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: 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: The Lions of Trafalgar

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to The Lions of Trafalgar, the Fifth Doctor’s entry in the Short Trips, Volume IV collection. Written by Jason Arnopp and read by Peter Davison, this story was published in August 2011, and features the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume 4 a

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

The Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan arrive in London on 23 October 1843; Tegan is amazed at the primitive state of the city, which is both relaxed and busy at the same time. Visiting Trafalgar Square, they discover a number of stone lions, but quickly discover that the lions are only visible to the three of them. The Doctor concludes there is a perception filter in place, but one that can only affect people of this time.

The Doctor climbs the newly-constructed Nelson’s Column to have a look around. At the top, he finds two men, Samuel Morton Peto and Thomas Grissell, who are the contractors responsible for construction of the column. They are famously having tea at the top of the still-statueless column, along with twelve of the stonemasons. The stonemasons are nowhere to be seen, however. The two contractors have been possessed by a predatory race called the Sevakrill, who have used them—to the Doctor’s disgust—to devour the twelve stonemasons. It is a celebratory dinner, to be sure; but it is the Sevakrill who are celebrating their own impending conquest!

The column, they reveal, holds a missile that is scheduled to destroy the Earth, but not until 2017, when it will serve to distract their enemies, a force called the Charnal Horde; and it will entertain the Sevakrill as well. The Doctor speaks to the two men instead of the Sevakrill, and tries to get them to build a mental barrier against the Sevakrill, using Nelson’s honorable example for strength.

Below, the lions begin chasing Nyssa and Tegan at the command of the Sevakrill, in order to disrupt the Doctor’s efforts. Eight people—seven civilians and a policeman—are killed during the chase. The lions are interrupted as the Sevakrill are forced out of their hosts; and the lions return to their plinth. The hosts are left with their freedom and a stomachache; the Doctor declines to tell them that it comes from their unwitting cannibalism.

The Doctor spends the next two weeks working to remove the missile. He is unable to eliminate it completely, but lowers it into a tunnel below, and puts a floor under it (since the missile is aimed down at the Earth instead of up). He also places a signal that will bring him back if it is every activated. As the lions are still in place—but invisible—he sets the perception filters to switch off in a few decades, and arranges to have the lions covered and then unveiled as if they had been newly placed—thus maintaining known history. He also makes a note to skip ahead thirty-five years and see if anyone has tampered with Cleopatra’s Needle.

Short Trips Volume 4 b

The Fifth Doctor’s entries into these early volumes—of which, as a reminder, this is the last—have consistently been some of the most action-packed, but also some of the most ridiculous. This volume, at least, takes a break from the ridiculousness; this is a believable enough adventure as Doctor Who goes. We visit the 23 October 1843 completion of Nelson’s Column, a few weeks before its famous statue is placed; the Doctor is forced to thwart an alien sleeper plot which will eventually—give or take seventeen decades—destroy the Earth. Nyssa and Tegan aren’t much help here, but they do get chased by the titular stone lions, which is really the only reason for the lions to be in the story at all, as historically it would be a few decades before they were built. That sort of splitting of the plot into two parallel tracks is, of course, common in Doctor Who even today, with the Doctor going one way while his companions go a separate-but-related way. Usually the companion’s track is a little more vital to the story, but unfortunately, sometimes—like here—it’s just extraneous.

With all that said, I still enjoyed the story. I do think it would have felt a little more real to someone who is familiar with the area and the history. I know what Nelson’s Column is, and what it memorializes, but I would not have recognized the date of this story (apparently the dinner party atop the column, mentioned with changes here, was a real event). I wouldn’t have known that there were stone lions around the column, or that they were a later addition, and thus an anachronism here. (The wiki claims that this story “is a reference to an old legend that the lions in Trafalgar Square will come to life if Big Ben chimes 13 times”—another reference I wouldn’t have gotten.) Tegan also makes reference to the “Great Stink” of 1858; this one I had to look up. The story does explain a bit, but more in a “hurry and catch up” manner. That’s a risk, I think, in any historical; of course it’s a British series, and deals most of all with British history, while the fanbase is worldwide at this point. Not a complaint, exactly, just noting that some of it may be lost on international fans like me. I do think this is mitigated a bit by the Fifth Doctor; he travels with a group of young people, and it’s almost inevitable that he serves as a teacher to them, and to the audience by default. The balance of “show vs. tell” is maintained, but perhaps with a bit more “tell” than in the case of other Doctors. (I’m a bit biased; I like the Fifth Doctor, and think that the usual issues people raise against his era are overblown. You can feel free to take my opinions with a grain of salt, accordingly.)

