Audio Drama Review: Zagreus

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

Zagreus 1

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

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

Zagreus 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zagreus

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Audio Drama Review: Master

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

Master 1

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Master 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Master

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Audio Drama Review: Time Tunnel

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

Time Tunnel 1

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

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

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

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

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

Time Tunnel 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time Tunnel

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Audio Drama Review: Flywheel Revolution

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! A few weeks ago, we reached the end of the four early anthologies in the Short Trips range. Today, we pick up that range with the first of its individual releases, Flywheel Revolution! This story was released in January 2015, nearly four years after the previous release in the range, and it is a different animal—longer, with a more involved plot, and a somewhat slower pace. It will set the template for future releases in the range, continuing to the present day. Written by Dale Smith, and directed by Lisa Bowerman, the story features the First Doctor, and is read by Peter Purves. Let’s get started!

Flywheel Revolution 1

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

On a distant and far-future world, a robot named Frankie is confined to a scrapheap. He and his friends—all flawed or damaged—have been consigned here by their masters and makers, who are robots themselves, sent to colonize and develop this world. Frankie is a rover, and his flaw is that his geolocation module doesn’t work; he cannot receive the global timestamp signal, and so for him, it is always 5:15 and 23 seconds. Therefore, he gets lost very easily. This comes into play when he takes his friend—a misaligned boring machine named Toby—to see a monster in the scrapheap. Though he navigates by bouncing off of the magnetic Wall that defines the edges of the scrapheap, he is unable to lead Toby to the monster.

Over several days, he does not give up; and eventually he finds the monster, living—to Frankie’s horror—in the gutted interior of another, larger robot! The creature calls out to him, and seems delighted to see him, but he backs off in fear. Still, his curiosity is fully engaged; and after a few more days of wandering, he finds the monster again. This time, it calls itself the Doctor.

Over a few contacts—horrified on Frankie’s part, excited on the Doctor’s—Frankie learns that the Doctor is also trapped here, separated from his companions and his ship. Communications break down when Frankie sees that the Doctor has built a device to shut off the wall—shut it off? Let them all escape? Frankie can hardly dare to dream of it!—but he has built it from the scavenged parts of Frankie’s dead friends! Frankie erupts at him, and leaves in fury.

When he next sees the Doctor, the creature is solemnly apologetic. He had not understood the horror of what he had done; all he had seen were components. But now, he has disassembled his device…and he asks Frankie to help him lay them to rest with respect. This, at last, wins Frankie’s trust; and when the Doctor offers to repair his geolocation device, he is intrigued (though he does not accept).

Soon, however, the Doctor makes a breakthrough with the Wall. He sends Frankie to gather all of his friends; and he tells them they will soon be free. Then, he has Toby dig down into the soft soil beneath the scrapheap and fill another machine with the dirt—and he launches it skyward, raining down on the wall. Soon, this barrage overloads the magnetic wall, and it fails. The machines are free.

Before the Doctor leaves, he thanks Frankie for his help; and he asks the robot what he will do with his newfound freedom. Frankie thinks that he would like to find the people who condemned them all to the Scrapheap…and teach them how wrong they were. He trundles off, noting that it is five-fifteen and twenty-three seconds—the moment when his new life begins.

Flywheel Revolution 2_edited

As with most short trips, this story happens in a bubble of sorts. The story takes place on a planet whose identity is not given, not populated with any race we’ve previously seen, at a time that is not identified (only that it is in the far future), separate from his TARDIS, and separate from his companions (Ian, Barbara, and Susan, though they are not named, only loosely described). As such, there’s very little continuity to speak of, which is something we saw often in the early anthologies, and I expect it to be the standard henceforward as well.

The most accurate word I can apply to this story is “charming”. It’s the story of the Doctor facilitating a revolution—but not a bloody one; rather, a very small one, not much more than a family squabble of sorts. The robots with whom he deals are most definitely people in their own right; but they’re much like children, and he is very paternal toward them. Paternalism is a common enough trait with the First Doctor, and often it works out badly, but here it seems to be a good thing.

On television, the First Doctor was clever, but not nearly as resourceful as his later incarnations, especially in technological matters. Out of universe, that’s an artifact of the show’s early shifts in direction, I think, as it tried to find a stable identity after starting out as a children’s programme. As well, of course, the Doctor wasn’t really the main character at first, and so most of the resourcefulness was exhibited by the companions. Put another way, the Doctor got them into trouble; the companions got them out. Here, though, he’s quite resourceful (and has to be, given that he’s on his own). He correctly analyzes the political situation (if you can call it that) on the planet; he figures out the wall; he recognizes and understands the various robots; and he expresses his ability to repair them, though they don’t take him up on it. He builds a device from spare parts, though—for reasons revealed in the story—he doesn’t use it. He also has a keen, if belated, understanding of the personalities of the other characters. It’s really a good showing for the First Doctor, at a point in his life when frankly, he could use some good press.

Though the story is set during Ian, Barbara, and Susan’s era, the story is read by Peter Purves (Steven’s actor). I haven’t checked far enough ahead to be sure, but I believe this is usual procedure for First Doctor short trips, at least for awhile (I vaguely seem to recall that William Russell may have read a few? We’ll find out soon enough). Purves is, I think, one of the most steady and reliable narrators in Big Finish’s stable. His performances aren’t revolutionary in any way, but they’re steadily good; and he captures the First Doctor fairly well.

