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: 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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Audio Drama Review: Omega

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Whoaudio drama review! Today we’re continuing the Main Range of audios with Omega, the forty-seventh entry, and the first in a short tetralogy leading up to the fiftieth entry, Zagreus. Written by Nev Fountain and directed by Gary Russell, this story was published in August 2003, and features the Fifth Doctor, traveling briefly without companions. Let’s get started!

Omega 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: The Fifth Doctor appears aboard a Jolly Chronolidays time-travel tour, which visits the Sector of Forgotten Souls, an area of space prone to strong distortions…and mental disturbances for its visitors. It is also the place where the legendary Time Lord Omega used his stellar manipulator to create the Eye of Harmony…and where he vanished into a black hole, leading to an antimatter universe. His ship, the Eurydice, is rumored to appear here every 100 years. Indeed, the ship does appear, prompting the Doctor to spring into action—only to learn that it’s a sham, a play put on for the tourists. The ship is, in fact, the heritage center ship of Jolly Chronolidays. However, things take a turn for the worse when actor Tarpov, reenacting the role of Omega’s associate Vandekirian, plays his role a little too well, and attempts to assassinate Daland, the actor playing Omega. Later, he fulfills another bit of the legend, and burns off one of his own hands in the ship’s waste disposal system. The Doctor and tour guide Sentia, accompanied by an odd old historian named Ertikus, save Tarpov’s life…but then the real Omega comes to kill him.

Part Two: Omega is interrupted by a medibot, which is then destroyed by another, unknown assailant. Meanwhile the Doctor, now unconscious, meets Omega in a sort of dreamscape, where Omega rehearses their recent encounter in Amsterdam. The old Time Lord asks the Doctor’s help in returning to the antimatter universe, where he feels much more at home, having given up his ambitions against the Time Lords (though not his fear of them). After some argument, the Doctor agrees. During this time, Sentia locks the remaining elderly tourists in the heritage center’s cafeteria. Daland summons her to Tarpov’s unconscious body, surrounded by the wreckage of the medibot. Sentia knocks him out. Soon the Doctor awakens and joins her, saving Tarpov from bleeding out; Ertikus soon joins them, and says that the real Eurydice has appeared, surrounded by a dimensional anomaly (which, unfortunately, is fatal to humans—though a Time Lord can survive it). Ertikus wants to explore it; the Doctor calls him out, demonstrating that Ertikus is a Time Lord, with a hidden TARDIS. He admits it, though he is on his last life. But, where is the Doctor’s own TARDIS? With it not present, the Doctor joins Ertikus and travels over to the Eurydice. As Ertikus goes to explore, Omega—now proven to be a non-corporeal entity after his battle with the Doctor in Amsterdam (Arc of Infinity)—contacts the Doctor and directs him to repair the engines, which have been affected by the dimensional instability. He suggests using Ertikus’ TARDIS to stabilize the area, which the Doctor does; however, the engines still won’t start, as they require the handprints of the original—and now dead—crew. The Doctor works on a remote bypass. As he does so, he debates with Omega about Omega’s legacy on Gallifrey. Meanwhile, Sentia brings the heritage center to meet the Euridyce. Ertikus, meanwhile, finds a mass of psionic energy…which appears to be a race of thought-based beings, who call themselves the Scintillans. The creatures attack him.

The Doctor finishes the remote, and plans to activate it once he and Ertikus leave the Eurydice, sending Omega back through the black hole as requested. However, they are interrupted by Ertikus, who insists that the Scintillans represent some great hidden crime of Omega—it is this knowledge, he alleges, that led Tarpov to madness and harm. The Doctor convinces him to leave the modifications to his TARDIS in place, at Omega’s urging—but why? He soon realizes that Omega’s plan is to allow Sentia to enter the Eurydice. She brings the heritage center to dock, and says she has brought Daland as well…to officiate her marriage to Omega! However, Tarpov bursts into her control room with a gun, and fires.

Part Three:  Tarpov has destroyed the comm system. Now, with Omega not listening, he tells Sentia about the Scintillans, trying to turn her against Omega. He then gives her the gun, and flees the control room. Sentia joins Omega on the Eurydice, but the Doctor refuses to allow the marriage; he knows that Sentia will only survive joining Omega in the antimatter universe if Ertikus’ TARDIS remains here, but that means that he, Ertikus, and the tourists will die. Omega and Sentia storm out, and the Doctor connects with Daland to gather information. He then encounters two old ladies from the tour group, and leaves Daland to wait as he returns them to the heritage center. Meanwhile Tarpov is accosted by Scintillans—and then murdered by Omega. Daland and Ertikus hear him scream, and separately come running; the Doctor is examining the body when they arrive. But, how is the incorporeal Omega carrying out these acts? As the mystery deepens, the Doctor leaves Daland and Ertikus—who now suspect each other—to watch each other as he goes to question Sentia. Omega gives Sentia the engine remote, which he has somehow taken from the Doctor, and tells her that this now means the Doctor has no choice but to help them. The Docttor tries to reason with her regarding Omega’s obvious madness and lack of concern for everyone else, but she is not swayed. However, he broadcasts their conversation through the PA system, warning Daland and Ertikus to get all the tourists into Ertikus’ TARDIS. Omega arrives and kills Ertikus. The Doctor reveals a plan to trap Omega in a piece of Ertikus’ TARDIS’ telepathic circuit, but now he doubts it will work. Instead he uses it to send a telepathic distress call to the Time Lords, much to Sentia’s horror. However, with Daland and Sentia at hand, he sets up a mock wedding, hoping to lure Omega in. During this time, Daland sees video footage of Ertikus’ murder—and he turns on the Doctor, pulling a gun on him. He plays the footage, revealing that it was the Doctor who murdered Tarpov and Ertikus! Moreover, the Doctor in the footage speaks in two different voices—and one of them is Omega’s. It seems there are two minds in the Doctor’s body. They are both stunned when a TARDIS—the Doctor’s TARDIS—materializes, and the real Doctor steps out.

