Audio Review: Bloodtide

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Main Range #22, Bloodtide. Written by Jonathan Morris, this drama features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe, with a cameo by historical figure Charles Darwin. Let’s get started!

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

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A Silurian named Tulok stands accused of creating monsters.  He is found guilty, and is sentenced to death, but his past achievements merit banishment to Earth’s surface, where nothing can survive—no sunlight has reached the surface in ten years.  A friend, Sh’vak, urges him to confess and repent, and be allowed into stasis with all the others; but he refuses.  Sh’vak escorts him to the surface.  The Silurians then go into hibernation.

Millions of years later, the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe land in the Galapagos Islands, on 19 September 1835.  He insists their purpose here is a surprise, and leads her on a walk of a few miles, dodging a giant tortoise along the way, leading Evelyn to realize their location. They divert to follow the tortoise.  They encounter a young man, collecting animal specimens; and to Evelyn’s shock and delight, she learns that it is Charles Darwin.  The Doctor gives him a manufactured story and an assumed name (“Doctor Albert Einstein”), and arranges to join Darwin on the ship that brought him here, Captain Fitzroy’s The Beagle.  Over the next few days, Darwin will formulate his theory of evolution.  In a nearby courtroom, a prisoner, Emilio Rodriguez, is on trial for conspiracy; but the trial is interrupted by his sister, Greta.  Greta pleads for mercy based on Emilio’s possible mental illness, but is denied; Rodriguez is sentenced to hang tomorrow at dawn, and returned to the gaol.  The entire time, he raves about having seen “them”.  Governor Lawson, the judge in the trial, contacts his own mysterious masters and tells them they have a new subject available, one who previously disturbed them at a local lake.  As Emilio grows more mad, the masters—unknown creatures—arrive to take him away.

Darwin leads them instead to the town of Baquerizo Moreno, with its enormous jailhouse, and explains to Evelyn that the town is a penal colony.  As Darwin discusses his observations, the Doctor prevents Evelyn from helping him along, for the sake of the timeline.  Darwin introduces them to Lawson and Fitzroy, and the group gathers for a meal (consisting of tortoise dishes, to Evelyn’s dismay).  Greta serves at the table, until Lawson taunts her and drives her away; furious, the Doctor follows to talk with her, leaving Evelyn behind.  Evelyn listens to the others discussing the fossil record and how it relates to the accepted, biblical view of history; and then, with the Doctor not yet returned, she agrees to go with Darwin to the Beagle for the night.  On the water as they approach the ship, she sees lights under the water.  Meanwhile, the Doctor is intrigued by Greta’s story; she says that Emilio saw demonic creatures in the water a few days earlier, and has been made since.  She also has observed that people rarely leave the gaolhouse, and may be vanishing.  After her curfew, she leads the Doctor to the gaol, and finds that there are no guards, and Emilio is missing.  They find themselves locked in Emilio’s empty cell; elsewhere, Lawson reports two new captives to his master.  Soon they are accosted by a three-eyed Silurian, which stuns them both.

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The Doctor and Greta find themselves in a new cell, far below the surface of the Earth.  Emilio, still insane, is also present; the Doctor hypnotizes him and allows him to sleep.  The Doctor explains to Greta about the Silurians, and reflects that one of their clans has apparently awoken after millions of years.  However the Silurian Primary Scientist Sh’vak has monitored their conversation, and is intrigued that a captive knows of them.  Tulok is present, and wants to kill the Doctor, but Sh’vak holds off to allow him to be questioned; Tulok thinks they are the only clan to survive, but Sh’vak is not sure.  The Doctor works with Emilio again, and ultimately is able to push back the man’s fear, which stems from instincts passed down from ancient ancestors.  Sh’vak arrives and takes the Doctor to her lab, where he notes that she has been working with bacteria.  She interrogates him, and the Doctor is dismayed to learn she is trying to assess humanity’s threat potential; he tries to push her toward peace, but unsuccessfully.  Tulok arrives and joins the interrogation, inquiring about human technology.  His questions lead the Doctor to realize that Lawson is informing the Silurians; angered by this, Tulok tortures him, causing him to admit the primitive level of human technology.  Tulok trades places with Sh’vak so that he can contact Lawson; Sh’vak ends the torture, but asks the Doctor about other Silurian clans.  The Doctor discovers that Tulok has told her that no other clans surprised.  However, Tulok orders an attack on the Beagle, and the Doctor is returned to his cell; Sh’vak refuses to intervene.  Meanwhile, another Silurian has removed Emilio from the cell.

