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: Orbis

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! After an extended delay, today we’re returning to the Eighth Doctor Adventures range with the first entry of Series 3, Orbis. Released in March 2009, this story was written by Alan Barnes and Nicholas Briggs, and features Paul McGann, Sheridan Smith, and Katarina Olsson. Let’s get started!

Orbis 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: Picking up where we last saw her, Lucie Miller sits at home, six months after the death of the Doctor and the fabled Time Lord Morbius. She answers the door to find the Headhunter, who promptly shoots her with a strange gun.

Lucie awakens to find herself unharmed, inside the TARDIS, with the Headhunter at the controls. The Headhunter explains that the gun fires quantum-tipped time bullets, which can be “un-shot” as well as fired at various speeds; therefore she “un-shot” Lucie. She pilots the TARDIS (a bit roughly, admittedly) to what she calls “tweenspace”—a place where the dregs of the cosmos settle—where the Doctor is allegedly alive, having been transported away mid-fall by the Sisterhood of Karn. She insists the universe is being destroyed, and only the Doctor can save it.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is on the tweenspace world of Orbis. He whiles away his time on repairing a small spaceship, accompanied by the planet’s jellyfish-like inhabitants, the Keltans. He is approached by a Keltan named Selta, who warns him of a storm, but inadvertantly causes him to break the ship engine’s drive belt. He muses that a good pair of tights would fix it—but there are no bipeds on this planet, and Earth is a long way away. He diverts his attention to the storm—he has lived here much longer than any other inhabitant, and he knows something is wrong; the storm season should have long since ended.

Out in space, ships approach. They carry representatives of the Molluscari race, with whom the Keltans previously fought a minor war; the war was ended by the Doctor, who petitioned the Galactic Council for intervention. Molluscari Secretary Saccostrea meets with her leader, Crassostrea. The rather rotund Crassostrea is in the process of transforming from male to female in preparation for spawning. Saccostrea reports that Orbis has been scanned, and is confirmed to be experiencing atmospheric changes; this will be terrible for the Keltans, but fortuitous for the Molluscari. Crassostrea reports the findings to the Galactic Council in a bid to claim the planet. Meanwhile, aboard the TARDIS, the Headhunter tells Lucie that she acquired the ship from the Sisterhood, who had held it as a trophy of sorts. With some difficulty, she sends it heading for Orbis.

On Orbis, the Doctor helps rescue a young Keltan from a well. In the process he evaluates the recent storm damage, and decides to help the Keltans put their homes on stilts for safety from floods. The town’s leader, Yanos, thanks him, but admits that he worries for the planet in the face of its continuing changes. The Doctor encourages him, reminding him of how they overcame the Molluscari. Unfortunately, he is unaware that even now, the Council has decided that the Keltans’ claim to Orbis has become untenable—and they have granted the Molluscari permission to claim the planet.

In the TARDIS, the Headhunter explains that the TARDIS, without the Doctor, is dying, and expelling temporal waste, which is in turn the source of the danger to the universe. However, she doesn’t really want to save the Doctor—she wants him to regenerate the ship and then transfer it to her. She aims to use Lucie to compel him; she reveals that there is still a time bullet in Lucie’s brain, which will kill her unless the Doctor cooperates. Meanwhile the Doctor muses on the moon of Orbis; it neither rises nor sets, but is fixed over a point fifty miles out at sea. He and Selta are interrupted, however, by the arrival of the Molluscari ships. They rouse the village to alarm. Aboard ship, Crassostrea wants to blast the Keltans, but Saccostrea intervenes; their rights to the planet are not yet active, and they are here to warn the Keltans of the plan. Crassostrea addresses them, and debates with Yanos and the Doctor, and provides a data pearl containing the Council’s declaration, which states that the ecological changes have mooted the Keltans’ claim to the world. Crassostrea cuts off one of Yanos’s tentacles in the process of relinquishing the pearl; in response, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to begin vibrating the Molluscari out of their shells, inflicting pain on them. The invaders retreat, and their ships take off. The Doctor and Yanos begin plans for defense.

The TARDIS lands on the planet, and the Headhunter sends Lucie out…directly into the ocean. With a high salt content, it will buoy her up—but she’ll have plenty of time to think as she floats the fifty miles to the Doctor’s beach. The Headhunter then contacts an unknown recipient and transmits a set of coordinates, making plans for an ocean dive at dawn.

Lucie awakens to find Selta standing over her, and is frightened; she has a bad history with jellyfish. However, they patch up their differences—until Lucie mentions her soaked tights. When Selta hears that word, she recognizes it as the thing the Doctor previously mentioned, and she rips the tights off of Lucie and runs off. Lucie chases her back to the small spaceship, where she finds the Doctor—but he ignores her and takes the tights to repair the ship. He doesn’t seem to remember her at all; and Lucie realizes that he has lost his memory.