Part Four:  The real Doctor explains that, when Omega copied his bioprint, he also got a copy of the Doctor’s mind print. Surviving their battle in Amsterdam cost him his sanity, and now the two personalities vie for control. Omega passes out, missing this explanation, though that personality is aware of it; the pseudo-Doctor personality is not. As he revives, the Doctor agrees to send him home as quickly as possible, and with his TARDIS here, he can leave Ertikus’ TARDIS behind to secure the dimensions, taking the tourists with him in his own TARDIS. Sentia, it seems, can join Omega after all. However, they hear a ship docking, which Omega believes to be the Time Lords. The Doctor talks him down—after all, wouldn’t the Time Lords arrive in TARDISes? However, his argument is sabotaged by the sound of a TARDIS. It proves to be Ertikus’ TARDIS, which in its grief is trying to flee into the vortex. The Doctor tries to calm it, but to no avail. It vanishes, and the anomaly begins to return, causing Sentia to phase in and out. Meanwhile Omega is attacked by the Scintillans, who cause him to recall his childhood and the Academy, and the story of how he got his name. The story ends with him launching the stellar manipulator—and wiping out the Scintillans. The Doctor uses his own TARDIS to stabilize the anomaly, and then learns that the docking sound was the heritage center docking with the Eurydice. Daland comments on the Doctor’s uncanny knowledge of the situation; the Doctor explains that he was given the transcript of the distress signal sent by his doppelganger. He scans for psionic energy, and finds Omega under attack; but the Scintillans, it seems, are not real—they are extensions of Omega’s own mind, fueled by the psionic energy loose in the region. This also explains all the other psychic phenomena, including Tarpov’s madness. Worse, the Doctor recognizes the name “Scintillans”…he leaves the engine remote with Daland and runs to deal with Omega. Sentia reveals that she already knows that Omega killed the Scintillans, for which he can’t forgive himself—but she forgives him. He cannot accept her forgiveness, considering that also to be a crime, and he attacks her. The Doctor finds her battered form, and she explains that Omega—still in his Doctor form—stowed away in Ertikus’ TARDIS while the historian was visiting Amsterdam for research, and came here. She says that she nursed him back to health, and joined him, thinking that once in the antimatter universe she can help him be free of the Doctor persona. He gets her help to free the tourists and get them aboard his TARDIS, but they are all affected by the psionic energy and channel the Vandekirian persona. The Doctor pretends to be Omega to get them to the TARDIS, where they will be safe. Omega then arrives, raging in his guilt; the real Vandekirian’s long-ago betrayal caused his ship to malfunction, killing the Scintillans, and he cannot forgive himself.

However, the Doctor stops him, and tells him the real story. The Scintillan matter is not Omega’s crime; it is the Doctor’s. He once accidentally caused the Scintillan genocide while helping another species, and Omega has absorbed and adapted that memory. The Doctor, it seems, is much more guilty than Omega—if not by choice. However, Sentia announces over the intercom that she has stolen the engine remote; and she activates the engines. The Eurydice plunges toward the black hole. The Doctor realizes that Sentia has made her choice, and cannot be saved; but now he faces a dilemma: stay and risk the lives of the tourists and Daland (not to mention himself), or leave and risk Sentia’s life (plus the two old ladies, who are once again missing from the group)? Daland chooses for him, activating the TARDIS. As it disappears, the anomaly reasserts itself again, and Sentia is torn apart; and Omega, still screaming, is pulled into the black hole.

The Doctor tries to work through it all in his mind; but suddenly, one of the old ladies materializes in the console room—much like a TARDIS! In fact, she is a TARDIS, and her companion is the pilot, who emerges into the room. They claim to be from the Doctor’s future, representatives of the Gallifreyan Celestial Preservation Agency, which exists to keep history under control. They have come to maintain the story of the Time Lord who made a mistake…but it is not Omega they seek, but the Doctor. They state that they can’t have the story of the Scintillan genocide getting out, and to that end, they pick up the only surviving witness: Daland. They offer him a role in a future Gallifreyan museum; it will be his greatest role yet, playing the part of the Doctor himself. The Doctor, it seems, is a hero in their time, and they want it to stay that way. But before they go, the offer the Doctor a story—the story of his encounter with Omega as it will be remembered in the future.

Omega 2

Nyssa: Is Omega dead?

Doctor: Well, he seemed to die before, yet he returned to confound us all.

–Arc of Infinity

I’ve been hearing about this audio drama for quite some time, so I was excited to finally get here (even if I ended up delaying it by several weeks or months—apologies!). Since reading Lungbarrow a few years ago, I’ve been fascinated with the founding era of Time Lord history, a much-debated bit of history to which our antagonist, Omega, belongs. We’ll revisit and expand on that history here, if not in the direct way that Lungbarrow and some of the other New Adventures did.

Chronologically, we last saw Omega on television in Arc of Infinity, in which he copied the Fifth Doctor’s bioprint and took on the Doctor’s form before being defeated in Amsterdam. Here, we discover that the ancient Time Lord didn’t meet his end there, but continued on in a…we’ll say “fractured” form. I should pause here and say that, though this is Omega’s next adventure, it’s a little unclear where this story fits in the Doctor’s timeline. Going by production codes and the lack of companions, the Doctor Who Reference Guide authors suggest that it occurs during the brief local holiday referenced in the closing minutes of Arc of Infinity. (I’m a little rusty on that serial myself, and I don’t remember it being set out that way, but I just report this stuff, I don’t make it up.) Allegedly during that time, Tegan and Nyssa remained on Earth while the Doctor responded to the situation laid out in this story. Take that as you will; my thought on the issue is that it doesn’t really matter, as the Doctor could experience these events during any solo period after Arc of Infinity.

There’s a major twist in this story that I really don’t want to spoil here, and I expect it will be hard to dance around it if I begin to get into the plot—so, pardon me if the review seems sparse on that point. We open with the Doctor on a spaceship, touring the Sector of Forgotten Souls with Jolly Chronolidays time-travel tours (though “time-travel” is a misnomer; real time travel has fallen out of fashion, and the tour line is given to recreating historic events these days). Jolly Chronolidays is highly reminiscent of Nostalgia Trips, the travel firm from Delta and the Bannermen, though on a larger scale—but, as it turns out, just as shady. The tour is visiting the area where, legend has it, the Time Lord Omega detonated a star to gift his people with the power of time travel—and where he was subsequently lost to a black hole. It is said that his ship, the Eurydice, reappears here every hundred years. No one expects the story to be true—but it is. Likewise, no one expects the real Omega to attend the event.

The only real negative about this story is that it can be a bit hard to follow. I post these reviews on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit, as well as here on the Time Lord Archives; the version here on the blog includes a (skippable if necessary) plot summary that doesn’t fit on the subreddit. For that reason, I often consult the wiki and the reference guide to ensure I’m not missing important details. In doing so, I was able to follow this story much more closely; I don’t think I’d have been as successful if I was only listening. I think that that is probably intentional; Nev Fountain clearly had to jump through some hoops to obscure the aforementioned plot twist. Still, it’s nothing so immersion-breaking as, say, the dual renditions of Flip-Flop, so I can live with it.

Strongly on the positive side: This story does a great deal to humanize Omega. His appearances in The Three Doctors and Arc of Infinity leave one with the impression that he’s just another one-dimensional villain. He wants revenge, and he doesn’t care who he hurts in the process. That impression doesn’t fit with the fact that the Doctor has cited Omega as one of his heroes, though. This story brings forward the often-overlooked fact that Omega’s experiences have driven him insane—even more so after his battle with the Doctor in Amsterdam. The Omega we see here, while still possessed of a violent side, is broken, and he just wants to go home and be healed. We get glimpses of his past, including the story of how he got his name (based on terrible marks at the Academy); and we learn that not all of his crimes are as straightforward as they may seem. He ends up both tragic and pathetic; but you find respect for the good man that he once was. I think the Fifth Doctor is especially well chosen for this story, not only because he was the last to battle Omega, but also because he tends to see the good in people perhaps more than the Fourth or Sixth of Seventh; and here we get to see Omega through his eyes.

