly too hopeless to be saved.

The Doctor refuses to kill him. Instead he realizes that John’s love for Jacqueline—which Death never anticipated—could save John from the Doctor’s deal…but only if they get to Jacqueline first. They head for the scullery. However, Death is whispering to Victor, and ultimately he kills Jacqueline. The Master shrieks in despair.

Death pauses time so she can gloat over her victory. The Master—with his true personality revealed—scoffs at Death’s influence; he is evil of his own will, regardless of her actions. However, she reveals the truth: Even the Doctor has forgotten that there was an earlier deal. It was not the Master that killed Torvic, but the Doctor. Death gave the child Doctor a choice: remember his guilt and serve her, or let it pass to his friend. The Doctor chose to let his friend serve death…and the rest is history. The innocent suffered, and the guilty forgot. However, the remnants of John Smith forgive the Doctor; after all, they were only children. Death gives John a choice: Go back and save Jacqueline by killing Victor first. However, he sees the trap: if he does so, he will become Death’s servant again, but if he does not, Jacqueline will die. John again forgives the Doctor, and chooses—and Death sends the Doctor away before he can learn the decision, as punishment for breaking their more recent deal. The story ends where it began, with the guests arriving; but John threatens Victor with death.

The assassin wants to know what he chose, but the Doctor does not know, and cannot tell him. However, the assassin knows why the Doctor is here now; he has been sent by death to fufill his bargain another way, by killing an innocent—and he is to take the place of the assassin to do it. The assassin offers him the gun, but the Doctor refuses; this again breaks his bargain. The assassin reveals himself to be Death in a new guise, and resumes Jade’s form to mock the Doctor again.  She promises to find new ways to punish him, and stalks off to kill an innocent. Meanwhile the Doctor vows to someday find and free his old friend.

Master 2

The Doctor doesn’t lack for enemies who want to compare him to themselves. There’s Davros, as we mentioned last time; the Daleks and Cybermen have done it; many others wait their turn. And of course, there’s the Doctor’s oldest friend, the Master. In this story it’s a little more on-the-nose than usual; there’s a twist near the end that reveals that the two are more alike than either of them thinks. I won’t reveal the twist, but it caught me by surprise.

We start out the story with a man named John Smith—usually one of the Doctor’s aliases, but here used (if unknowingly) by the Master. I don’t think it’s a great spoiler to say that Smith is the Master; for anyone even slightly familiar with the character (or even the title of the story!) it will be obvious almost instantly. It’s the Master who doesn’t know, and I found that fascinating. Of course, in the years since this story was released, we’ve had such an occurrence on television (Utopia, etc.), but this version takes a different view; for one, the Master didn’t put himself in this situation, and for two, unlike Professor Yana, John Smith doesn’t want to go back to being the Master.

I want to call this another character study, but that’s only on the surface. The real story here is of the relationships among the Doctor, the Master, and Death itself—that’s Death as an incarnate being, as previously portrayed in Timewyrn: Revelation and other novels. This is her first appearance in an audio, however. It’s long been established that the Doctor is Time’s Champion; here it’s confirmed that the Master is Death’s Champion. What matters is how it came about—but, that strays into spoiler territory! I will say, however, that the explanation for the Master’s life choices is quite different from (though not entirely incompatible with) the version we saw in The End of Time, regarding the drumbeats; or the version from The Sound of Drums regarding the Master’s look at the Untempered Schism. The guy really can’t catch a break.

One thing is certain: Missy was right. The Doctor really is her truest and oldest friend. Listening to this story adds considerable depth to the Twelfth Doctor stories where their friendship is discussed. (She’s still a liar with regard to him being a little girl, though; when the Doctor and Death tell a childhood story, they both refer to the Doctor and the Master with male pronouns. Score another for the Doctor not having faces prior to the Hartnell incarnation, I guess?)

At any rate, I have much greater appreciation for the Master as a person here, though he is still evil, of course. I’m also okay with the level of ambiguity with which this story end; the Doctor doesn’t know how it ends, but we can surmise the answer, because we know that the Master lives to fight another day—and we know which side he fights for.