Part Two: Lucie is angry when she discovers that the Doctor can’t remember her, and she slaps him before storming off, leaving him to his work with Selta. However, he suddenly recalls that Orbis never had a moon before; he can remember it suddenly appearing a few decades ago. In the meantime, he uses Lucie’s tights to repair the spaceship’s engine and power it up. He laughs at Selta’s suggestion that he plans to return to Earth—a planet to which he no longer feels any attachment—but then tells her that the approaching moon is causing the increase in storms. He plans to contact the galactic council about this situation; but he really wants to visit the moon. Selta suggests asking Lucie about his TARDIS; and he realizes that the only reason Selta and Lucie can understand each other is because the TARDIS is translating—meaning Lucie’s story is true! He runs off to find her.

Elsewhere, the TARDIS lands aboard a Molluscari ship, and the Headhunter meets with Saccostrea. She forces Saccostrea to bring Crassostrea to her, instead of the other way around. They oversee the aforementioned dive, which is at first unsuccessful, costing the lives of the divers; the Headhunter insists on sending down more. Eventually they successfully retrieve the small object that she is searching for.

The Doctor finds Lucie, who tells him that the Headhunter—whom he only vaguely recalls—has the TARDIS. He makes her slap him again, and tells him that her fingers are charged with chronon particles from the TARDIS, which are slowly reviving his memory. She refuses, until he angers her by insisting that he is a different man now, and will not leave Orbis after saving it. Selta arrives at that time, and says that Yanos has received a message from the council. The Doctor unsuccessfully argues with the council for intervention, but they are not willing to act until a cooling-off period has passed. They are interrupted by the return of the Molluscari, who announce that they are claiming the planet. However, Crassostrea announces that, in a gesture of solidarity, she will transport select Keltans to an artificial habitat elsewhere in the galaxy. She asks for volunteers to come to the beach.

While the Doctor is trying to think of a solution, the Headhunter arrives and mocks him for his futility. She advises Yanos to take the Molluscari offer. Selta reveals that she is in league with the Headhunter, and also advises taking the offer; Lucie tries to intervene, and is forced to bite Selta to get free. The Doctor gives his screwdriver to Selta for protection and tells her to keep the Molluscari busy. Lucie tries to attack the Headhunter, but the woman shoots her with her time-bullet weapon. Saccostrea—aboard ship—tells Crassostrea that the Keltans are gathering; Crassostrea orders more ships in to begin “processing” them.

Lucie is not dead; the bullet is moving into her chest at a rate of one millimeter every thirty seconds. The Headhunter offers to save her, and even return the TARDIS, if the Doctor will do something for her. She produces the device found in the sea, and breaks off the encrusting coral, revealing the control device for Morbius’s stellar manipulator; the Doctor was holding the activator when he fell into the abyss centuries earlier. She says it will only respond to a Time Lord; as all the others are in hiding, that only leaves him. She orders him to turn it off. He refuses, believing that Lucie is working with the Headhunter and that they have planned this together, and he leaves to help the Keltans.

Meanwhile, Crassostrea tells the Keltans that many more Molluscari ships are en route. When she sees that Yanos is afraid, she tells her troops to terrorize the Keltans—after all, frightened Keltans make the best food…

Lucie intercepts the Doctor, but she cannot convince him of her innocence. He only relents when she tells him the TARDIS is also dying. The Headhunter joins them and directs them to the massacre—no, the feast—about to happen on the beach. Crassostrea tells Yanos that the Molluscari will use the waters of Orbis to spawn, but before they can do so, they must feast. Selta threatens her with the screwdriver in an attempt to rescue Yanos; forced to use it, she focuses on Saccostrea, who quickly dies. As she turns it on Crassostrea, the Doctor steps up and takes it from her, quietly condemning her actions—it’s a tool, not a weapon. Crassostrea, meanwhile, shrugs it off; she planned on eating Saccostrea anyway.

The Doctor reveals that he already knew the truth about Selta’s bargain with the Molluscari—the readings from the data pearl could only have been taken from the surface, and in fact they precisely match the atmospheric scanner he and Selta had used. She says that the catastrophe facing them was beyond even the Doctor, and she had only sought to save as many of her kin as possible—in fact, she herself has decided to stay behind and die with the Doctor. He rejects the offer—he only wanted a friend, not a martyr. He tries to order the Molluscari off the planet, but fails.

The Headhunter again mocks him for his efforts. She has the TARDIS brought out from the Molluscari ship and tells the Doctor he must leave the Keltans to die. He refuses; Lucie joins him, but is stunned to discover that the Molluscari plan to eat the Keltans. Crassostrea wants to kill the Doctor and Lucie, but the Headhunter stops her; he has not yet turned off the stellar manipulator. Lucie makes a speech, pleading for the Keltans’ lives; the Doctor finally seems to remember her. He takes out the activator and asks the Headhunter to un-shoot Lucie; she does so. However, the Doctor refuses to turn the activator off, and increases its power.