Continuity References: Nelson’s Column has been visited previously, as early as The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Perception filters, which here conceal the lions, were first mentioned in Torchwood (Everything Changes) before making their way to the main series (Human Nature episode version, et al.). The Doctor claims—typically, if you ask me—to be a friend of Nelson (World Games). Tegan tries to dissuade the Doctor from climbing the column, noting that climbing ended badly for him last time—a reference to his regeneration after falling from the Pharos Project telescope (Logopolis). As well, given that the Doctor is only accompanied by Tegan and Nyssa, this story must occur between Earthshock and Mawdryn Undead.

Overall: Pretty quick for an action story, but decent enough. If anything, it was over too quickly, but it was fun while it lasted. I understand that later short trips are perhaps double the length of these anthology stories; I think that’s a more workable length for an action story like this. Still, not bad.

Next time: We join the Sixth Doctor and Peri in To Cut a Blade of Grass! 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.

Short Trips, Volume IV

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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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Audio Drama Review: Seven to One

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re concluding our journey through 2011’s Short Trips, Volume 3 collection, back at the beginning: We’re listening to the First Doctor’s contribution, Seven to One. I say it’s the First Doctor’s story, but truthfully it features the first seven Doctors; this story, uniquely, is spread out in eight parts across the entire collection, between the other stories. It’s a different experience, and I’m looking forward to it. The story was written by Simon Paul Miller, and read by Nicholas Briggs and William Russell. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume 3 a

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 Seventh Doctor and Ace find themselves walking across a grey landscape under a grey sky—in fact, the realm is called Grey Space. The Doctor explains it was created by two entities, bound together, as a compromise between their desires for individual spaces, black and white. This place is their only achievement; they must work together, but never agree.

They see an RWR-Mark II android ahead, holding an energy rifle and guarding a grey door with a combination lock. It announces that the Doctor has seven chances to solve its test of intelligence—and if he fails, he will be removed from all space and time. If he succeeds, he will be freed to keep traveling. No further instructions are given. The Doctor knows the entities—which are speaking through the android—love games; on his previous visit here, he was able to use a Monopoly set to distract them while he slipped away in the TARDIS. They are not unaware; they brought him here this time without the TARDIS. But why is Ace here? At any rate, she suggests getting pass the door. The Doctor orders the android to shut down, using an unchanged default password; he then circles the grey door, which only comes up to his waist. He suspects it leads to another dimension. He manages to crack the lock, and confirms his suspicions—and tumbles through as if pushed.

Part Two:

The Sixth Doctor approaches the RWR android with Peri, and confronts it. He banters with it over military intelligence; then it announces that its purpose is to prevent anyone from opening the door. He manages to use logic to get the android to shut down, by convincing it the door is no longer a door, and therefore the android has no purpose any longer. He quickly unlocks the door and pulls it open, then looks inside—and falls in as if pushed.

Part Three:

The Fifth Doctor, accompanied by Nyssa, uses a fake Engineering Maintenance ID card to get the android to shut down, and then works the lock. He questions whether they should open the door; this test has been remarkably easy, after all. But Nyssa begs him to open it and get them out of here; and so he opens the door—and hurtles through as if pushed.

Part Four:

Romana looks over the android, which has been subdued with things from the Fourth Doctor’s pockets—his scarf, his jelly babies, other sweets. She reflects that it wasn’t very intelligent; but the Fourth Doctor says that as a soldier, it didn’t need to be. He uses his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door, musing on how unintelligent the robot was; but Romana reminds him that its processor indicates it has already beaten three of his future incarnations. She wonders what is behind the door as he pushes it open. “Why conjecture,” he says, “when we can see the answer for ourselves—“ and then he cries out as he tumbles in.

Part Five:

Jo Grant is focused on the laser rifle—or antimatter particle rifle, as the Third Doctor points out. The android, meanwhile, is in marketing mode; it explains how it came by the rifle, and how much it costs. The Doctor tells it that Jo is in the market for high-grade weaponry herself, and asks to see the wide-beam setting in action. The robot asks where to shoot it; the Doctor suggests the ground. The beam creates a hole in the ground, which will continue for infinity, as the particles will go on forever. Jo insists she can see the bottom; when the robot leans in to check, the Doctor kicks it into the hole. Meanwhile the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to open the door; and then falls in with a cry, as if shoved.