The acting here is average for the most part; but I want to take a moment to compliment two aspects of it. First, Charlie Hayes as Jade does double duty as Death; and the transition between the two roles is just amazing. Compliments for both roles; it’s excellent work. Second, the trailer for this story is unusual; instead of clips from the story, it consists of John Smith reading out loud the letter of invitation he is preparing for his dinner guests. It’s simple and not at all scary—and yet, having an inkling of what is to come, you’ll still feel a chill. Very well done. (The trailer can be found on the story’s purchase page at the Big Finish website.)

Continuity References: The Doctor is referred to as Time’s Champion (Love and War); this is slightly expanded on, when Death reveals that she wanted the Doctor as her champion, but “someone had other plans”. The Doctor mentions Traken (The Keeper of Traken) and Duchamp 331 (Dust Breeding), where he previously encountered this version of the Master. (The Master’s history is a bit complicated, here, and there may be some contradictions with other stories, notably First Frontier, which I have not yet read.) The Doctor uses the alias “Vaughn Sutton”, which refers back to a character in Excelis Decays (although I have not listened to that audio myself yet, I found an indication that for the Doctor, it is recent). The Doctor mentions having known other Adjudicators (Original Sin, et al.). He mentions being disowned by his own family (Lungbarrow). He quotes a line from Primeval: “Exposure to evil, even the smallest amount, can corrode the soul.” Death mentions the Seventh Doctor’s mixed metaphors and playing the spoons (Time and the Rani); however she says that now he is busy destroying planets and old enemies (Remembrance of the DaleksSilver Nemesis, et al.) Death appeared personified in several previous novels (Timewyrm: RevelationLove and WarHuman NatureThe Also PeopleSo Vile a Sin), but never before in an audio drama. In fact, this entire story has several parallels with Human Nature. One of Bernice Summerfield’s books is mentioned here, though it doesn’t seem to be a reference to any particular Benny story. John Smith’s request to the Doctor to “end my life” parallels the Doctor’s conversation with an assassin in The Happiness Patrol, though that may be unintentional. And—most relevant to this tetralogy—Jade recites a version of the Zagreus poem, then wonders what put it in her head.

Overall: Not the typical Doctor/Master encounter at all! And yet, it foreshadows—quite unintentionally—the interactions of the Twelfth Doctor and Missy (and also the Simm Master from recent times) in years to come. That’s a very nice bit of serendipity there, and it’s all the better for being completely unintentional—as far as I can tell—on the parts of every writer involved. Besides that, it’s a great story, and perfect for the Hallowe’en season: Spooky old (possibly cursed) house; a series of murders; a thunderstorm, lightning, screams; Death incarnate (!); and of course, the Master—what’s not to love? I’m very glad to have heard this one.

Next time: And now, for something completely different! Finally we reach the famous and infamous fiftieth Main Range audio, Zagreus. It’s been a long time coming. See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below. This and many other stories may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Master

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Audio Drama Review: Time Tunnel

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Time Tunnel, the third entry into the fifth season of the Short Trips range. This Third Doctor story was written by Nigel Fairs and directed by Lisa Bowerman, and is read by Katy Manning. The story was published on 5 March, 2015. Let’s get started!

Time Tunnel 1

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

UNIT receives word of a problem at a railway tunnel in Sussex. Trains are entering the tunnel as normal, but emerging with the drivers and passengers dead—and not just dead, but long dead, as though they had aged immensely before death. This word reaches the Doctor and Jo Grant as the Doctor is making adjustments to Jo’s transistor radio, which is picking up some very odd signals. Nevertheless, they head to the tunnel to investigate. The tunnel already has an odd reputation; a legend has it that the devil himself is trapped beneath it, and that he is responsible for the huge rocks that loom over its entrance.