A clap of thunder is heard, and the sky goes white. The Keltans erupt into a panicked frenzy. The moon begins accelerating toward Orbis. The Headhunter berates the Doctor; the moon is the stellar manipulator! Now, through his stupidity, it will indeed destroy Orbis. He tries to deactivate it, but the controls are jammed. The oceans begin to boil, and the temperature rises; the Doctor orders Crassostrea to evacuate, but she can’t—the rising temperatures are causing her to spawn early. At the same time, the temperatures drive the other Molluscari into a feeding frenzy, and they begin to slaughter the Keltans.

The Headhunter congratulates him on his failure, and urges him into the TARDIS, but he refuses to leave the Keltans. He throws the activator into the sea to be destroyed with the planet. Suddenly horrified, the Headhunter prepares to leave in the TARDIS; the Doctor, meanwhile, declares he is no longer a time traveller, and is prepared to die here. Lucie grabs the time-bullet gun and shoots him.

Inside the TARDIS, and once safely away, the Headhunter un-shoots the Doctor, who recovers at once. He angrily denounces Lucie for saving him against his wishes, but she insists it wasn’t just for her; it was for the universe, as the TARDIS is still causing destruction. The Headhunter laughs and says that she made that part up to motivate Lucie. When Lucie tries to attack her, she threatens Lucie with the gun. The Doctor discovers that Orbis is gone; the Headhunter explains that the manipulator consumed the planet, and having also consumed its activator, it destroyed itself. She tells him that while he’s been away, she and others have had to save the universe in his absence; it really can’t do without him. Now, with him back, she can leave. She tells him he has to sort out his issues himself, and then she teleports back to her warp ship.

The Doctor is awash in guilt, and Lucie also apologizes for tricking him. Lucie gently reminds him that Earth and other planets still need saving; with nowhere else to go, he sets course for Earth.

Orbis 2

The Doctor and Lucie are back, but it’s not a happy reunion. For Lucie it’s been months; for the Doctor it’s been six hundred years—and worse, he doesn’t remember her. Without his TARDIS, he has renounced the time-traveling life and settled down on the world of Orbis, after a random teleport by the sister during his final fall in the preceding serial. If only the Doctor could find a world that isn’t in danger…

It’s a grim story, with no sign of a happy ending anywhere. Many Doctor Who stories can be viewed/read/listened to as standalone items; this is not one of them. It relies heavily on the events of last season’s cliffhanger; and its dismal ending just begs for redemption later in the season. It remains to be seen whether we’ll get it. Now, an unhappy ending is not altogether unheard of in Doctor Who. What sets this story apart—and I’m not calling it unique, but it is certainly rare—is that the Doctor utterly fails. It’s quite common for the body count to be high even when the Doctor wins; but win, he usually does. Here, he loses, thoroughly and handily; the fact that he takes most of his opponents with him in his failure doesn’t make up for that. He’s left wracked with guilt at the end, but reluctantly resumes his traveling life—older, perhaps wiser, but certainly more weary.

Guilt is a fairly common theme for the Eighth Doctor. He is a man of many regrets—just look at his last moments, in The Night of the Doctor, where his penultimate words are an apology. It’s perhaps appropriate, then, that this story also includes another frequent Eighth Doctor theme: Amnesia. When he meets Lucie Miller in this story, he has long forgotten her, although he seems to remember events prior to his time with her. He regains his memory in the same story, but it’s not stated how much he remembers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this continue to be a factor. Personally, I think these two themes are a bit poetic; on the one hand, the Doctor has much for which to feel guilty, but on the other hand, he mercifully forgets a lot of it (over the course of his life, that is—not in the particulars of this story).

This story takes steps to codify a longstanding theory: The theory that the Doctor can’t remember how old he is. In speaking about his age—the Keltans call him “Old Doctor”, which he resents—he admits that he can’t remember it, and usually rounds a bit for the sake of local time anyway. Perhaps this is spelled out in other stories, but this is the first time I’ve seen it; and I, for one, am glad to see it acknowledged. Given that this happens, here, in the Eighth Doctor’s life, it makes the outlandish figures cited by the NuWho Doctors a little easier to understand. I was a little less thrilled to see six centuries randomly inserted into his lifespan—it’s the Siege of Trenzalore before it was cool. It is what it is, but I don’t have to like it.