Part Six:

Jamie admires the antimatter rifle as the Second Doctor admires the android’s impenetrable zamanite casing. The Doctor questions its impenetrability, and Jamie joins in. The Doctor persuades it to fire the rifle at itself; and of course its head is burned off by the antimatter. Perhaps the robot really isn’t very intelligent. The Doctor tells Jamie that the robot wasn’t wrong; zamanite was impenetrable by all known technology when the robot was created, but the antimatter rifle was invented later. Fortunately the robot wasn’t good with such concepts…but that’s of no consolation as the Doctor tumbles into the doorway with a yell.

Part Seven:

The First Doctor—the youngest in age, but oldest in appearance of all the Doctor’s incarnations—ponders the oddly simple combination lock as his granddaughter, Susan, looks on. He is more mystified by the fact that—according to the entities that own this place—six of his future incarnations have failed here. Susan suggests that he’s more clever than they, but that should not be the case, if they came after him. They should be older and wiser—and anyway, it takes no great intelligence to outwit the android. He had distracted it by giving it a piece of paper with “P.T.O.”—Please Turn Over—written on both sides. Susan wonders what’s on the other side of the door; the Doctor doesn’t know, though Susan suggests it might be the TARDIS. The Doctor asks her to not stand so close to him as he contemplates the door. He wonders if his future selves had any companions with them. He continues to unlock it while musing on the basics of sleight of hand—distraction and division of activities. When he opens the door, he quickly springs aside—and whatever was impersonating Susan tumbles through the doorway as it tries to push him.

Part Eight:

The First Doctor has passed the test; and so, in keeping their own rules, the entities restore the seven Doctors back to the places and times from which they were taken. The entity that had bet against the Doctor complains that seven chances were too many; but its opponent, the other entity, insists that the number of chances had been determined by the roll of the Monopoly dice. After centuries of arguing, their game of Monopoly can at last start…or maybe not, as they set to arguing over who gets to use the dog token.

Short Trips Volume 3 b

I’ve called a few entries—mainly those to which the Fifth Doctor has been subjected—silly. I thought about applying the same term here; but it’s not really accurate, and at any rate I liked this story. A better term would be “absurd”, or perhaps “surreal”. That makes sense, as we’re dealing with a created realm here, similar to the Land of Fiction (The Mind Robber, et al). It’s not the most serious story ever, but it’s enjoyable just the same.

This is a multi-Doctor story of sorts, but unlike most such stories, the incarnations don’t meet. That fact dictates the story’s structure, and in turn defines it as a First Doctor story; because the incarnations don’t meet, they will each retain their memories of this situation, and so it has to take place in a very particular order. The parts of the story take place in chronological order, but the Doctors are summoned in reverse order, from Seven to One (hence the title). Otherwise, each progressive incarnation would retain the full memory of what has gone before. In this way the entities in control of the situation hedge their bets; the Doctors become successively less well informed as the contest goes on.

And contest it is. The two entities—unnamed, but affiliated with the colors black and white (and presumably not to be confused with the Black and White Guardians)—who created this Grey Space in which the Doctors find themselves, have set a test before each Doctor. There is a door which must be opened, guarded by an android which must be overcome—and one other aspect of the test as well, which I won’t spoil here. Each Doctor completes the first two parts of the test, but fails the third; only the youngest and least informed, the First Doctor, manages to succeed. There’s no solid reason why that should be so; but it is executed in a way that seems very fitting for his character.

William Russell has the smaller part in this story; he narrates the First Doctor’s segments in parts seven and eight. As usual his impersonation of the First Doctor is spot on. Oddly, his usual character, Ian Chesterton, doesn’t appear here; it is Susan who accompanies the First Doctor. Nicholas Briggs reads the other parts in the story; of course it’s long been established that he is extremely versatile with his voices, and none of his Doctor or companion roles sound bad. Of particular note is his Fourth Doctor impersonation; for a moment I thought I was hearing Tom Baker. I haven’t had much occasion to hear him impersonate Tom; I had no idea he was that good at it.

The only real problem I have with the story is a logical one. Though great pains were taken to set the story up in a believable way, it would almost have been better if the Doctors had encountered one another, so that memories wouldn’t be preserved; because the various later incarnations should have retained the First Doctor’s memory of how he defeated the entities. This is complicated by the fact that their experiences here happen in reverse order; if, say, the Seventh Doctor had remembered, and subsequently won the contest, then the First Doctor’s encounter would never have happened, setting up a paradox. In short: Time travel is confusing as always.