At night, Evelyn sees Darwin writing in his journal, and talks with him about the conflict between his observations and his beliefs.  In the morning, they return to the island to find the Doctor.  Along the way, Darwin discusses his burgeoning theory of natural selection; Evelyn slips and refers to it as “survival of the fittest”, catching his attention.  Lawson reports that his guards have not seen the Doctor; but Evelyn realizes that Lawson left before the Doctor disappeared, so how did he know to send his guards?  A search of the gaol (secretly monitored by Lawson) leads them to a hidden tunnel, and they pursue it…they pass through a large hibernation chamber, in which the various Silurians are long dead and rotted.  This further contributes to Darwin’s theory.

The Doctor’s cell unexpectedly opens, and he and Greta escape.  Unknown to them, Tulok ordered fellow Silurian Lokan to allow the escape, which confuses Sh’vak.  Tulok discovers Evelyn and Darwin’s presence in the tunnels, and sends troops to capture them; he determines to eliminate Lawson, who is now unreliable.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and Greta escape to the surface, and make their way to the Beagle to warn the crew; but it is too late, as something in the water attacks the ship.

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The Doctor recognizes the creature in the water as a Myrka, a creature genetically modified by the Silurians as a weapon.  As Myrka prefer the cold and darkness of the deep waters, the Doctor gets Fitzroy to pour lamp oil on the water and light it to drive the creature away; but they are unsuccessful, and it continues to attack.  Its persistence indicates there is a homing beacon on the ship.  As the ship is damaged, the Doctor discovers the beacon is in Greta, implanted while she was unconscious in the cell.  She sacrifices herself in the creature’s maw, to save the ship and the others.  The Myrka then retreats.  Elsewhere, Sh’vak is appalled at this turn of events, as the Silurians long ago outlawed implant use in Myrka hunts.  Tulok is undeterred, however; and he intends to wipe out humanity.  To this end, Sh’vak has developed a bacterial weapon which will kill all humans except the newborn; and Tulok intends to test it on Darwin and Evelyn, who are now locked in the cells.  Darwin, meanwhile, is coming to grips with the religious implications of his theories, now supplemented by the reality of the Silurians and their parallel development.  He is having mood swings which worry Evelyn; but most of all, he has realized the Silurians are superior to humanity—which doesn’t bode well for humans…

The Doctor and Fitzroy go in search of Evelyn and Darwin.  They confront Lawson, and the Doctor hypnotizes him; he confesses to turning many people over to the Silurians, including Evelyn and Darwin.  The Doctor destroys the prison control console and Lawson’s video link to the Silurians; but Lawson refuses to be freed from his compulsion, as he can’t face his actions.  Unknown to anyone, prior to the destruction of the link, Tulok and Sh’vak overheard the interrogation; therefore Tulok intends to use the bacterial weapon on Lawson instead of Evelyn and Darwin.  The Doctor and Fitzroy infiltrate the ruined hibernation chamber, where the Doctor learns that the chamber was sabotaged in the past, which is why the Silurians never revived until now.  They notice Silurians heading for the surface, and then find a meat locker of sorts, containing the slaughtered corpses of the missing prisoners—the Doctor concludes that the Silurians eat people, much to Fitzroy’s horror.  Sh’vak captures them there, and stuns Fitzroy, then places them in the cell.  Meanwhile, Tulok and a team of Silurians arrive at Lawson’s quarters, and test the weapon on him, killing him and stripping his flesh in minutes.

Sh’vak puts the Doctor and Fitzroy in the cell with Evelyn and Darwin, then returns to her lab, where she monitors their conversation.  She learns little, and reflects on allowing Tulok to survive and return from his banishment in the past.  She recalls that his crime was not in genetically improving the Silurians’ prey animals, but in giving them intelligence…and though he survived, his work was destroyed, which led him to swear revenge.  Meanwhile, Tulok returns; the bacteria has spread throughout the entire town, killing all humans except the infants.  He plans to cultivate and release an atmospheric batch which will kill everyone on the planet; the surviving infants will be raised to be a source of food and slave labor.  He goes to the cells, where Darwin is raving about evolution and the idea that God did not create humanity.  Tulok claims that humanity WAS created…by him.