I knew it was coming, after the cliffhanger last season; but I was happy to see Katarina Olsson’s Headhunter return. She’s proven to be an interesting character: a bit like the Master (or Missy, more to the point), but without the delusions of grandeur. She’s happy to be both a schemer and an accomplice; she likes to be in the thick of things, but doesn’t want to be the primary villain (well, of course she doesn’t think of herself as a villain, but you know what I mean). We find her with yet more plots in the works at the end of this story; I won’t spoil it, but then, it would be hard to spoil, as it’s couched in the usual evasive terminology. I found her weapon of the day, a gun using “quantum-tipped time bullets”, to be silly; it’s a ridiculous bit of technobabble even for a show that plays with time-travel like Play-Dough. There could easily have been better ways to threaten Lucie’s life; I hope that device will be abandoned from this point.

While the Doctor has changed, Lucie hasn’t, and that’s a good thing. I’ve often found myself comparing her to Clara Oswald. In many ways the two companions are similar—both from Blackpool, similar ages, similar personalities and speech patterns (in fact, they’re close enough in age and time period that it’s not unreasonable that they may have met). However, if the Headhunter is Missy without the delusions of grandeur, then Lucie is Clara without delusions of grandeur; and for that I like her more. If the fans who have long wished for an Eighth Doctor series ever got their wish, I’d love for her to make an appearance. In this story, she is—to borrow an old pun—just what the Doctor ordered; it’s Lucie who brings him back to himself, though it’s a painful experience for him. It’s further evidence that the Eighth Doctor Adventures are really Lucie’s story as much as the Doctor’s—another way in which she’s similar to Clara, though I think the balance was tipped even more heavily toward Clara.

Continuity references are mostly to earlier EDAs. Lucie mentions the service station from Horror of Glam Rock, and the Dalek invasion from Blood of the Daleks. Morbius (The Vengeance of Morbius) is mentioned, but not seen; however, he’s not conclusively seen to be dead, either, leaving it open for him to return. The Doctor also makes general references to other companions and trips to Earth, but generally without specifics, though he does mention “Axons”, “Autons”, and other multiple-appearance villains.

Overall: This is certainly a downer of a season opener. It’s still a good story; but don’t come here looking for laughs or rainbows. I’m interested to see where it goes from here. Still, it’s good to have Lucie and the Doctor back; as it’s been a year since I last posted in this series, it actually feels like a significant gap for me as well as for the characters. I expect good things to come.

Next time: I’m still considering myself to be on hiatus from this review series, so I can’t guarantee it will be in the next few weeks; but when we return, we’ll continue with the Eighth Doctor and Lucie in Hothouse, the second entry in Series Three of the EDAs! 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.

Orbis

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Audio Drama Review: The Oseidon Adventure

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Oseidon Adventure, the conclusion to the Fourth Doctor Adventures, series one. Let’s get started!

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

Oseidon Adventure 1

Immediately following the events of Trail of the White Worm, the Doctor and Leela watch as the white worm transforms into a spatial wormhole, and the Master calls his allies through.  Many tanks come through the wormhole, until the Master stops the rain, causing the procession to stop.  The tanks are occupied by Kraals of the Second Kraal Army—and they are led by Marshal Grinmal, who remembers how the Doctor destroyed the first army.  The Master offers the Doctor as a gift to the Kraals, who summon their deadly android servants.  The Doctor sends Leela away as the Androids take him down; she promises to return with allies and weapons.  The Master sends Spindleton in his own tank to recapture her.  Grinmal wants to take the Doctor back to their homeworld of Oseidon, but the Master wants to kill him now; the androids intervene and disarm the Master, taking away his staser; they then send the Doctor back through the wormhole to their chief scientist, Tyngworg.  Meanwhile, Spindleton loses Leela in the woods, and sends his helicopter to find her.  The Kraals bring the Master back to the house with Spindleton.  Grinmal negotiates with Spindleton, who wants to rule England when the Kraals conquer the rest of the world; Grinmal approves the plan, and imprisons the Master in the stables; he swears revenge.

Leela uses a horse from the stables to trample the androids guarding the Master. He tries to hypnotize her, but she slaps him, breaking the spell; she frees him, intending to make him fly the TARDIS to rescue the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Spindleton and Grinmal confer about strategy, and Spindleton wants them to attack the local village, Dark Peak, as an example to the surrounding country.  Spindleton wants to burn it, but Grinmal suggests a matter-dissolving bomb.  On Oseidon, the Doctor is restrained by Tyngworg; he jokes about having been strapped to that table before.  Tyngworg intends to drain off the Doctor’s knowledge with an analyzer device, as his predecessor once tried to do; it will take eight minutes.  Outside Spindleton’s house, Spindleton and Grinmal see Leela and the Master race by on one of Spindleton’s prize horses; Spindleton prevents Grinmal from shooting them, for fear of hurting the horse, assuming that the army will hem them in.  Grinmal dispatches the army toward Dark Peak.  Leela gets the Master to the TARDIS, but the Kraals are guarding it; therefore Leela takes Master and the horse through the wormhole to Oseidon.  Beholding the ruined landscape, the Master explains that the surface is radioactive; he suggests that the Doctor is in the nearest of the Kraals’ underground bunker.  Unknown to them, Tyngworg is monitoring the area, and overhears the plan.