But regardless, if we set aside that objection, it’s a fun story. And that’s where we’ll leave it. With that, this collection ends on a high note (or at least a decent one), and we’ll move on to Volume Four! After that, we move to a monthly series format of twelve releases a year (plus the occasional bonus release). 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.

Short Trips, Volume 3

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Audio Drama Review: Wet Walls

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing our look at 2011’s Short Trips, Volume 3 with Wet Walls, featuring the Fifth Doctor and Peri. Written by Mathilde Madden, this story is read by Peter Davison, and takes place during a sometimes-controversial series of Five/Peri audios set between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume 3 a

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

Shropshire, 1903, and the rain is pouring down on an old manor house, when the TARDIS arrives. With Peri, the Doctor rings the doorbell; the woman who answers tries and fails to send them away. However, upon hearing that he is the Doctor, she mistakes him for a medical doctor, who has coincidentally been summoned; and she lets them in. She introduces herself as Gretchen, the housekeeper; and she leads them through the dilapidated house to the rooms of the lady of the manor, Lady Catherine. She explains that Lady Catherine is raving mad.

The bedroom is shuttered, lit by candles; Lady Catherine lies in bed—young, pretty, but in her own state of neglect. She is weary, but speaks to the Doctor of children—but there are no children present, and Lady Catherine has never had any. The woman continues babbling, and insists that the walls are wet, but only at night.

Gretchen insists that the walls are not actually wet, but the Doctor insists on staying overnight to investigate further. As the day turns to night, the rain stops—but the peace is broken by a scream from Peri’s room. Peri insists that the carpet and walls are wet—not just to sight, but to touch—but the Doctor cannot feel it. To him, everything is dry. The Doctor has her touch the liquid in the carpet and taste it; reluctantly she does, and realizes it is both warm and salty. They are interrupted by a scream from Catherine’s room; they find her in a state of panic over the wetness that only she—and now Peri—can see. Gretchen is also present, and scoffs; but the Doctor insists that it may not be a delusion after all. Meanwhile, Peri insists that the situation is worse in this room, with walls dripping and oozing—and there is a sound, like a heartbeat. Catherine is rocking in time with it; and, Peri insists, there is something under the bed. A red, pulsing pipe sticks out from under the bed, according to Peri. She insists it is some bloblike animal—perhaps a fetus of some sort.

The Doctor theorizes that some alien entity is using the house to gestate its young, with a zonal shift to keep it out of phase with the inhabitants, but not quite perfectly. Perhaps Peri and Catherine sense it because they are female—but then, Gretchen does not. One thing is clear, though: Catherine is at the focus of the phenomenon, and if it isn’t stopped, it will kill her. Working on a hunch, he suggests finding the creature’s father—and what better place to find an expectant father than pacing in the corridor outside?

They follow the pipe—now suspected to be an umbilical cord—into the garden. When Peri looks back at the house, she sees it covered with a membrane, and pulsing. Against her disgust, she follows the cord into some nearby bushes, and finds a small spaceship. The Doctor knocks, and it opens onto a jellylike alien inside an artificial exoskeleton. He demands an explanation. The creature tries to refuse, but the Doctor doesn’t let it withdraw. He explains to Peri that the creature is a citizen of a planet called Calopia; the Calopians are a single-sex race, ostensibly male, though they wouldn’t view it that way. They usually breed and gestate their young inside damp caverns; but why is this one here, on Earth? The creature reluctantly reveals it had no choice; it needed a copilot to fly its ship, and its first one died in an accident—it seems they stole this ship for a joyride, and crashed here. Its offspring will be mature enough to serve as a copilot in about three hours—but that’s little consolation for Catherine, who may be irretrievably insane by then!

They are interrupted by Gretchen, who is pointing a pistol at the Calopian. Before the Doctor can react, Gretchen shoots the Calopian. The Doctor snatches the gun and tosses it away—but then Peri says that the house…is hatching!

The Doctor scoops up the hatchling, and places it in the now-vacant pilot seat. Peri objects that even with its parent’s memories, it can’t fly the ship alone—but, a second creature emerges. Twins! And conveniently so, as the Doctor points out, placing the second creature in the ship.