I find it interesting that the Time Lords are quite well known here. Not only is the species known, but their history seems to be common knowledge. That fact alone leads me to think that this is quite far forward in history (although of course we don’t know if the tourists we see here are human! They could be simply humanoid). It’s a situation that really could only happen before the Time War, as the war seems to have fractured or removed knowledge of the Time Lords all up and down the corridors of time.

This story is, as I mentioned, part of the tetralogy that ends with Zagreus; and I gather that each of the three stories prior to Zagreus have a bit of foreshadowing of that story. Here, it comes in the form of a hologram of Zagreus (or what he is believed to look like anyway) on the Jolly Chronolidays ship. It will be interesting to see where it shows up in the next two entries.

Continuity: Not a lot of references, but enough to firmly establish this story. I’ve already mentioned Omega’s last appearance. The Doctor makes reference to the Sontaran invasion in The Invasion of Time. The Shabogans are mentioned (The Deadly Assassin). The Eye of Orion is mentioned, several stories before the Doctor finally makes it there in The Five Doctors. Praxiteles, first mentioned on television in Planet of Fire, is mentioned here (though chronologically earlier for the Doctor). The Hand of Omega is referenced (Remembrance of the DaleksLungbarrow, et al.). The creation of the Eye of Harmony is mentioned (Remembrance of the DaleksThe Deadly AssassinJourney to the Center of the TARDIS). The Doctor sits in seat 6E on the tour ship, which is a subtle reference to Arc of Infinity–that serial’s production code was 6E. The Doctor first discovers the far-future Celestial Preservation Agency here; I am a little surprised to discover that this seems to be its only appearance so far. However, I mention it because its representative travels in a human-form TARDIS, which—although not declaratively stated as such—appears to be a Type 103 TARDIS (The Shadows of Avalon, many other books in both the Doctor Who and Faction Paradox libraries). The Doctor here claims to be almost nine hundred years old. The Doctor mentions that TARDISes sometimes hurl themselves into the vortex out of grief; this is mentioned in the charity anthology Seasons of War in the short story Corsair. The Doctor comments that they must end up at some sort of graveyard at the end of time; he will later visit that location in The Axis of Insanity. The Doctor at one point mentions helping a group of Lurmans; this species was first seen in Carnival of Monsters, though he is not referring to the events of that story here.

Omega 3

Overall: A very enjoyable story, with a twist that I honestly should have seen coming, but didn’t. I expect it will be that way for most people—right from the beginning, and especially if you have seen Arc of Infinity (which you really should), you have everything you need to figure it out. The story does a good job of hiding the fact that there will BE a twist, though, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I hope that the other upcoming entries—before the reputed trainwreck that is Zagreus–are this good.

Next time: We visit the Sixth Doctor and an old enemy in Davros! 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.

Omega

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Audio Drama Review: Flip Flop

We’re back, with another Big finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to the forty-sixth entry in the Main Range, Flip Flop. This story continues Big Finish’s brief experimental period in the Main Range; this story consists of two discs, one white and one black, each consisting of two episodes. You can listen to either disc first; the story plays with timelines and events in such a way that the order doesn’t matter. I was listening on Spotify, which puts the white disc first, and so that is the order in which I listened, though that should have little effect on this review. The story features the Seventh Doctor and Mel, landing on the planet Puxatornee; it was written by Jonathan Morris, and directed by Gary Russell, and released in July 2003. Let’s get started!

Flip Flop 1

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

White Disc, Part One:

The Doctor and Mel arrive on Puxatornee on Christmas Eve, 3090, in search of Leptonite crystals, for use in dealing with the Quarks in another system. They are immediately arrested by security agents Reed and Stewart, who accuse them of being spies for the Slithergee—and they insist that the two have already confessed! However, they are soon rescued from their cell by…Reed and Stewart?! Not the same Reed and Stewart, as it turns out—but before they can explain, they are killed. Still, something weird is going on; everyone seems to know who the Doctor and Mel are. The rather paranoid President, Mitchell, sends his security forces through the city to find them. The Doctor and Mel discover a Professor Capra, who has invented a time machine; but it can only work once, and only in one direction—to the past. He reveals that, thirty years earlier, the planet was approached by the Slithergee, who asked for asylum on one of the planet’s moons. However, the then-President, Bailey, was assassinated by her secretary, Clarence, which led to a war with the Slithergee. While the humans won the war, their planet was ruined and poisoned, and soon everyone will die. Capra—with Mitchell’s blessing—plans to send agents Stewart and Reed back in time to prevent the assassination. The Doctor determines not to let that happen; the humans must not change their own history. In the struggle, Stewart and Mel are sent back in time; the Doctor and Reed follow in the TARDIS. Behind them, Capra’s machine overloads, destroying the entire planet. The Doctor and Reed find Mel and Stewart, but fail at stopping Stewart from killing Clarence before the assassination.  Reed and Stewart then tell Bailey that she must make peace with the Slithergee, in order to prevent a terrible war.

White Disc, Part Two:

Reed and Stewart’s mission is finished, and so they demand that the Doctor take them forward. He takes them to Christmas Day, 3090. Things have changed; the war never happened, but all is not well. Bailey is now called “The Great Appeaser”, having given in to the Slithergee’s demands. This eventually brought the Slithergee to occupy both moon and planet. Subsequently, through various maneuvers, the Slithergee have enslaved the humans. This is not the outcome Stewart and Reed wanted, and so they order the Doctor to take them back to the previous note so they can stop themselves from leaving to the past. The Doctor does so, but they are dismayed to learn that they cannot return to their original timeline; it no longer exists. Their story ends when they are killed by Potter, who was an agent under them in their original timeline, but here is a Slithergee collaborator. However, the Doctor and Mel then run into the other Reed and Stewart, who are freedom fighters against the Slithergee. This is an earlier moment in their timeline, and they do not recognize the Doctor or Mel; but they quickly discover that the duo has a time machine. Meanwhile the Doctor realizes that, just as there are doubles of Stewart and Reed (and Potter, as well), there will be alternate versions of themselves, who will probably arrive soon. The problem: they will most likely land their TARDIS in the same spot as the current version—and that would be disastrous! With their Leptonite crystals in hand, they hurry back to their TARDIS and leave; the Doctor refuses to stay and help, trusting that his alternate self will figure things out.

Black Disc, Part One:

The (other) Doctor and Mel land on Puxatornee on Christmas Eve, 3090, attempting to obtain Leptonite crystals to deal with a Quark incursion in another system. They find a world that is both occupied and enslaved; the Slithergees, in their weird hivelike buildings, have made slaves of the humans. They are promptly arrested by Slithergee collaborator Potter, who takes them to Professor Capra for interrogation. This Capra has not built a time machine, but rather, a Leptonite-powered torture device. The Doctor and Mel are freed by two freedom fighters, Reed and Stewart, who somehow know who they are. More strangely, they know that the Doctor has a time machine, and they want to use it to go back and kill President Bailey before she can begin the peace process that led to the Slithergee occupation. Meanwhile, Bailey suspects that her deputy, Mitchell, is secretly a Slithergee agent; she thinks he staged the failed assassination attempt that led to the peace process, so as to keep her from going to war. She confronts him, and ends up dead for her trouble; Mitchell calls it suicide. The Slithergee Community Leader designates Mitchell the new president, but then kills him, taking direct control of the planet. Meanwhile, Stewart threatens to shoot Mel if the Doctor won’t transport them; and he reluctantly agrees. He takes them back thirty years, where they kill Bailey’s secretary, Clarence. They then kill Bailey to prevent the peace process, and stage the scene so as to frame Clarence for the murder.