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Tulok mesmerizes Darwin and Fitzroy, and takes them to load the bacterial warheads onto a submersible for delivery.  Left behind, the Doctor speaks for the benefit of the listening Sh’vak, and tells Evelyn about the sabotaged hibernation chamber.  Sh’vak confirms it, and confronts them, but concludes that Tulok sabotaged the chamber, out of a drive for revenge against the ruling Triad which condemned his work.  Therefore she is indirectly responsible for the deaths of the Silurians.  She finally admits that Earth, for better or worse, belongs to the humans now, and she commits to stopping Tulok—but she refuses to let the Doctor help.  When Darwin and Fitzroy return, the Doctor frees them from compulsion.  Darwin is disturbed by Tulok’s words, and nearly abandons his theory of natural selection, as there are no Silurian fossils; the Doctor reassures him, and explains that intelligent species rarely leave fossils.  Tulok finds Sh’vak to accompany him on the submersible, but she confronts him on his betrayal; he confesses his grandiose desire to reshape the world in his own image.  She battles him with her third eye, but he is stronger, and strikes her down.  As he leaves, he overhears the Doctor, Fitzroy, and Darwin discussing their situation; Fitzroy posits that modern humans are more advanced than those which Tulok once created, and therefore are less susceptible to Silurian control, which may be what causes Tulok to fear them.  Tulok is enraged at the suggestion, has Lokan send a guard to kill the humans.  He contacts them over the communication system, and tells them that Sh’vak is dead, and they will soon die.  However, Sh’vak is not dead; she intercepts the guard, and frees the prisoners, then escorts them to the control room.  The Doctor contacts Tulok and repeats Fitzroy’s claim about resistance; he says he has set the facility’s reactors to explode in fifteen minutes.  Lokan confirms the power surge in  the reactors, and Tulok leaves to deal with the Doctor.

The Doctor prepares the humans and Sh’vak to battle Tulok.  He tells Darwin and Fitzroy to find something they believe in and concentrate on it, so that they can resist Tulok’s mind control; and he sends Evelyn to plant a device on the submersible.  When Tulok arrives, he is unable to use his third eye as an energy resonator against the Doctor, for fear of destroying the control panel; therefore he tries to take control of Fitzroy and Darwin, and orders them to kill the Doctor.  Fitzroy resists through the power of his religious faith; Darwin is unable to do so with his current doubts, but he finds strength in his belief in his theory, insisting that it holds true even if Tulok is correct about humanity’s origins—after all, humanity has developed on its own.  Tulok fails to control them; and when the timer reaches two minutes, he flees back to the submersible.  Sh’vak, meanwhile, worked from hiding, using her own mind to bolster those of the humans; but the strain has overwhelmed her, and she dies.  She asks the Doctor to tell the other clans what happened.  Meanwhile, Evelyn bluffs her way past Lokan and plants the device, then escapes back to the control chamber.  The Doctor activates the device, and flees with the others just ahead of the explosion.  Tulok boards the submersible; but seconds later, a Myrka attacks, and he realizes the Doctor planted a homing beacon on the submersible.  The Myrka destroys the sub.

With the settlement now depopulated, the bacteria has run its course.  Fitzroy and Darwin return to the Beagle, and the Doctor begs them never to mention himself, Evelyn, or the Silurians.  He advises Darwin to watch out for rival naturalist Alfred Wallace, and then departs with Evelyn in the TARDIS.

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I like a good Silurian story, and this one pits the Sixth Doctor against them for what I suspect (but couldn’t confirm) is the first time. These Silurians are the classic variant, as evidenced by the cover art as well as by their prominent and psychoactive third eye; the new series variant (of which Madame Vastra is a representative) lacks the third eye, and has a more humanoid face and voice pattern. Unfortunately—and this is my biggest complaint about this story—the Silurians are once again destroyed at the end, with no known survivors. (We don’t know how many are present in the underground bunker, but regardless, the villain Tulok’s guards are killed with him when the genetically-engineered Myrka attacks Tulok’s submersible, and any other survivors die when the bunker is destroyed. However, as the Doctor doesn’t mention any others or try to save them, I suspect there are none.) The Silurian clans present get wiped out in every classic Silurian story that I’ve discovered to date; I hope sometime to see one where they survive. (Yes, we get such a story in the new series with The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, but what a lengthy time it took to get there!)