Catherine stumbles out of the house and falls on Gretchen, asking if it is over. Gretchen’s words are lost…but it seems to be so. She escorts Catherine to the house, then returns to see the Doctor and Peri off. Peri asks why she and Catherine could see it when Gretchen couldn’t; and Gretchen admits, with some chagrin, that “she” is not a woman. “She” is secretly a man, a former footman in Catherine’s father’s household—and Catherine’s lover. They would never have been permitted to marry; and so, when Catherine inherited the manor, they adopted this ruse in order to quietly set up house together. Peri is stunned by this news; and before the situation can become any more awkward, the Doctor pulls her back to the TARDIS to depart.

Short Trips Volume 3 b

It’s beginning to seem as though the unlikely combination of body horror and silliness is uniquely the domain of the Fifth Doctor. First there was The Deep, his contribution to Short Trips, Volume 1, which saw the TARDIS turn into a whale (and nearly mate with the native whales!). Things got a little better with Sock Pig in Short Trips Volume 2, where we traded horror for sadness. Now, however, we’ve come full circle in Wet Walls. Here the Doctor finds that a manor house has been turned into an alien womb; but only Peri and the lady of the manor can see the proof. (Yes, that is a spoiler, but it’s almost unavoidable; I’ll keep the ending a secret.) Yes, it is exactly as bizarre and disgusting as it sounds.

I have to admit that I’m disappointed by the way this story—and The Deep before it—handle the Fifth Doctor. Certainly the Fifth Doctor is very different from his other incarnations; he’s famously self-effacing and sometimes passive, and it’s popularly claimed that the Sixth Doctor’s bombastic personality is a direct response to the Fifth Doctor—implying that even the Doctor doesn’t like the Fifth Doctor very much. Still, one almost gets the impression from these stories that the writers are punishing him for it, by placing him in the most unlikely, garish, and silly situations they can imagine. No other Doctor has gotten this treatment in this series (so far, anyway, but as they say, the night is young). Personally, I like the Fifth Doctor; he, more than any other, embodies the idea that there are more ways to solve a crisis than violence. I prefer to see him get a serious—or at least believable—story.

I do appreciate that Peter Davison conducts his own readings in these early volumes, as does Colin Baker. Most of the time, his performances are good; I’ve heard other commenters claim that he sounds different from his television appearances, but so far I disagree. One glaring fault with his performance here, however, is his portrayal of Peri. He goes out of his way to mimic her accent and intonation, but only manages to parody Nicola Bryant’s performances. It’s painful to listen to, and I’m glad Peri only gets a few lines here. It would be much better if he would just read the lines in his own voice and leave it to imagination. Peri also features in the next entry, with the Sixth Doctor; let’s see if Colin Baker can do it any better.

Overall: My least favorite entry in this volume so far. We’ll brush this one under the (wet) rug and move on.

Next time: We’ll join Peri and the Sixth Doctor in Murmurs of Earth! 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.

Short Trips, Volume 3

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Audio Drama Review: Nekromanteia

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re resuming our trip through the Main Range of audios with Nekromanteia. Written by Austen Atkinson and released in February 2003, this story features the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem. Let’s get started!

Nekromanteia 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

On the planet Talderun, the temple of Shara is attacked by a fleet of corporate ships. Its priestesses, led by Jal Dor Kal, move to its defense. The flagship Tempest’s commander, Harlon, fears their approach; he contacts the corporation’s CEO, Wendle Marr, and the board of directors, and tells them that the witches are capturing the ships, but the men will surely die—or worse. He then evacuates the ship and sets it to self-destruct. Angered, Marr orders his aide, Tallis, to track down and punish Harlon’s children.

The witches slaughter and devour the fleet’s crews, not knowing that Harlon and his lieutenant Cochrane have survived, and landed near the temple. Jal Dor Kal knows that a figure called the Other is coming to begin a new era. Cochrane is furious at her shipmates’ deaths, more so when she learns that Marr sent them to die in an attempt to control the temple, a massive energy converter. They search for survivors, but are themselves observed; the stranded archivist Yal Rom is watching them.

At the Garazone Bazaar, the Doctor goes to meet a Pakhar named Thesanius, who has a deal for them. He has some illicit equipment to sell to the Doctor, equipment the Doctor needs to repair the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits without the help of the Time Lords. Thesanius doesn’t like human woman, so the Doctor leaves Peri and Erimem to explore. The Doctor meets him in the midst of a bank robbery; but for the sake of the equipment, he holds his peace, and even helps Thesanius escape. Meanwhile, Erimem meets a Pakhar beggar who is sculpting a wooden statue of a demonic, centaur-like figure, called Shara. She is intrigued; he says he saw the creature once in the Nekromanteia district. Shortly thereafter the Doctor whisks her back to the TARDIS; but she asks him to visit Nekromanteia, unaware that the beggar was being controlled by Jal Dor Kal.