Black Disc, Part Two:

The Doctor then takes them forward to Christmas Day, 3090, where they find things changed. Mitchell, having assumed power after Bailey’s death, believed Clarence was a Slithergee agent, and so he went to war against the Slithergee. While the humans won the war, it left their world a wasteland, and soon the remaining humans will die. Potter—here a security agent under agents Stewart and Reed—arrests the Doctor and Mel as enemy agents; but the rebel Stewart and Reed pretend to be his superiors, and take the time travelers into their custody. This is not the future they sought, and so they demand that the Doctor take them back to last night, so that they can stop themselves from going back to complete the assassination. He does so, but they find that this is still the new timeline; and they leave, disappearing into the city. However, the Doctor and Mel run into agents Stewart, Reed, and Potter; from the agents’ point of view, this is their first meeting. The Doctor remembers that tomorrow, Potter will arrest them as spies, and so he confesses to being such, in order to preserve the timeline. Once in a cell, Mel realizes that they, too, must have counterparts; the Doctor realizes that their counterparts will soon land, in the same spot as their own TARDIS—a catastrophe in the making. He gets them out of the cell, and they rush to the TARDIS to depart, trusting that their other selves will set things right.

Flip Flop 2

I have to say up front, I appreciate what they’re trying to do here. Flip Flop is actually a very clever application of alternate timelines. We have the Doctor and Mel from one timeline contributing to the actions that create the other timeline—and this happens in both directions! That’s very clever; but in practice, it’s a mess, and hard to follow. There’s no shame in needing a few runs through this story in order to follow along!

I love stories about alternate timelines, not just in Doctor Who, but in other franchises as well. While trying to piece this one together, I realized that it conforms with a theory of my own. If you follow the idea that any choice can result in a new timeline splitting off, you have the basis for multiverse theory. However, when we’re talking about time travel, we have to ask: what happens if you go back to a point before the split? I theorize that it only makes sense if each new timeline also happens retroactively, splitting off both forward and backward in time. There’s no such thing as a unified timeline before the split (sorry, Legend of Zelda fans—of which I am one, so I’m apologizing to myself, too). This story must follow that notion, because there are two versions of the Doctor and Mel. While their timelines were identical up to the events on Puxatornee, they differentiate at that point—but the split must be retroactive, or else we’d only have one TARDIS team here. Interestingly, the story ends with each team in the opposite universe from the one in which they started!

Confused yet? Yeah, me too.

With all that said, I reiterate my initial point: I appreciate what they’re trying to accomplish, but in execution, it doesn’t work out so well. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I’m looking forward to getting past this experimental phase in the Main Range. Everyone has an adolescence; I suppose this is Big Finish’s. On the plus side, the voice acting is pretty good; I never had trouble discerning which version of each character was being portrayed. In a story like this, that’s priceless.

We do get some continuity references here. The Quarks (The Dominators) get a few mentions; they represent the inciting incident for the story, as the Doctor and Mel (in both timelines) come to Puxatornee to obtain Leptonite crystals, which cause Quarks to explode. (According to the Doctor Who Reference Guide for this story, the Quarks mentioned here—being mentioned sans Dominators—are more likely a reference to the 1960s comic strip stories Invasion of the Quarks and The Killer Wasps (and others; I don’t have a complete list) than to The Dominators. In those strips, the Quarks were billed as a conquering race on their own. However, I’m not familiar with those stories myself, so I can’t comment.) The Doctor mentions the musical group “Pakafroon Wabster” here; I don’t usually mention future references, but as I am not likely to reach the referenced story anytime soon, I’ll say that they will be mentioned a few times in the future before actually appearing in the comic story Interstellar Overdrive. The Doctor mentions “anti-radiation gloves” invented by a previous incarnation; this is a tongue-in-cheek reference to The Daleks, where William Hartnell mistakenly said “anti-radiation gloves” instead of “anti-radiation drugs. The cloister bell is heard when the two TARDISes are at risk of colliding (Logopolis, et al.) The Doctor quips several times that “I’ll explain later”; while I haven’t identified the first appearance, this line has appeared as a running joke on many occasions. I should also mention that the planet’s name, “Puxatornee”, is a slightly-altered reference to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, which is the setting for the film Groundhog Day (and coincidentally, a few hours from my hometown, though I haven’t been there). That film, like this story, focuses on repetitive sequences of time, though the resolution is much different.

Overall: The story is ambitious, and it does, I suppose, accomplish its goal. For the listener, getting there is a mess. I applaud the attempt, but I don’t think I’ll come back to this one.

Next time: We begin the villainous countdown to the fiftieth Main Range entry, with Omega! 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.

Flip Flop

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Audio Drama Review: Project: Lazarus

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing the Main Range of audios with the forty-fifth entry, Project: Lazarus. This story was written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, and features the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables), as well as the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy). It resumes the story of Nimrod, Cassandra “Cassie” Schofield, and the Forge, as begun in Project: Twilight. It was released in June 2003. Let’s get started!

Project Lazarus 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:

The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn are searching for missing vampire Cassie Schofield, last seen in the wake of the Forge’s Project: Twilight. A bit belatedly, the Doctor has found a cure for her condition, the Twilight virus. They locate her in Norway in July 2004, just as she is also found by a hunter called Professor Harket; but as it turns out, Harket isn’t seeking Cassie at all. Instead, he is seeking a rather unusual alien, which he dubs the Huldra, after a local legend. He knows he is on the trail when he finds a body covered in a venomous blue slime, produced by the Huldra. He goes to try to make a call to his university. Meanwhile, the Forge is not dead; and its central computer, Oracle, receives notice that an agent named “Artemis” has at last made contact with “Lazarus”. The head of security, Sergeant Frith, and the head researcher, Dr. Crumpton, exult over this message, and send extraction teams to bring them in. Back in Norway, the Doctor and Evelyn are shocked to learn that Cassie is quite bitter toward them, as it has been some time since they left her behind. Moreover, she is now working for Nimrod and the Forge! She considers them her family now, which doesn’t sit well with Evelyn. They are interrupted by Harket’s return; he has located a Huldra. Cassie overpowers the creature and stuns it, just as the extraction team arrives. When Harket protests, Cassie takes some of the creature’s slime and forces it into his mouth, killing him almost instantly. Nimrod arrives and refers to Cassie as Artemis, and takes the Doctor, Evelyn, and the Huldra captive.