The Master and Leela find the Doctor, who is disoriented and calls Leela “Tilly”; he explains about the transfer (or rather, copy) of his knowledge. Tyngworg is monitoring the cell as well, and hears the Doctor tell Leela that the Master will be dropping in on Tyngworg, and that therefore they should go there as well.  Moments later, the Master arrives, but Tyngworg is on his side; Tyngworg mentions that the Doctor in the cell is an android duplicate, which does not know it is a duplicate.  Tyngworg insists he is aware of events on Earth.  The Master tries to hypnotize him, but is unsuccessful, and finds that he himself is an android; Tyngworg is the real Master in disguise.  He sheds the disguise and destroys the duplicate.  The real Doctor is still on the table; he congratulates the Master on his success; however, the Master still intends to kill him.  First, however, he resumes Tyngworg’s voice and calls Grinmal for an update; Grinmal reports that Spindleton has delivered a slightly-eccentric ultimatum to the British government.  He also reveals that UNIT is approaching, and the Master orders him to detonate the bomb as soon as UNIT arrives, even if the ultimatum has not been answered.  When Grinmal objects, he activates an override code for the androids, ordering them to return to Dark Peak and activate the bomb.  The Doctor congratulates him again, but then says it may have been a mistake to leave him connected to the analyzer; his ongoing experiences are still being fed to the android duplicate, so that it knows everything now.  The android arrives to attack, but is shot down at once; but the Doctor is not deterred.  Instead, his duplicate had taken the opportunity to create a Tyngworg duplicate, which is even now ordering the androids to disarm the bomb and attack the Kraals.  The Master loses contact with Grinmal, but in retaliation, he orders an autodestruct of the android Tyngworg.  He then moves to attack the Doctor, but suddenly funds that again, he is an android—and as he ceases to function, the real Master has yet to be seen.  Leela rejoins the real Doctor at the behest of the duplicate—and the Doctor wonders where the real Master is, and what he is doing, as the Kraal invasion seems to be a distraction.

On Earth, UNIT is mopping up the Kraals and the androids, but they can’t find Spindleton, and astrange-colored blood trail leads into the woods. The duty officer at UNIT HQ hands the base over to the Master, and is killed for his trouble.  Spindleton and the Master infiltrate the Doctor’s old lab at UNIT, where Spindleton begins to rebel; however, the Master hypnotizes him and sends him out to join the guards.  On Oseidon, the Doctor and Leela create a new duplicate of the Master to interrogate.  The duplicate doesn’t believe he is an android, so the Doctor has him try (and fail) to hypnotize Leela; he lacks the psychic empathy field that real Time Lords possess, and therefore cannot do it.  Leela intends to melt him down, causing him to beg them to stop; the Doctor wants him to betray his original self, but he refuses.  The Doctor realizes that the wormhole is an integral part of the Master’s plan, but how?  He realizes the duplicates have the Master’s personality, but not his knowledge relevant to the current situation; therefore he looks at recently-deleted items in the Kraal computer.  He finds a file indicating that two types of harmless radiation, Z-radiation and O-radiation, can combine to create deadly ZO-radiation, which has the power of a billion neutron stars.  The Master duplicate realizes that the real Master wants this radiation to restart his regeneration cycle and become functionally immortal.  If he does so inside the wormhole, he will survive the process.  Oseidon is saturated with O-radiation; for the requisite Z-radiation, he turned to Earth, knowing that the Third Doctor once stashed a Z-radiation battery in UNIT HQ after failing to jump-start the TARDIS with it.  The android breaks free of its restraints, forcing the Doctor and Leela to run away.  The duplicate accesses the records to learn the real Master’s plan; but he finds a message from the real Master, who anticipated this possibility.  Accessing the deleted files activated a matter dissolution bomb under the lab, which will detonate in seconds.

Outside, Leela recovers the horse, and uses it to get them back through the wormhole to Earth. There they meet Captain Clarke, who is acting commander of UNIT while the Brigadier is away on business in Canada; the Doctor has him contact HQ, but he gets no response.  The Doctor realizes the Master must already be there, trying to steal the battery.  The Doctor persuades Clarke to order the convoy back to HQ; he takes Leela to recover the TARDIS and get there ahead of the soldiers.  He insists that if the Master has already succeeded, Clarke will meet him on the way back to the wormhole; the battery plays havoc with TARDIS navigation systems, forcing the Master to transport it by road.  At the TARDIS, they encounter Grinmal, who alone survived the betrayal.  Leela subdues him.  However, the Doctor hears a helicopter, and realizes that the Master is sending the battery through the wormhole in that manner.  As anyone aboard will die in the detonation, the Master can’t be there; and they only have until he arrives to recover the battery and seal the wormhole.  Grinmal realizes his world is about to be destroyed, and volunteers to help stop the Master; he takes Leela and goes to recover the battery, while the Doctor wants to find out how to seal the wormhole.  Meanwhile, Spindleton has arrived on Oseidon with one of his men and the battery; they set up in the mock village of Devesham that the Kraals use as a training center.