The telepathic circuits seem to indicate the TARDIS is being used as a telepathic relay. The Doctor suggests that the cat, Antranak, is responsible, but doesn’t have time to follow up on it. Erimem insists on visiting Nekromanteia—and the Doctor realizes that the statue she acquired has temporal coordinates on the side. Meanwhile, Jal Dor Kal and her sisters bring up a holy relic—a skeleton of a huge centaur, possibly Shara. Yal Rom hides nearby and watches, noting with surprise that the skeleton is alight with power. Harlon and Cochrane are outside, and detect power in the energy converter. They see witches searching the captured fleet for bodies. They stage an attack, and manages to eliminate the witches on hand; they break into one of the ships to set its self-destruct.

The TARDIS approaches Talderun, but is shaken by a temporal distortion. The Doctor manages to materialise inside one of the corporate ships. Erimem takes Antranak to explore, but finds a room full of bodies. One of them is still alive, though only just, and urges the Doctor to leave before the witches arrive. At that time, Harlon and Cochrane enter the chamber, and mistake Erimem and Peri for witches; Antranak moves to Erimem’s defense, and Erimem tries to catch him, prompting Harlon to shoot her.

Part Two

Harlon demands answers from the Doctor; but Jal Dor Kal has detected them, and resurrects her fallen witches to attack them. They manage to kidnap Peri before Harlon activates the ship’s emergency transmat. The Doctor, Erimem, Antranak, Harlon, and Cochrane are all transmatted away, but Peri is not. Jal Dor Kal stops the attack, satisfied that the Other is safe and Peri—the chosen sacrifice—is now inside the temple. The bodies of the witches dissolve as she sends Peri to be cleansed for the ceremony. Yal Rom watches all of this from hiding, recording his observations in his log. Peri is annointed with oils by the witches, and hears Jal Dor Kal’s voice in her head; the purpose of her sacrifice is to bring the Other into the temple.

Meanwhile, Marr’s corruption is nearly getting the better of him. He faces an accusation from a board member, who claims he has abused a workforce at the corporation’s Alpha Project on Challis Prime, and now has lost the fleet in the Nekromanteia district. He manages to thwart the attempt and has the board member executed, prompting the board to vote an extra 20 billion credits for the Alpha Project. Marr then promises the workers pensions and safety if they complete the project…and then issues orders to Tallis to kill all the workers when the project is done, and place the credits in his personal accounts (with a provision for Tallis, as well).

Harlon mocks the Doctor’s belief that Peri is alive, but allows him to treat Erimem with the ship’s medical supplies. The Doctor then deceives Harlon into believing he is an agent of Harlon’s superior, who ordered this mission. Harlon says he intends to complete a backup plan, releasing poison gas into the temple to kill the witches; energy weapons won’t work this close to the energy converter. The Doctor detects particles coming from the converter, particles which seem to defy physics; this is why Marr wants the converter. Unknown to any of them, Marr is on his way to Talderun in person at this moment—and he has already betrayed Harlon with another alliance…

Yal Rom, against his personal oaths, breaks into the baths and frees the drugged Peri. She is disoriented, but follows him out. They pass through the chamber that holds the relic, beneath the witches’ amphitheatre, where Rom examines the relic, and finds that it cannot be touched—his hand passes through it.

As Erimem recovers, the Doctor explains that he thinks she was influenced to come here. To resolve the mystery, he needs to see the converter—but that means eluding Harlon and Cochrane. Erimem offers a distraction, as she is too weak to go with him. She threatens to detonate a powerful grenade; Harlon realizes it’s a bluff, but the Doctor has escaped by then. He sends Cochrane after the Doctor—and he intends to have his way with Erimem while they are alone.

The Doctor reaches the temple…just as Jal Dor Kal determines that Peri is gone. She raises the relic, and sends her witches to attack the Doctor. He warns her of a massive temporal disturbance, but she ignores him—and beheads him, then sets the witches to devour him.