Part Two:

Nimrod’s team takes the TARDIS as well as the captive, and flies them by helicopter to Dartmoor. The Forge’s headquarters awaits, situated below ground under an abandoned asylum. Nimrod, now the Deputy Director of the Forge, sets Crumpton to studying the alien, while Nimrod gives the Doctor and Evelyn a tour. Frith, meanwhile, is repulsed by working with the alien, but he has no choice; no one leaves the Forge voluntarily. Crumpton uses Oracle to research the figure called Lazarus. Meanwhile Nimrod assures the Doctor that he only intends to analyze the alien venom for development as a stun weapon, and that he ultimately intends to help the creature get home; he has the wreckage of its ship here in the labs. He also claims that Cassie’s service is voluntary. Evelyn sits with Cassie and talks about what has happened to her; Cassie blames the Doctor for abandoning her, though Evelyn insists it was unintentional. Oddly, she does not remember her son, Tommy, at all, and denies that the child exists; the Forge is her only family, she insists. She changes the subject; she can hear Evelyn’s heartbeat, and knows there is something wrong with her. Evelyn admits to a heart attack before meeting the Doctor, and begs Cassie not to tell him, as she knows he will take her home if he finds out. Meanwhile Nimrod shows the Doctor the main archive, full of dead aliens and stolen technology; the Doctor is appalled, but Nimrod assures him that a function called the Hades Protocol will destroy it all if it ever becomes dangerous. Frith arrives, and the two cease being polite, and force the Doctor into confinement in a lab; they plan to study the Time Lord regenerative ability—even if it means killing the Doctor. Project Lazarus—named for another man who evaded death—has begun. As they torture the Doctor, Evelyn pushes Cassie to remember Tommy; and suddenly the block on Cassie’s memory breaks, and she remembers. Shrugging off the pain, she takes Evelyn to the lab and rescues the Doctor from his torture, and leads them to the storage room where the TARDIS has been placed. Nimrod closes the emergency bulkheads along the way, forcing Cassie to rip open the control panels; this slows them down, and lets Nimrod get there first. Cassie delays him while the Doctor and Evelyn get into the TARDIS; but before she can join them, Nimrod puts a crossbow bolt through her heart. She dies in a burst of flame. The TARDIS escapes; but Evelyn is grief-stricken, and the Doctor knows this pain will last for a long time.

Part Three:

Many years later, the Seventh Doctor is traveling alone when his TARDIS is hit with temporal energy. He traces it to a place he never expected to see again: The Forge’s Dartmoor headquarters. The Forge is under attack by the Huldra; Crumpton manages to deter the attack, but in the course of it, the TARDIS’s arrival is detected. This Doctor hasn’t been here before, but his image matches file footage from elsewhere. It seems Lazarus has returned. Nimrod brings the Doctor inside, where he makes a bad first impression on Frith. The Doctor is still angry at Nimrod, but agrees to help him solve the time disruptions that led to the burst of energy. He is shocked to see his own sixth incarnation working as scientific advisor to the Forge! Nimrod insists the Sixth Doctor is voluntarily serving, but the Seventh Doctor cannot remember it, and doesn’t believe it. [Note: For convenience, I will refer to the Doctors simply as “Six” and “Seven” for the remainder of this summary.] He accompanies Six to Crumpton’s lab, and examines the data from the attack—the latest in a series of attacks, all centered on the captured Huldran ship, which has been cannibalized by the Forge. The captive Huldran has long since been killed. The Doctors speak privately; Six explains that the Earth is under attack by Huldrans, apparently for revenge. Six claims to have offered his services to combat the Huldrans; in order to prevent Nimrod and Crumpton from analyzing his TARDIS, he removed a component, leaving only the outer shell accessible. However, he wants to escape now in Seven’s TARDIS—which is puzzling, as the Huldran problem is still unresolved. He offers to help—but with diplomacy rather than violence. Nimrod and Crumpton explain that the Huldran ships actually travel by means of a self-contained portal; the temporal discharge was the result of the Huldrans attempting to breach the portal from the captured wreckage. Nimrod refuses to shut it down while it could be useful, but says that with a sample of the TARDIS’s exo-shell, they could make the portal impervious to attack. Seven reluctantly agrees to help, though Six—in a passable imitation of Nimrod’s voice—mocks him at first. Nimrod confers with Six about disposing of Seven once they have the TARDIS. Seven interrupts them and asks why, if they have Six’s TARDIS shell, they don’t just take a sample from it? When Six cannot answer, Seven realizes he is an imposter; and he darts away to talk with Crumpton. He demands to know what is really going on, and urges Crumpton to be a scientist and question authority. When the Huldrans attack again, he urges her to shut off the defences and let them in; and to Frith’s shock, she does so. A troop of Huldrans, bearing swords, pours into the facility. Nimrod sends Six to greet them, and they cut him down.

Part Four:

Seven intervenes, and somehow calms the Huldrans. Crumpton closes the portal, and Frith takes the Huldrans captive, placing them in holding cells. Nimrod sends Six to the sickbay; but among his injuries, his arm has been severed. This confirms for Seven that this is not the real Sixth Doctor. He tries to reason with Frith, who doesn’t really want to be here at all; when Frith tries to lock him up, he knocks Frith out and goes to speak with Six. Meanwhile Nimrod reactivates Project: Lazarus and tells Crumpton to dissect the Huldrans; Crumpton is not willing, but has no choice to obey. She is interrupted by Oracle, which has detected an energy spike, but not from the portal. Seven awakens Six, and asks why the trauma did not spark a regeneration. He forces mental contact with Six, and learns that Six is a clone, created from a blood sample taken during the real Sixth Doctor’s torture last time. Six claims to be the last survivor of three clones, which demonstrated enough of the real Doctor’s traits that Nimrod took him on for scientific assistance. However, the clones were never truly stable; and with this trauma, his genetic deterioration is accelerating. However, the contact between them brought out more memories; and Six takes Seven to investigate. Meanwhile Crumpton reads the data, and determines that there is a telepath in the Forge—it can only be Seven, and Nimrod expects he will have communed with Six. The Huldrans are also reacting to the telepathy; they are a telepathic gestalt, sharing one mind. The death of their missing member, then, would have driven them into a frenzy. Crumpton refuses to kill them at Nimrod’s orders, and so he kills her. Meanwhile, Six leads Seven to a room—the same one where Cassie died, actually—where they find dozens of mutated Sixth Doctor clones, all begging to be killed. Seven finds notes indicating that Six is not three years old as he believed, but only several days—there have been many like him, as the process burns through clones at an incredible rate. The process is cumulative, and the degeneration is indeed increasing. Six is driven into a frenzy; and he imitates Nimrod’s voice and activates the Hades protocol, which will destroy the facility and everything in it.  He gives Seven six minutes to rescue the Huldrans and escape. Seven flees, and finds Frith organizing an evacuation. He talks Frith into helping him with the Huldrans; if they die, the rest of their kind might consider it an act of war. Nimrod, furious, confronts them and orders Frith to kill the Doctor and save the items in the archive instead; he then departs. Frith knows he has been left to die, and joins the Doctor. Nimrod goes down to find Six, who is nearly mad with pain now thanks to the telepathic cries of  the other clones; Nimrod tells him that he is worthless, only one of an unknown number of failed experiments. However, Six will have his revenge; he is destroying the facility. Nimrod shoots him, then leaves. Seven and Frith find Crumpton dead in the lab; Seven sends Frith to open the portal while he sends the Huldrans through. They then race for the exit, but find Six dying; Six refuses to let Seven save him. As the minutes tick away, they race for the lift; and at the last second, Firth pushes him into it. The Doctor escapes, but Frith does not. Sadly, he departs for the TARDIS, content at least that the forge has been destroyed. But elsewhere, Oracle awakens in a new system, and the Forge’s beta facility is activated.