The Doctor, over the Brigadier’s objections, takes a train engine alone through the tunnel. He arrives at the other side a bit more aged, and very hungry, but with some interesting results: He believes he has been in the tunnel for a very long time. He claims that the only reason he survived was that, as a Time Lord, he was able to induce a sort of coma that let him survive. Now the Brigadier wants to destroy the tunnel, but the Doctor pleads for a chance to deal with the situation first; clearly there is more going on here than dynamite can address. The Brigadier has already received his orders, and set the demolition in motion; the Doctor has only a short time to work with. He prepares to enter the tunnel again—this time on foot.  He believes that the time dilation effect is only triggered when entering at speed; he expects no problems when walking. Unknown to him, however, Jo follows him in.

Her disobedience saves his life. She finds him suspended in a sort of energy barrier, in pain; and when he is able to back out of it, she catches him. Back outside, as the detonation is carried out, the Doctor explains what he learned. It seems that, centuries ago, something was buried under the mountain—but it wasn’t the devil; it was an alien ship. The alien aboard seems to live in a different sort of timestream than humans, one that moves at a much slower pace. With its ship damaged, it has sent out a distress signal—one that, as the Doctor demonstrates, Jo’s radio was picking up. The signal, when sped up, is a call for help, aimed at the alien’s own species. However, the problem in the tunnel is a result of leakage from the damaged engines—leakage of time energies. With the tunnel destroyed, it should no longer be a problem.

Still, one question remains unanswered. Why now? If the ship has been there for centuries, why is it only now intersecting with human reality? The Doctor admits that they may never know for sure…until “help” arrives, that is. But—and here the Doctor glances longingly at the TARDIS in the corner of his lab—he doesn’t expect any of them will be around to see it by then.

Time Tunnel 2

I’m fond of Third Doctor stories—although I grew up watching reruns of Tom Baker’s serials, I feel more affection for Jon Pertwee’s era, having watched it all in the years since. As well, as I’ve mentioned before, Katy Manning does a surprisingly good impression of the Third Doctor (cross-gender impersonations are always a roll of the dice, but she consistently delivers perhaps the best one I’ve ever heard). Therefore, I started this story with a few points already in its favor; and I’m glad I did, because it needed them in the end.

It’s an interesting premise: Trains go into a tunnel as usual, but emerge with everyone aboard not only dead, but horribly aged. It even proceeds well; the Doctor, being somewhat resistant to time-based effects, decides to take a train into the tunnel and, well, see what happens. Where it falls down is at the end; the Doctor doesn’t really do anything. And while that makes for realism—there will always be the occasional problem that can’t actually be solved—it doesn’t make for interesting storytelling.

I’m willing to overlook it, though, on one condition: That someone writes a sequel. There’s a good hook at the end—not quite a cliffhanger, because the eventual resolution is expected to be a long time in the future, but a hook. There’s promise for a better resolution later. I won’t spoil exactly what that hook is, but I’d like to see it delivered upon.

One thing is definitely consistent with the Pertwee/UNIT era: The difference between the Doctor’s approach and the Brigadier’s. The Doctor wants to research and negotiate; the Brigadier wants to blow things up. It’s not as dramatic as it is in, say, Doctor Who and the Silurians; our monster of the week—which we never actually see, incidentally—is heavily implied to be unharmed at the end. Still, we continue a fine tradition of the Brigadier destroying things over the Doctor’s objections (and blaming it on Geneva). It’s good to see some things never change.

There are—surprisingly for a Short Trip—a fair few continuity references, which incidentally help to place this story by way of the things we know have already taken place. Jo makes a comparison between the folly at the mouth of the tunnel and the castle on Peladon (The Curse of Peladon). Devil’s End and Azal get a mention, also by Jo (The Daemons). Mike Yates refers to “tentacled monsters” (The Claws of Axos). The Brigadier makes reference to having met three versions of the Doctor (The Three Doctors). Yates also mentions having served in the regular Army (The Rings of Ikiria). I should note that I discovered that last reference via the wiki, but hesitated to include it, because I am not sure of the chronological placement of that story (which I have not yet heard). Its entry mentions the Brigadier turning on Yates, but I am not sure if this is a temporary action as part of the story, or if it occurs during Mike’s downfall on the television series (From The Green Death to Planet of the Spiders). Therefore I don’t know yet if it is in Mike’s future at the time of this story. Perhaps someone reading this will know more.