Part Three

Peri and Yal Rom escape, and run a scan for the Doctor’s life signs. Meanwhile Cochrane returns to Harlon, and finds that the man has beaten Erimem nearly to death. He berates Harlon, but then Yal Rom and Peri arrive with gas grenades, knocking them out. They escape with Erimem, who says that she fought Harlon off, preventing him from doing worse than beating her. However, Rom reveals that his scan revealed only two male life signs on the planet—himself and Harlon. The Doctor, it appears, is dead. Erimem and Peri vow to honour the Doctor by ending the witches and Harlon, and they join Yal Rom. Rom, for his part, believes the Doctor was from a rival historical institution; he takes the two women in, but is prepared to kill them if they betray him. Meanwhile the Doctor finds himself watching cricket at the 2060 Barcelona Olympics alongside the English coach, Paul Addison, unsure of how he got there—but sure that things are not as they seem.

Harlon contacts Marr and negotiates payment and travel guarantees—but then reveals that others are on Talderun. Marr angrily withdraws the travel guarantees and places a warrant for the death of Harlon’s family, executable if he fails to eliminate the others on the planet. He then contacts Jal Dor Kal, with whom he has a deal, and warns her that there is still danger on the planet. Jal Dor Kal is not alarmed; she believes victory to be close.

The cricket match ends—and begins again. Addison assures the Doctor he is actually dead; when the Doctor refuses to play along, Addison reveals that he is in fact Shara. He claims the Doctor is dead, and only exists now in this looped, protected moment; but he says that they were both explorers in life, and now can have all of eternity brought for them to view here. Meanwhile Peri and Erimem arm themselves and follow Yal Rom into the temple; he holds off the witches while they enter the relic’s mausoleum. Antranak stows away in Erimem’s bag. They place transmat signal boosters around the relic, planning to beam it directly to Yal Rom’s ship despite its interference. Peri, for one, doesn’t fully trust the archivist; but as Erimem points out, they don’t have many options. They activate the transmat, and the relic disappears—but the mausoleum begins to shake. Yal Rom enters, followed by the now-terrified witches, and the ceiling collapses, trapping them all inside. Back on the corporate ship, Harlon detects the transmat and the power surge, and realizes what has happened; without the relic, the power imbalance will destroy the planet. He and Cochrane take off to find the ship containing the relic.

The Doctor, too, realizes the situation—Shara created a stable paradise for himself, but at the cost of phenomenal amounts of power. Shara admits he sacrificed himself and his own potential history—with all its temporal energy—to the converter, then left his followers to maintain it. What he did not anticipate were the generations of wars over the relic when word got out; and if the relic is ever removed, the resulting explosion might even rupture the time vortex. At that moment, the time loop begins to break down—because the relic has in fact been stolen, and now the universe is at risk.

Part Four

Jal Dor Kal explains that she worshipped the relic for centuries, but also knew it for what it was. She takes Antranak from Erimem, and orders the witches to cut out Yal Rom’s tongue for the cat to eat. They also cut out his heart, killing him. The imbalance grows stronger, and the roof caves in fully, forcing them to flee. Meanwhile Shara detects the problem, and decides to restore the Doctor to life so that he can return the relic, saving the universe. He recreate’s the Doctor’s body from the substance of his pocket dimension, and restores his consciousness to it, resurrecting him inside the temple. The Doctor wastes no time, convincing Jal Dor Kal to listen to him.

Harlon and Cochrane locate Yal Rom’s ship, which is cloaked, just as Marr’s ship arrives in the system. Marr demands Harlon’s data on the converter, but Harlon cuts contact and goes after the relic. However, Marr detects the cloaked ship, and believes it to be a rival, and orders Tallis to destroy it. The relic is destroyed with it; Marr is unaware he may have just condemned the universe. Harlon’s ship is struck by debris from Yal Rom’s, and is forced back to the surface.

Shara and Jal Dor Kal both know the relic is destroyed, and now nothing can stop the destruction of the vortex. However the Doctor knows their only hope is to replace the relic with another similar lodestone—and Jal Dor Kal admits that this was her plan all along. She intended to restore Shara to life and offer herself to take his place. However, it is too late; and she is crushed under rubble in the temple.

Marr and Tallis land and confront Harlon, demanding the data cube. Marr has Tallis kill Cochrane; but Harlon threatens to throw the cube into lava unless Marr explains why he sent so many people to die. Marr explains that the Alpha Project is a duplicate of the temple, intended to copy Shara’s work and allow Marr to live in eternal bliss. Harlon tells him that Marr has already caused the destruction of the relic; he then tosses the cube in the lava, declaring that the universe is safer without gods like Marr. Marr sees defeat in this act, and orders Tallis to have Harlon’s family executed. Instead, Tallis kills Marr. She then takes Harlon with her in Marr’s ship, and suggests that he become Chairman of the corporation in Marr’s place…with her holding power in secret, as she has done all along.