Project Lazarus 2

A multi-Doctor story! …Or not. I won’t spoil it, but let’s say that all is not what it seems, in this story that features both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors. I will suggest that those who have listened to Jubilee will figure out the twist to this story in short order; the stories aren’t similar overall, but there is one plot element that serves as a giveaway here, after having previously been used in that story. Regardless, it’s always interesting to see the Sixth and Seventh Doctors onscreen (or, well, the audio equivalent) together; I find that the two aren’t so different, and work well together. If we theorize that each regeneration is a reaction to the previous incarnation, then this makes sense; the Sixth Doctor is quite pleased with himself most of the time, and wouldn’t want to change much about himself (much as, later, the Tenth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor would be very similar). I do think it’s worth noting, as well, that the Seventh Doctor doesn’t seem to have any of the memory issues that ordinarily accompany an encounter with his past self…

I’ve been given to understand that Big Finish was going through an experimental phase around the time of this story’s release; in just the last few stories, we’ve seen a story inspired by the New Adventures novels (The Dark Flame), a musical (Doctor Who and the Pirates), and a non-linear story (Creatures of Beauty). The trend continues here; this story is broken in half, with the first half featuring the Sixth Doctor, and the second half featuring primarily the Seventh. I understand it will continue, as well, in the next entry, Flip-Flop, in which the two halves of the story can be played in any order. As far as placement goes, the first half picks up the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn’s adventures where we recently left off, and sometime after Real Time, which I have not yet experienced (as indicated by a reference to the Doctor’s new suit). The Seventh Doctor’s story occurs late in his life, possibly near his death in the television movie, as he is traveling alone and considers “going home” to Gallifrey at the end of this story. Of particular note: Project Destiny, which wraps up the Forge trilogy (and which I haven’t reached yet), occurs earlier in the Seventh Doctor’s life, though its events aren’t mentioned here.

Project Lazarus 3

I enjoyed this story immensely; it was a nice change after Pirates, which didn’t interest me, and after Creatures of Beauty, which was hamstrung by its own novelty. Nimrod and the Forge make for dynamic enemies and great action; and this story wastes no time jumping in, as halfway through, we get the death of a major character from the previous entry. The only downside—and perhaps this isn’t a criticism, just a sad observation—is that there is a definite downward spiral to the Doctor’s relationship with Evelyn, as she experiences one tragedy after another. If her story leaves me crying in the end, I may have to stage a riot.

We’re heavy on the continuity references here, even leaving out the obvious connections to Project: Twilight. Cassie Schofield is indicated to be the mother of Tommy Schofield, better known—and much later—as Hex, the Seventh Doctor’s companion (The Harvest). Reference is made to the Seventh Doctor’s appearances in Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield. While I don’t usually refer to connections to future stories, I’ll make an exception for Project Destiny; as I previously noted, that story occurs earlier in the Seventh Doctor’s timeline, and features Ace and Hex visiting the Forge’s beta facility. The Sixth Doctor makes reference to the Record of Rassilon (State of Decay) and the Time Lords’ war against all vampires. The Doctor makes telepathic contact with himself, signified by the “Contact!” catchphrase, previously seen in The Three Doctors and others. The Forge’s archive room contains Zanium (The Twin Dilemma) and Axonite (The Claws of Axos).

It’s worth mentioning that this is the first story to receive multiple covers. (I have only linked one of three, above; the rest can be found on this story’s wiki page.) One cover featured the Sixth Doctor; one featured the Seventh; and one featured both equally. It’s also one of only eight audio dramas so far to feature both Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. The voice acting from both is on point as usual—in fact, all the acting in this story is exceptional.

Overall: A very good entry as we begin the lead-up to the fiftieth Main Range entry. I strongly recommend a refresher of Project: Twilight before listening to this story—I wish I had done so myself—but regardless, it’s a fast-moving, action-packed story, and a great listen. Free on Spotify, as well—if you haven’t already, check it out! (Unfortunately, as I discovered, the Spotify edition of this story is missing the final track. However, the story is available for download from Big Finish Productions for $2.99.)

Project Lazarus 4

Next time: One more experimental story before we start the iconic villain stories leading up to the fiftieth entry. We’ll join the Seventh Doctor and Mel in Flip-Flop! 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.

Project: Lazarus

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Audio Drama Review: Creatures of Beauty

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing the Main Range of audios with the forty-fourth entry, Creatures of Beauty. This story features the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, and was written and directed by Nicholas Briggs. The story is groundbreaking among the audio dramas for its non-linear presentation (which makes it difficult for me to write a plot summary for the blog version of this post, but so it goes). The story was published in May 2003. Let’s get started!

Creatures of Beauty 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:

An explosion splits the sky, and a voice whispers: “Beautiful”. Elsewhere, a woman discusses with the Doctor her search for a cure to a disease, which took her to a space station for zero-gravity experiments and contact with a race called the Koteem. Elsewhere yet, Nyssa struggles with another woman over a knife. Later, she is with the Doctor on a long journey, and debates working with someone named Quain…which may or may not be the right choice. Either way, they need to reach the TARDIS and leave this world.

Brodlik, a psychiatric interrogator for the security forces of the planet Veln, meets with his superior, Gilbrook, regarding his recent interrogation of Nyssa. Allegedly the interrogation is about an incursion by the Koteem, but Brodlik disagrees. Nevertheless, they agree that Nyssa is beautiful, even with bruises from her arrest. On the tape of the interview, Nyssa and Brodlik discuss her arrest, and statements she made at the time, which Brodlik considers bizarre—notably, that she is not of this world. She admits to having a concussion, and asks after the Doctor. Watching the interview, Gilbrook is unhappy that Brodlik didn’t get a description of the Doctor so he could be arrested. They return to the interview, which picks up with Nyssa’s medical reports. The reports confirm that she is indeed not from the planet Veln; this convinces Brodlick that she is a Koteem, and complicit in what the invaders have done. He forces her to look at him; his face is warped and scarred. Only the rich and powerful can afford surgery to restore their features to the way they looked before the Koteem came and poisoned the atmosphere with dyestrial toxins—Brodlik insists that as Nyssa was arrested on the manor of Lady Forleon, she should know this. Nyssa understands the effects, but isn’t sure the toxins are a result of the invasion. Brodlik mentions that security has dealt with numerous Koteem agents; Nyssa is appalled. She demands to know if her blood samples were compared to Koteem samples as they were to Veln. Here, the tape reveals that Brodlik—quite rattled by Nyssa’s testimony—left three hours early and went home. Gilbrook informs him of the trouble he’s in, and demands to know what happened after that.