Overall: A fairly weak Third Doctor story, which is a pity. I did enjoy it at first, but when I saw how it was progressing, it didn’t really hold my interest. On to the Fourth Doctor!

Next time: We’ll meet up with the Fourth Doctor and Leela in The Ghost Trap. See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions. This story’s purchase page is linked below.

Time Tunnel

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Audio Drama Review: Davros

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Main Range entry #48: Davros, written by Lance Parkin and directed by Gary Russell. The second in a loose tetralogy of stories leading up to (and including) the fiftieth Main Range entry, this story features Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, squaring off against an old enemy: Davros, creator of the Daleks! Notably, this is Davros actor Terry Molloy’s first appearance in a Big Finish audio drama, and his first appearance as Davros in any medium since 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks. With that said, let’s get started!

Davros 1

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler free review, scroll down to the next picture.

I am attempting to make these plot summaries less lengthy, less detailed, and—perhaps most importantly—less spoiler-filled (though spoilers will always be available here, so be warned!). Please bear with me as I work toward that end. Detailed summaries are usually available at the Doctor Who Reference Guide and the TARDIS Wiki (see the sidebar for links).

Part One: In a flashback, the Kaled scientist Davros survives a bombardment by the Thals, but sustains horrible injuries. His people expect him to die honorably at his own hand, and they give him a poison injector. Davros, instead, chooses to live, that a stronger race may replace the Kaleds.

Arnold Baynes, the CEO of the corporation TAI, and his wife Lorraine (a dedicated scholar of the Daleks and Davros) steal the body of Davros from a freighter. They transport him to their home planet and facilities, planning to revive him. As they do so, they get more than they bargained for, when the Doctor arrives. Over the Doctor’s protests, they revive Davros—and offer him a job in research and development. Seizing an opportunity, they force the Doctor to join them as well—and to work with his old enemy. The Doctor agrees, planning to keep an eye on Davros. Soon the two old enemies are playing the Baynes and their associates against each other, each trying to expose the other as a villain and interfere with each other’s plans.

Along the way the Doctor meets an investigative reporter named Willis, and the two assist each other with their own goals. Meanwhile Davros continues to have flashbacks to his early life, before the Daleks, and examines his own mind and upbringing. As things progress, Davros does at first seem to have turned over a new leaf; he produces technologies which will help address famine in the galaxy, and a formula that will give mastery over the stock market. Meanwhile the Doctor produces a new neural matrix. One of the Baynes’ employees, Kim Todd, leads the Doctor and Willis to a hidden production area that manufactures mining robots, and the Doctor discovers that the new matrix has been implanted into them, which makes them very dangerous indeed. Suddenly one of the robots activates, and attacks…

Part Two: As Arnold speaks with Davros, he gets an alert about the robots. Davros takes the opportunity to insinuate that the Doctor may be responsible—and maliciously so. Baynes and his guards destroy the robot, but Baynes accuses the Doctor of provoking it, and has him locked in his room. Meanwhile, Davros begins to corrupt Lorraine, telling her about what he can do with the stock market formula, and the power it could give him; but he slips and refers to her as Shan, which is the name of a female Kaled scientist of whom he was once fond.  Nevertheless, Lorraine keeps the formula secret from Arnold. Instead, she discusses the Doctor and Willis with Arnold; he wants to deport them, but she wants to have them killed, so as to prevent them from linking the Baynes to the attack on the freighter. Davros intervenes and asks to have the Doctor kept close at hand, but under surveillance, to which Arnold agrees.