Using the TARDIS, the Doctor intercepts the Master, who admits to the plan. The Doctor tricks him into admitting that a temporal pulse will close the wormhole, as executable by any TARDIS.  However, the Doctor reveals that the ZO radiation cannot be controlled; he suggests that this Master as well is a duplicate, and that the real Master is waiting in orbit.  The Master draws a staser, and decides to kill the Doctor at once.  On Oseidon, Leela and Grinmal kill Spindleton’s man, and intends to recover the battery, but Spindleton reveals that it is very unstable, and will trigger if he falls on it.  He reveals his goal in the plan; the Master promised him a rebuilt country, filled with android duplicates which will obey him.  Spindleton shoots Grinmal.

The Doctor demands proof that this Master is genuine before he dies; he suggests that the real Master intentionally withheld knowledge about the uncontrollable nature of the radiation. The Master insists he is real because he can sense a Time Lord in the vicinity (a function of the psychic empathy field), whereas the Doctor doesn’t sense one.  The Doctor admits defeat.  The Master contacts Spindleton and reasserts his control over him; Leela sees this and attacks Spindleton, dragging him away from the battery.  The Master tells the Doctor he will activate the battery by remote; and he forces the Doctor toward the wormhole.  However, the android from the exploding lab comes through the wormhole, having escaped the blast with only some damage; the real Master fires on him, but staser blasts can’t hurt an android, and the duplicate captures him, leaving the remote with the Doctor.  The duplicate drags the real Master into his TARDIS, intending to force him to repair him and give him control of the TARDIS, as he now considers his android self to be the superior version of the Master.  The Doctor bids them goodbye, and takes his own TARDIS to Oseidon’s Devesham.  He finds Leela and Spindleton, and plans to take Spindleton to UNIT custody; but Spindleton intends to stay here, finding this mock village preferable to the real England.  He sends them away, but asks them to take the horse home and set it free; though it’s a magnificent horse, history reports that it was a famous stolen horse, and therefore they can’t return it to its original owners.  They depart in the TARDIS with the horse.

Oseidon Adventure 2

After a rocky start, the first series of Fourth Doctor Adventures ends strong in this story. We pick up immediately after the events of the previous entry, Trail of the White Worm, with the titular worm having transformed into a wormhole to the planet Oseidon, home of the mutated and militaristic Kraals. In typical Master fashion, what follows is a series of twists. The Kraals are known for one thing in particular; they create fantastic android duplicates which have not only the form of their victims, but also the personality. Therefore, once this story begins, it will be a long time before you know who is real and who isn’t. I won’t spoil it; but for once the twists are perfectly deployed. Once again we see the mock village of Devesham as deployed in The Android Invasion; and this time it ends up with a permanent human resident at the end (although, if he is not also an android, he may not last very long—a point that isn’t really addressed when the Doctor leaves him there).

This is a UNIT story, and as such it is hard to get a firm date. The promotional material indicates it takes place in 1979, but with the difficulty in dating UNIT stories near the end of the Brigadier’s tenure (due to contradictory statements within the classic series—the infamous “UNIT dating controversy”), it may actually have to be as early as 1975. UNIT HQ is mostly unchanged, with the Doctor’s things still in the lab. The Brigadier is still around, but is not seen here, being on assignment in Canada. The Master seen here is again the Geoffrey Beevers incarnation as seen up to The Keeper of Traken, indicating this story predates that serial, but comes after Dust Breeding. He’s at his best here, playing several conflicting versions of himself; with disguises and stasers and plots within plots, this is a story that harks back to the Master stories of the Fourth Doctor era very well, and even somewhat to the Third Doctor era.

Leela gets a better treatment here than in some of the earlier stories. I don’t mean to harp on the same point all the time, regarding the Doctor’s poor treatment of her; it’s just that it continues to be relevant! Here, however, there’s none of that for once (she does get called “Savage”, but by the Master this time, and his opinion hardly counts). She’s quite a force in this story: rescuing the Master, navigating the wormhole, freeing the Doctor, taking out the Kraal leader Grinmal, and then allying with Grinmal to recover the Z-battery, the story’s macguffin. She began the series weakly, but ends very strong, and I couldn’t approve more.

There’s one new bit of technobabble here, which adds to the lore of the series a bit: Time Lords possess a psychic empathy field, by which they recognize each other when close together, and by which the Master is able to easily mesmerize others. It’s been handwaved a bit in the past, but here it’s an integral part of the story.