At home, Brodlik remembers, he was confronted by two men wearing pollution masks. Inside his apartment, they reveal that they are not mutated like Brodlik, who is a third-generation Veln after the pollution. He assumes they are Koteem agents; one of them protests, and is revealed to be the Doctor. He is angry about Nyssa’s beating, but defers to his partner, Quain, who puts pressure on Brodlik. Quain threatens Brodlik’s family with the same kind of violence the security forces use. Brodlik tells Gilbrook none of this, however, and only admits to thinking about Nyssa’s words. However, Gilbrook has video indicating that Brodlik returned to the medical department that night to compare Nyssa’s blood to Koteem samples. The two are vastly different. Gilbrook assumes this means she is just a different type of Koteem, and mentions that Brodlik never brought it up as he should have done. Gilbrook has Brodlik play the next day’s tape, but it cuts off at once. The fault is timely, as this was the point at which the intruders entered the medical building. Brodlik says they had legitimate documents to take possession of the prisoner, and so he released Nyssa to them. However, Gilbrook just asks him what really happened.

Brodlik recalls joining Nyssa in the interrogation room, and uses a device given to him by the Doctor and Quain to jam the surveillance system. He is going to release her, but is unhappy that she will get away with her crimes; despite her protestations of innocence, he has met her associates, and doesn’t believe her. He demands to know why she came back to murder and mutilate a Veln? In a flashback, Nyssa’s struggle for the knife is heard again, and the whispered word: “Beautiful…”

Part Two:

At Lady Forleon’s manor, the Doctor has just left Nyssa, when he hears screams from her direction. He turns back, but is held up by two armed men, Seedleson and Murone. They take him to the house, as the screams end and sirens are heard. The two men also send a patrol back for the Doctor’s “landing pod”, the TARDIS. Meanwhile Lady Forleon is getting a rather confused report about the screams and the arrest. Quain arrives and reports the arrival of a “replacement”, but the man—the Doctor—seems confused. Forleon meets with the Doctor, and finds he is confused; he considers himself a prisoner here, and claims to know the screaming girl—which he could not, if he is newly arrived. He admits to being here about the dyestrial pollution—a statement she expected—but his odd story makes her believe he has a concussion or brain damage from his landing.

The Doctor goes with Forleon and Quain to view the rather odd “landing pod”, the TARDIS. He tries to get back to the topic of Nyssa, and Forleon realizes he wasn’t talking about the local girl, Veline, but the other girl in the report, the arrested party. Murone shows a surveillance photo of Nyssa being arrested for Veline’s murder; the Doctor is shocked to see that she does have blood on her hands. He demands to know what is going on. Forleon realizes he really doesn’t know, which makes him a risk, and she has Murone cover him with his weapon.

Flash-forward: Nyssa is now free, thanks to Quain, but the Doctor doubts the man’s motives. They have now been traveling for four days, into a snowy wilderness reminiscent of Alaska. Quain assures the Doctor he is working for the sake of all Veln, even if they don’t realize it. They arrive at a hill which is actually a hologram, made with Koteem technology. Inside, they find a Koteem ship. They are subjected to a bioscan in preparation for an interrogation by a Koteem. Because the TARDIS is here somewhere, they submit to the interview. The Koteem doesn’t give its name, as it shouldn’t be here, and it wants to know if they plan to inform the Galactic Sector Council. The Doctor does not; he barely understands what is happening here. The Koteem doubts the Doctor’s words, and asks the Doctor’s personal opinion of events here. The Doctor thinks the Koteem is suffering the effect of the pollution just like the Veln, implying their fates are tied together. The Koteem admits that his people used the dyestrial as an energy source, not realizing the risks until it was too late. The Council allowed them to dispose of the wastes in an uninhabited region, but the disposal company cut corners and dumped it near Veln. Four generations back, an accident dumped a deadly amount of pollution into the Veln atmosphere, condemning the planet to  death within eight generations. This Koteem and his friends want to change that.

Meanwhile Gilbrook has obtained a warrant for Lady Forleon’s estate, and is taking pleasure in destroying the beautiful surroundings. Jealousy is at the root of his attitude; he lives in ugliness thanks to the Koteem, and resents the rich who manage to avoid that fate. He believes he can prove she has been harboring Koteem agents; and once he has her in custody, her beauty won’t last long. His forces do not find the agents they seek, but they find a sealed basement room. Against Forleon’s protests, they break in, and find Koteem equipment. Forleon insists that, while the Veln are ugly, it’s because they are dying—and she is trying to fix it. They trigger a recording in the basement of the operation conducted on the unfortunate Veline, in which Forleon tries to soothe her—but Veline begins to scream as the surgery begins.

Part Three:

The surgery goes wrong, and Veline breaks free, screaming in pain. She flees the basement with a scalpel in hand. Forleon has Seedleson and Murone attempt to restrain her without harm. Quain worries about what may happen if she escapes the grounds; the last patient died in the lab. As luck would have it, at that time, the sensors have detected something strange: the arrival of the TARDIS. Meanwhile a passerby has called security, and they are on their way. This will give Gilbrook the excuse he needs to investigate the estate.

Veline escapes the gate guards. While pursuing her, Seedleson and Murone find the Doctor, and assume he is a Koteem. Murone, who only works here for the pay, suggests shooting him in revenge for the Koteem’s actions, but Seedleson, who believes in Forleon’s work, is disgusted. He leaves to take the Doctor into custody. Meanwhile, Nyssa finds Veline, who has begun to feel something alien inside her head. She begins to hack at herself with the scalpel as if trying to cut something out; Nyssa tries to stop her as sirens approach. She is arrested for Veline’s murder, but holds to the story that she was trying to save the girl. The oddity of the story gets her handed over to Brodlik, bringing us full circle to Brodlik’s interrogation of Nyssa. In the meantime, Gilbrook prepares for his raid on the Forleon manor.

Prior to the raid, the Doctor is still being held by Murone and questioned by Forleon. She believes him to be either crazy or an impostor, but either way, he is a threat. However, she performs a bioscan, which reveals he is neither Veln nor Koteem. When the Doctor hears the name “Koteem”, he is disturbed to remember them as an extinct species, which is not yet true. However, they are arthropods, so why would Forleon and Quain think he is one? Forleon explains that Veline killed herself, but that Gilbrook will not see it that way—and will use this opportunity to first put a beauty like Nyssa on trial. Since the Doctor seems to be truly unaware of events here, she withholds judgment for now.

Later, Quain reflects on what he has done in taking the Doctor and Nyssa—along with more travel pods—to the Koteem. While the Doctor thinks it is still uncomfortably like an invasion of Veln, he admits that neither race has any options. Still, the Koteem let them go, much to Nyssa’s surprise; and the Doctor is more than willing to bow out of this complex situation. He reflects that although Nyssa’s arrest may have led to the Forleon raid, but even without it, Veline’s death would have led to complications. Despite all their involvement, the Doctor feels they were simply caught up in events, rather than influencing them.