Davros then contacts Willis and reports that Baynes possesses an atomic bomb, which is highly illegal. He gives Willis the bomb as proof, and also tells him about the stock formula. However he warns Willis that, should Willis share the formula with everyone, stock would become meaningless, and the economy would collapse into anarchy. This is what Davros wants, however, as he could then implement a new, war-based economy and power structure. Willis is appalled, and asks the Doctor to meet him in the mines beneath the company dome. However, Arnold hears this and tags along.

Davros collects Kim, needing her to transmit the formula and other messages on the galactic data net (as he lacks the authorization to do so). Lorraine arrives, and Davros tells her about Shan, the woman who first proposed the idea of the Daleks to him—even the word itself. However, he also explains that it was he who put the idea into practice, and he denies that he loved Shan, or anyone. He then explains how he had her framed and killed for treason, and refused to even credit her for the scientific matters. Now, Lorraine will witness as he destroys his enemies again. And with that, he activates the detonation sequence on the bomb—which, of course, he himself built. Beneath the dome, the Doctor is able save himself, Willis, and Arnold, but only by dropping the bomb down a fifteen-mile-deep mine shaft before it detonates. The mines are still heavily damaged and polluted—but the dome above is intact. Water begins to flood into the mines, clearing enough of the irradiated environment to prevent them from dying at once—but Arnold and Willis are separated from the Doctor. In that opportunity, Arnold kills Willis to prevent him from ever revealing what he knows. He manages to make it look like an accident, fooling the Doctor as well. Meanwhile, Davros strongarms Lorraine into making him the new CEO, on the assumption that Arnold is dead.  He orders Kim to transmit the formula; she refuses, and he punishes her, and threatens her with death if she disobeys again. He also tells Lorraine to begin liquidating TAI’s assets to fund a mercenary army…while money still means anything at all.

The Doctor and Arnold escape the mines, but the dome is sealed. However, the Doctor has an unexpected ace—his TARDIS is nearby. He uses it to transport them into the sector where Davros waits. Lorraine quickly tells them what Davros is doing. The Doctor pauses to summon the mining robots to help them, but Arnold runs to confront Davros. He takes the chance to try to enlist Davros in a scheme to save the company and grow rich—but if Davros won’t, well, he can still escape in Arnold’s personal ship, which is close by. Davros fires electricity at Arnold to torture him into revealing the access code; Arnold dies, and Davros prepares to flee. The Doctor holds Davros at gunpoint, but Davros knows the Doctor won’t shoot him; he takes Kim hostage using the Kaled poison injector, and demands the formula disc. The Doctor instead shoots the communications console. Davros flees with Kim into the ship, making one last unsuccessful attempt to kill the Doctor as he does so. He is enraged, knowing it’s the Doctor who has power over life and death here, not him. The ship launches. Lorraine reveals that as long as it is in the atmosphere, they can override its controls; but Davros realizes it as well, and tries to activate the hyperdrive and escape, knowing the Doctor won’t cause a crash with Kim aboard. Kim realizes it as well, and grabs the injector and kills herself with it. The Doctor then steers the ship back toward the planet, and—not without regret—activates the hyperdrive, crashing the ship.

Still, he fears that Davros is not truly dead. TAI is not dead, either; and with no evidence that Davros was ever here, it will rebuild. This leaves the Doctor angry, and he downloads the records of the ship’s last flight—the one in which Davros was pulled from the freighter. He intends to use it to see Lorraine held responsible—even though he blames himself for all the deaths.

Davros 2

Unlike the previous entry, Omega, there’s no big twist here. That’s largely due to the fact that this story serves as a bridge between two well-known Davros stories: Season 21’s Resurrection of the Daleks and Season 22’s Revelation of the Daleks. You can only do so much with the plot when you already know where you have to land, as a general rule. I should point out that the story isn’t entirely successful as a bridge; it ties nicely into Revelation, but not so much into Resurrection. I’d go so far as to suggest that there really should be another Davros story between Resurrection and Davros, explaining how he gets from the prison station (or its pod) and his encounter with the Movellan virus, to the freighter where he begins this story in apparent good health. (Well, good for Davros, that is.) Maybe one day we’ll get that story.