References are mostly back to The Android Invasion, and I’ve covered most of them. The Doctor does refer to meeting the Master last on Gallifrey (The Deadly Assassin); and the Master’s TARDIS is in the form of a grandfather clock, which it will still be as of The Keeper of Traken.

Overall: Great story, with little to complain about. If Series Two is this good, we have something to look forward to.

Oseidon Adventure 3

Next time: I’m debating between Series Two, with the Fourth Doctor and Romana I (played by Mary Tamm before her untimely death), and another range. We’ll find out next week. See you there!

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

The Oseidon Adventure

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Audio Drama Review: Enemy Aliens

I apologize for bombarding everyone with posts today; that was not my intention.  I discovered that some of my posts didn’t make the transition from my other blog, or possibly from Reddit, and therefore I’m adding them back in today.  Bear with me, please. ~Time Lord Archives

 

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Enemy Aliens, the Eighth Doctor’s contribution to the Fiftieth Anniversary collection, Destiny of the Doctor. Written by Alan Barnes, the story is read by India Fisher and Michael Maloney. Let’s get started!

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

enemy-aliens-1

The Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard, fresh off a series of adventures, try to relax in the TARDIS—but the Doctor is interrupted by a message from himself. More to the point, it’s a future incarnation, leaving a badly-recorded message on a tape deck in the console. Part of the message is missing, but it warns them about some enemy aliens—and…William Tell?

The TARDIS leads them to London in 1935—pointedly NOT the fourteenth century, the home of William Tell—where a strange electronic fuzz blankets the area and blinds the TARDIS sensors. Charley irritates him by humming the William Tell Overture repeatedly, leading the Doctor to think of Rossini, the author of the overture. (As they depart, a group of local boys take up the overture, but are menaced by an unseen creature.) The Doctor locates a music hall, where a man named William Tell is performing feats of memory. The Doctor puts him to the test, and catches him in some numerical inaccuracies; he then challenges him about “enemy aliens”. Tell, acting strangely compelled, says that the “key is in the house of the straggly witch”—and then he is shot dead. Charley finds the murder weapon, but is immediately accused of the murder. The police arrive and take on the Doctor, while a man named Hillary Hammond rushes Charley out of the building.

Charley awakens to find herself in an unknown flat with Hammond, who is humming the overture. She insists on finding the Doctor, but Hammond refuses to let her leave; he says that she is in the newspaper regarding the murder. However, the article indicates the Doctor also escaped. They are interrupted by a window breaking downstairs. They flee the apartment, and head to Scotland by train; Hammond explains that “the straggly witch” is a colloquial name for a bay in Scotland, and believes the Doctor would have worked it out and gone there. Along the way, Charley dons a sailor uniform as a disguise; she also mentions having survived the crash of the R101, and mentions the TARDIS as well. Nevertheless, the police invade the train at a stop anyway, with a military escort. Charley tries to hide, and finds a coffin in the baggage compartment…with the Doctor inside! He admits to avoiding not only the police, but also the mysterious aliens, which he believes attempted to attack him at one point. The Doctor is forced to jump off the train and into a river, narrowly avoiding being shot by the soldiers; Charley is able to evade them and return to Hammond; but he is not alone. He is accompanied by two elderly women, who claim they want to help.

The four disembark at a small village, and Hammond says that the two old ladies believe that he and Charley are eloping. They are escorted to the church; Charley is outraged at the thought, but Hammond appears to be seriously suggesting it, on the basis that it would get them out of trouble with the police by changing their identities (as Hammond is using the name “John Smith”). Charley momentarily considers it, given that she herself is presumed dead after the R101 disaster, but she declines. Shortly thereafter, the Doctor arrives on horseback; Charley is amazed to see that he is alive. He is being pursued, however; and so they hide in the church. Charley takes advantage of the situation to suggest that they go through with the wedding, for the same logic that Hammond had used; but the Doctor realizes that the two old ladies were also in the audience at the music hall. The women produce pistols; and the Doctor and Charley are forced to run. They come upon a group of individuals, whom they recognize as Germans—a different kind of “enemy aliens”.

The Germans leave them in a cell in a ruined castle overlooking the “straggly witch” bay. Hammond arrives and takes them out of the cell, and down to a hidden jetty in a cave—not a “secret KEY”, but a “secret QUAY” leading to a hidden “LOCH”, not “LOCK”. Hammond reveals he is working for the Germans, and that he killed Tell because the Doctor got too close; Tell’s incorrect statements were actually coded communications in use by the Germans. As Tell exposed the straggly witch location, where the Germans came ashore, they are obligated now to pull out of that location. He admits he would have killed Charley as well, had she married him, which would have allowed him a new identity as a widower. He has also brought the TARDIS here, based on the things Charley let slip. He also mentions a strange radio transmission that had led him to believe the TARDIS was real; he plays a tape of the message from the future Doctor, including the part. The future Doctor makes it clear that the electronic fuzz is preventing him from contacting his other incarnations [as seen in previous entries in the series]; he wanted the Eighth Doctor to clear the interference. The aliens in question—actual aliens, not the Germans—are using the overture via radio broadcast to coordinate their plans, much as Tell was doing for the Germans. Hammond wants the Doctor to give him the secrets of the TARDIS; but they are interrupted by mortar fire. The Doctor reveals that the two old ladies were actually agents for the British, who have now initiated an attack on the German position. In the chaos, the Doctor and Charley escape in the TARDIS.