He is wrong, however. Gilbrook, as it turns out, was unable to get his warrant based on Nyssa’s arrest and escape, at which time he interrogated—and threatened—Brodlik to get what he needed. And so, as the Doctor and Nyssa depart, they don’t realize the full impact of their presence.

Part Four:

Many years earlier: The Veln system has been visited by a Koteem waste ship, which is here illegally. It is running silent to avoid detection; and when an alarm indicates that its toxin containment field has a leak, the captain opts to shut the field off instead of fixing it. Meanwhile the Doctor and Nyssa have just finished some repairs to the TARDIS, and are passing near the Veln system. It is a culturally significant time in the Veln’s history, and incursion has been declared illegal by the Galactic Sector Council; nevertheless, the Doctor chooses to materialize for a moment to test some repaired systems. A slip in systems puts the TARDIS into Veln orbit briefly, where the ship detects dyestrial toxins. The pollution interferes with the power relays, preventing dematerialization, and the TARDIS lurches as though it hit something. It leaps forward a century and rematerializes on the planet’s surface for self-repairs.

The concentration of toxins has decreased, and short exposure is harmless, so the Doctor goes to look around. He leaves Nyssa by the TARDIS while he goes to the nearby manor house to warn them of the toxins. Nyssa stays, but then hears Veline screaming, and goes to help, leading to her arrest. Gilbrook considers the murder to be a direct case, but wants to use it to obtain access to the Forleon estate; he ignores his medical staff’s report that the killer was apparently trying to dig something out of the victim. During this time, the Doctor is captured and questioned by Forleon and Quain; Forleon contacts the Koteem at the ship and informs him of the Doctor’s presence. The Koteem wants to question him in person, and asks Quain to rescue Nyssa as well. The Doctor is obligated to help.

In the meantime, the Doctor deduces that the Koteem are giving the Veln something…but what? Forleon doesn’t like his attitude, and tells him that outside the estate, the planet is nearly dead, as its people soon will be. The pollution has led to mutations in the Veln, the destruction of the food supply, and resulting social upheaval. Forleon uses her fortune to try to find a cure. It did not go well at first, until her desire to experiment in zero-gravity led her to purchase a space station; once there, the Koteem contacted her privately and offered their DNA for use in her work.

It’s not quite that simple, however. The genetic essence is that of a complete Koteem in each case, and the only way to use it is to transplant it into a Veln. Once placed, the essence heals the Veln of mutation; but little remains of the donor Koteem. The Koteem are willingly giving their lives to make amends and save the Koteem; but the bitter and vengeful Veln are not willing to accept any restitution, and their paranoia has caused the Council to outlaw contact with them. Hence, the Koteem’s efforts, no matter how well-intentioned, are illegal. The Doctor is unhappy with the plan, but can formulate no real objections; and so, with his promise not to talk, the Koteem lets him go, along with Nyssa.

In the end, Gilbrook destroys the manor, but Quain and Forleon escape to new premises to continue the work. The Koteem base is moved as well, leaving Gilbrook back at the beginning. He is undaunted, and swears to continue the fight; he remembers that his great-grandfather was an eyewitness to the explosion of the waste ship over Veln, leaving a story that has been passed down. Against all odds, the light through the clouds of falling toxins was almost beautiful.

One piece of the puzzle remains. As the waste ship runs silently through the system, all is well—until an unexpected object, blue and rectangular, materialises before them. It emits a warp distortion field, forcing them to evade collision. They succeed, as the object dematerializes—but in their hold, toxin containers have been smashed open, where the captain has already ordered the containment fields shut down. The ship explodes, pouring the dyestrial toxins into the atmosphere, dooming the planet. The Doctor and Nyssa will never know the true impact of their brief visit.

Creatures of Beauty 2

What a melancholy story! Although, to be fair, the melancholy tone isn’t obvious at first, largely due to the nonlinear structure. That structure is a double-edged sword here; it’s certainly different from the average story (Big Finish was on a brief experimental kick—see our last entry, regarding the first musical story, Doctor Who and the Pirates). However, there’s reason that non-linear stories are both rare and hard to pull off; they have a tendency to reveal the punchline early, turning the rest of the story into filler. That happens a bit here, though I don’t think it’s particularly gratuitous. More on that topic in a bit.

I call this story melancholy because there’s no happy ending, and indeed little chance at one. Due to an accident and a resulting ecological disaster, the locals—the Veln, on the planet of the same name—have suffered severe mutations, and will die off within a few generations. There is a cure, but it comes at a high price, not for the Veln, but for the race that caused the disaster in the first place. It’s a case of “no good choices”.

More than that, the story represents a rare case of the Doctor’s failure. He is unable to fix the situation, or even to affect it in any positive way. There’s more to it than that—there’s a reason I said “any positive way”—but for the sake of spoilers, I won’t elaborate. Suffice it to say that he ends the story unaware of the magnitude of his failure.

With the exception of one final twist, the bulk of the story has been revealed by the end of part three; most of part four is just filling in details, as I previously mentioned. I do applaud Briggs for managing to string out the discoveries as long as he did, however; it’s not easy to keep details secret when the ending is already known. I will say that the aforementioned final twist was fairly predictable; I had identified it well before I got there. I felt comfortable enough in my understanding of the story to begin working on this review while I was still listening to Part Four, and a look at the Doctor Who Reference Guide’s plot listing for this story bears out that opinion. None of that is to say, however, that it’s a bad story; both story and presentation are interesting, and I enjoyed this story much more than the previous entry.

I’m aware that the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa stories are usually not considered to be among the best, but for the most part I’ve enjoyed them so far. They tend to be quieter, smaller-scale stories; but both actors are usually on point, and these stories allow us to see nuances of the characters that we usually don’t get. Here, for example, the Veln serve as stand-ins for humans, and we get a deeper look at just how alien the Doctor and Nyssa really are—something that is often buried when dealing with these two characters.

Continuity References: Only a few this time. Nyssa mentions having visited Alaska (The Land of the Dead). She mentions the TARDIS’s helmic regulator, first noted in The Ark In Space). The Doctor mentions villains with “Satanic beards” or “black ears”; the “Satanic beards” remark most likely refers to the Master in his early appearances, and the “black ears” may refer to the Cybermen, in which case some notable figures had black handles on their heads. (Credit to the Doctor Who Discontinuity Guide website for the notation about the Cybermen—I heard the line in the story, but would not have made that connection.)

Overall: A good story, perhaps not one of the best, but decent. After Doctor Who and the Pirates, this story seemed to flow very quickly. I’m glad this nonlinear format doesn’t become a staple of the series, but it’s a fun experiment.

Next time: We’ll get a rare (but not too rare) multi-Doctor story, when we join the Sixth and Seventh Doctors in the next entry in the Forge story arc: Project: Lazarus! 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.

Creatures of Beauty

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