This story adds the disturbing implication that the Silurians—specifically, Tulok—created humanity. Altered origin stories aren’t unusual in Doctor Who–for reference, look at The Runaway Bride for its account of the formation of Earth—but this one is not very pleasant. I don’t object to it for its bearing on the real world, though I do hold to Christian beliefs myself; I have no problem with a fictional story’s take on the situation. However, it seems to contradict internally with other parts of DW continuity. In addition to the general lofty view of humanity and its potential that the series presents, there are also materials which suggest that the Time Lords “seeded” the cosmos with races that generally mimic the Gallifreyan form, including humans. (I admit, it’s not well stated, and I may be overstating the case when I put it in those terms. I can’t remember where I first read it; research led me to a quote about morphic fields found in Lucifer Rising, but it’s a bit vague. Perhaps someone knows more. I concede that it’s not as clear a connection as, say, the Preserver race in Star Trek lore.) Still, if we accept this story’s statements, the Silurians join other species that have shaped human evolution, such as the Jagaroth (via Scaroth, City of Death), the Fendahl, Image of the Fendahl), the Silence (or Silents, if you prefer; The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon), and the Daemons (The Daemons). Their stated habit of eating humans here is consistent with Madame Vastra’s culinary habits in the new series (The Name of the Doctor, et al.), though I don’t recall any such emphasis in the classic series.

I also love a good Six and Evelyn story, and this one is not bad; but I have to admit that it’s a bit weak where Evelyn is concerned. She gets in some good verbal jabs at the beginning (for once, it’s the companion telling the Doctor not to wander off!), and she goes with Darwin to find the Doctor when he goes missing; but she really does very little throughout the story. Mostly she serves as a sounding board for Darwin, as the story’s subtext hinges on a discussion of Darwin’s theories as they develop. I suppose I should concede, too, that she does have a role in defeating Tulok, when she places a Myrka-attracting beacon on Tulok’s submersible. Still, it’s very little involvement from what is usually a very active character. One would expect that this adventure would be right up her alley as a historian, and indeed, that’s how it’s set up—the Doctor takes her to see Darwin as a surprise, once that required considerable setup offscreen—but it doesn’t really deliver. Still, a bad Evelyn story is better than a good story from some other characters, so it’s tolerable.

The difficulty with historicals like this—where major historical figures are concerned—is that they are by nature bound to an agenda. I mean that word in both senses: in the scheduling sense, we can’t deviate far from the established events of history (and if we do, we end up obligated to reset the timeline at the end, somehow, which only works occasionally). In the sense of motivation, we find ourselves bound to defending certain points of history, or in the case of a story like this, defending certain ideas of the characters. This story spends a lot of time on elaborating on the theories of natural selection and evolution, and—as the Discontinuity Guide puts it—filling in gaps, such as the lack of transitional fossils (spoiler alert: there aren’t any because humans sprang from lesser stock fully formed under Tulok’s work). The Discontinuity Guide goes on to make the tongue-in-cheek observation that they never actually use the word “evolution”, which is apparently enough to merit overlooking the problem. In my case, I don’t think this captivity to the history and the theory is enough to sink the story, but it certainly weakens it. Writing under constraints is never easy, and you can see the difficulty clearly in this story. Perhaps it’s no wonder that historicals—whether true or pseudo—have fallen out of fashion.

References are mostly to other Silurian stories. They first appeared in the appropriately titled Doctor Who and the Silurians. The Myrka appeared in Warriors of the Deep, as well as the VNA novel The Scales of Injustice, which we should hopefully cover in about mid-June if I can continue as planned. The Doctor met Darwin once before; we don’t have the story, but the Third Doctor mentioned it in Past Doctor Adventures novel Island of Death. The Seventh Doctor would refer back to this incident in the audio drama A Death in the Family, where he is speaking with Evelyn. The Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard would also later discuss this incident in The Creed of the Kromon.

Overall, not the best Evelyn story, but not a bad one, and a good solid mid-ranked story for the Main Range. I’m considering adding a numeric ranking for these entries, but I haven’t decided whether to do so yet, or how to set it up; but had I been ranking these on a scale of 1-10, I would rank this one a solid Six (no pun intended).

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Next time: We rejoin the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn for Project Twilight! Also, in our Thursday entries, we’ll continue the War Doctor series one, Only the Monstrous, with The Thousand Worlds. See you there.

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

Bloodtide

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