Thirteen hours later, the TARDIS materializes in London. Charley checks the Radio Times, and learns that a pianist will be broadcasting Rossini’s overture shortly—the signal to begin the invasion. The Doctor says that they waited til the last minute so that the pianist could not be replaced in time; he is horrified to realize that the broadcast will be worldwide. Before they can move on the radio station, a large alien brute arrives from the direction of Hammond’s vacated apartment—and purrs at Charley. She realizes it must have been the creature that broke into the downstairs flat; and it has been waiting for her. The Doctor realizes that it is an advance sentry—and Charley had activated it by humming the overture. Now it is at her command.

The Doctor, Charley, and the creature rush to the broadcast studio, and interrupt the broadcast just before the overture. However, it’s too late—the alien mothership over London is appearing. However, the electronic fuzz is now gone; and the Doctor is free to send a radio signal. He sends a 20,000-terrahertz signal to the ship; the resulting wave disturbance is enough to give the aliens pause. They go to the roof to watch the ship respond. But, the Doctor realizes, his future self is also coming to their aid; the future Doctor sends a second signal, warning the aliens that Earth is protected by a race with higher technology than theirs. The ship—and all its companions around the world—depart.

Hammond meets them as they start to leave the roof, and threatens to kill them. Charley hums the overture, summoning the alien sentry, which grabs Hammond, but falls over the roof with him, eight stories up. The alien hits the ground and dies, but Hammond is left clinging to the minute hand of the clock on the face of the building; and he has four minutes until it is vertical, dropping him to his death. We are left not knowing if they let him fall.

enemy-aliens-2

As is common with Eighth Doctor stories, this entry races along at breakneck speed, seldom stopping to explain itself or flesh out its details. As a result, it’s a little hard to believe if you take a moment and think through it. Its aliens—the extraterrestrial kind, that is—are never really identified; the final encounter with them is reminiscent of the encounter with the Atraxi at the end of The Eleventh Hour, but they are clearly not the same, and physically they are more reminiscent of the Ogrons. The Doctor makes a number of mental leaps here, for which he lacks the required evidence; most notably, he assumes the Eleventh Doctor will interfere with the aliens, when he can’t really know that, given that his personality changes with every incarnation. He’s not alone in such leaps, however; Hammond correctly does the same when he assumes that the Doctor will go to Scotland. Charley, for her part, never really stops to question how Hammond can be so sure of the decisions he is making; a little skepticism might have saved her a lot of trouble.

This story takes place sometime after Storm Warning; but that’s as far as we can go. No references are made to any other known stories in Charley’s time with the Doctor, and the handful that she mentions don’t seem to be recorded anywhere. She has been with the Doctor long enough to begin to understand the very basics of the TARDIS, and to develop some habits with regard to the Doctor; there’s a comical line where she refers to having come up with a naming convention for the Doctor’s gadgets—his “thingummies, doodahs, and whatsits”. (She has a number of comical lines of that type throughout the story.)

The Eleventh Doctor cameo is very obvious here; as we’ve progressed through the series, they have become increasingly more so. Here, it’s in the form of a taped message at the very beginning, but we don’t get the full message until the end. Once again, he is not stated to be the Eleventh Doctor, just a future incarnation, but the mannerisms are very clear.

India Fisher’s portrayal of the Eighth Doctor is lacking with regard to her voice; not everyone can be Carole Ann Ford or Frazer Hines, I suppose. On the other hand, she captures his speech patterns very well. Michael Maloney’s portrayal of Hillary Hammond is not bad, either, though he seems to change accents periodically; it’s never really made clear if he is a German himself (under an assumed name) or a collaborator, and his accent could go either way.

Overall, I didn’t care for this story. While it ambitiously tries to misdirect the audience in several ways—for example, the local version of William Tell rather than the historic version, the coded reference to the bay, and the double meaning of “enemy aliens”—it mostly fails to carry it out properly, simply because it rushes so much. I couldn’t shake the feeling that a lot of material was cut for time, and the story suffers for it. Still, it’s the hinge between the classic and new eras as portrayed in this series, and it’s useful for that purpose.

Next time: On to the Ninth Doctor in Night of the Whisper! See you there.

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

Enemy Aliens

Destiny of the Doctor

 

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