What we have, instead of a twist, is another great character study for Davros. All of his stories tend to turn into character studies, really; he’s such a fascinating character that, despite the fact that he’s actually a very one-note individual, we never feel like we get to the bottom of his characterization. Even if the things he says about power are appalling, I could listen to him rant about them all day, simply because he believes them so strongly. The man is evil, no question about it—but he believes in what he says. I don’t even suggest that he believes he’s right; every average villain believes that about himself. Davros doesn’t care if he’s right; he has, quite simply, made his choice, and he stands (er, sits) by it. I have yet to find a Davros story I didn’t like, simply because that’s such a rare and unflinching trait for a villain (or even a hero!). And of course the Doctor, when it comes down to it, is not that different; while he does believe in doing what’s right, he has less justification for the rightness of his actions than he has conviction that he is right. Davros, perhaps—no, definitely–sees the similarity more than the Doctor does…and so their conflict goes on.

Fifteen years may have passed since Terry Molloy played Davros, but he hasn’t lost it at all. He’s as convincing here as ever, despite being in what is, admittedly, a very contrived situation (the Baynes’ hero worship of him, their desire to give him a job, etc.). Or maybe it’s not so contrived—after all, America is currently seeing a resurgence of the Neo-Nazi movement, which isn’t so different. At any rate, Molloy’s performance is spectacular. Supporting actors aren’t bad, but they don’t stand out, either; however, this audio does set the foundation for 2006’s I, Davros series, in which Molloy, Katarina Olsson, and David Bickerstaff would reprise the roles of Davros, Shan, and Ral. That series would take the flashbacks present here and expand on them, delving into Davros’s early life up to a period about six months prior to Genesis of the Daleks. I should also mention that a few other veteran DW actors appear here: Bernard Horsfall (most notably, Chancellor Goth) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe Heriot) play the roles of Arnold and Lorraine Baynes here. Lorraine Baynes, in particular, is likely a nod to the character of the same name (spelled “Baines”) from Back to the Future.

Researching this story, I found unofficial statements to the effect that this is chronologically the earliest audio appearance for the Sixth Doctor (in-universe, that is), but I could find no actual justification for that placement. His companion at this point is Peri, but she is absent here; he mentions in passing that she is attending a biology symposium on the other side of the galaxy. I also saw a suggestion that the story occurs between The Two Doctors and Timelash. If anyone has any further information regarding any part of this placement, I’d love to hear it! As for the in-universe date, there isn’t one, as is common with most stories involving Davros, Skaro, or even Gallifrey. (Davros may occasionally time travel, as do the Daleks, but when dealing with his natural lifetime, the writers have always been reluctant to pin it down. Some events just never really get a solid placement, I suppose.) However, humanity doesn’t appear to have spread outside its home galaxy yet, so we’re not dealing with the far future.

Continuity References: There are numerous items that will be picked up on in I, Davros, so I won’t list them separately. Davros mentions the Fifth Doctor threatening him in Resurrection of the Daleks, and he describes his own imprisonment as discussed in that story. Arnold Baynes mentions that Davros was ostensibly killed by the Daleks shortly after their creation (Genesis of the Daleks). The reporter Willis mentions having reported on events on the planet Stella Stora in which the Doctor was involved (referenced in Terror of the Vervoids). Davros claims to have no eyes, ears (or at least the receptors in his ears), or taste buds, all due to the Thal bombardment that nearly killed him, but this is ultimately contradicted by The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, in which Davros uses his natural eyes. Also, not so much a reference as a lack of one, but I was disappointed to find that there were no references to the upcoming Zagreus here, as we had in the preceding story. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

Overall: No complaints here. As I said, I have yet to meet a Davros story I don’t like. I’m glad to have taken the time to listen to this one.

Next time: The Seventh Doctor faces another old enemy in Master! See you there.

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below. This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Davros

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