Peri and Erimem catch up with the Doctor as he tries to save Jal Dor Kal. Just before she dies, she explains that the Other must stand in the place of the relic on the altar; but she dies before revealing the identity of the Other. The Doctor believes it is him, and prepares to sacrifice himself; Erimem offers to do so instead, pointing out that she was the one drawn here. While they argue, Antranak leaps onto the altar, and is struck by an energy release, stabilizing the power in the temple. He staggers off…but Shara speaks through him, having possessed the cat. Shara accepts his own death as part of life, and dies.

As the Doctor, Peri, and Erimem return to the TARDIS, the Doctor wonders if Antranak was driven by the force that possessed him back in Egypt…but Erimem chooses to believe that the cat chose to sacrifice himself.

Nekromanteia 2

I’ve heard that this series of Five/Peri/Erimem audios is a little controversial, chiefly for the fact that they reduce the impact of the Fifth Doctor’s sacrifice for the brand-new Peri in The Caves of Androzani. While I agree with that point, I’ve enjoyed the audios so far; the previous entry, The Church and the Crown, was especially enjoyable. I suppose it had to happen eventually, then; we finally reach an entry that is not very good.

The various elements of the story feel recycled. You have the standard “ancient temple/universe-ending power” combo, which was done much better in…well, many stories, but The Highest Science comes to mind. (To be fair, I’m referring to the novel; I haven’t listened to the audio adaptation.) You have the Garazone Bazaar, which is always entertaining (I, for one, would like to see it appear on television), but which was better under the Eighth Doctor in Sword of Orion. The witch cult on the planet Talderun comes across as a cheaper take on the Sisterhood of Karn (now with 100% more zombies!). The archivist Yal Rom is yet another unreliable ally of a type we’ve seen often. The ostensible disembodied villain, Shara, is not what he seems; we’ve seen this plot device as far back as Whispers of Terror. I often point out that after 50+ years, it’s hard to have a plot element that isn’t recycled, but it’s not often we get such a collection of recycling in one place.

It’s a rather darker story than we usually get, as well. It’s not uncommon to have stories with large numbers of deaths, and we tick that box early in this story with the defeat of a corporate space fleet. However, we follow that up with necrophagy—the witches in this story eat the dead—which is much more grim than the average Doctor Who story. We also have the Doctor aiding and abetting a bank robbery (and without the heavy rationalization that allows a story like Time Heist), which is a bit out of character even for him, and especially for the Fifth Doctor. He himself is killed, definitively, later in the story; he is beheaded, and his body eaten by the witches. Obviously that isn’t final, but still, it’s not something we see ordinarily. The corporate representatives here are all despicable, and spend most of the story double-crossing each other and anyone they encounter; that’s consistent with Doctor Who’s usual views of large corporations in the future, but it’s jarring to realize that there’s nothing redeeming in any of these people.

I’ve already spoiled more details than perhaps I should; so I won’t delve into the outcome of the story. However, I need to mention that this is the final appearance of Erimem’s cat, Antranak; and indeed, the animal has a greater role in the story than one might expect. This, coupled with the fact that this is Erimem’s first trip to another planet, means that this story occurs shortly after No Place Like Home.

Continuity References: The Garazone Bazaar first appeared in Sword of Orion; it will later appear in the Dalek Empire series and in the Tenth Doctor/Donna Noble novel Beautiful Chaos. The rodentlike Pakhars most recently appeared in Bang-Bang-a-Boom!, and first appeared in Legacy. Erimem is aware of explosives and gunpowder after The Church and the Crown. Peri’s hometown of Baltimore is noted to have been ruined in the Dalek invasion of Earth in the 22nd century (The Dalek Invasion of Earth), though we didn’t see it onscreen there. The Doctor mentions the force that possessed Antranak in The Eye of the Scorpion.

Overall, not the greatest story, though it did give Antranak a noble end. It’s a tolerable listen, but it’s nothing to write home about. Still, it’s behind us now, and we can move on to better entries ahead!

Next time: We’ll pick up a thread that we last visited all the way back in The Shadow of the Scourge, and revisit the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Bernice Summerfield in The Dark Flame! 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.

Nekromanteia

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