Overall, it’s not a bad foot to put forward with regard to reopening this range. It’s a fairly safe story—nothing too experimental, and we know from the Main Range that “experimental” is a mixed bag at best for Big Finish. At the same time, it manages to feel significant in a way that most of the anthology stories did not. If the upcoming entries can build on this start, the range will be in good hands (and the fact that it’s still running, three and a half years later, says that that is probably the case).

Next time: We’ll join Frazer Hines reading for the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe in Little Doctors! 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.

Flywheel Revolution

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Audio Drama Review: The Dark Flame

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week we’re returning to the Main Range with 2003’s The Dark Flame, release number 42 in the range. Written by Trevor Baxendale, this story features the Seventh Doctor. It’s part of Big Finish’s sporadic “Sidestep into Virgin Territory”, a very occasional series of stories set in the continuity established by the Virgin New Adventures line of novels. (While it can be argued that the VNAs fit into the same continuity as other stories, Big Finish usually refrains from setting stories during that portion of the Seventh Doctor’s life.) As a result, this story also features Ace McShane and Bernice “Benny” Summerfield, and takes place between the novels All-Consuming Fire and Blood Harvest (which I have not yet reviewed). It is the second and—so far—the last Main Range story set in the VNA continuity, although some Companion Chronicles have followed, as well as several novel adaptations. With that background, let’s get started!

The Dark Flame

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:

En route to the Orbos research station to pick up Bernice, the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits are struck by a massive cry for help—and it comes from an old friend of the Doctor, an elderly researcher named Remnex. This interruption leaves the Doctor and Ace with visions of black flames. Remnex, not so coincidentally, is stationed on Orbos, where he and two colleagues are experimenting with black light—a dangerous phenomenon of its own, separate from ultraviolet, which the Doctor has encountered before.

On Orbos, which orbits the dead and volcanic planet Marran Alpha, Remnex is alive and unharmed. He discusses with his colleagues Lomar and Slade—as well as Benny—the imminent arrival of the Doctor, who may be able to help with their experiments. However, Benny is more concerned about another friend, archaeologist Victor Farrison, who was supposed to have met her here by now. As it turns out, Victor is down on the planet with his android servant Joseph, excavating a burial pit. In it they find a seemingly human skull; though it is ancient, it feels strangely alive to Victor. They are met by their employer, a man named Broke, who demands the skull; Victor demands answers first. In reply, Broke knocks him out and takes the skull, despite Joseph’s concern for his master. Broke reveals he is a servant of the Cult of the Dark Flame, and the skull is that of the cult’s founder, Vilus Krull.

The TARDIS arrives on Orbos, and while Benny and Ace catch up, the Doctor chats with Remnex. At Lomar’s request, he examines their experimental apparatus—they are attempting a controlled black light explosion, something never done before. The Doctor uses his sense of time to determine that their control element, an isochronyte crystal, is unstable; they need one that exists partially outside the spacetime continuum. Slade insists it will work until they find a better one, and explains that Remnex is responsible for the first stage of the experiment—the creation of an artificial sun to power the explosion. The Doctor goes in search of Remnex again.

Benny enlists Ace to help with rubbish disposal. To that end, they dump the rubbish into a rather shoddy transmat, which sends it to the volcanic surface of the planet. Ace is concerned the transmat might be leaking exotic particles, and her fears seem confirmed when Benny experiences a migraine—but when it turns into a vision of black flames, she seeks out the Doctor.

The Doctor, meanwhile, hears a more natural scream from Remnex; and he runs to Remnex’s cabin, but finds it locked. Ace also arrives, at the same time as Lomar, and smashes the door open. Remnex is dead, stabbed through the left eye. Slyde and a now-recovered Benny arrive as well, as the Doctor sees that Remnex is holding the isochronyte crystal; its temporal properties seem to be what sent his scream rocketing through time, prompting the visions. The group confers on their experiences, and Benny remembers an ancient cult, the Cult of the Dark Flame, which seems related. The cult worshipped a being from outside the universe; but they died out centuries ago—or did they? Meanwhile, Slyde accuses the Doctor and Ace of killing Remnex. His allegations are dismissed by all, and Ace and Benny storm off. Slyde leaves as well; after some discussion with Lomar, the Doctor goes to speak with Slyde. Slyde catches up to Ace and Benny in the transmat room; as the Doctor approaches, he hears a struggle, and when he arrives he finds only Ace. She is disoriented, but claims that Slyde overpowered her and pushed Benny into the transmat; she is likely on the surface, and more likely dead.

Part Two:

Lomar confirms that the transmat was just used. The Doctor concludes that Ace was shot with a stunner, and takes her to sickbay; fortunately, her customary combat suit diffused most of the blast. He hypnotises her and makes her sleep, then goes in search of Slyde. Slyde, however, is not on the station; he has transmatted himself along with Benny, to a cavern beneath the surface. He meets Broke there, and locks Benny in a cell with Joseph and Victor. He intended to use Benny’s archaeological skills to find the skull, but it won’t be necessary, as Victor already found it. Slyde quickly returns to Orbos, then brings back the body of Remnex, which will be used as a host for the resurrected Emissary of the Dark Flame—Vilus Krull. Broke brings Benny and Joseph to watch as Slyde uses the skull to bring life to Remnex’s body—but it’s no longer Remnex inside it.

While the new Emissary is distracted, Benny, Joseph and Victor steal the skull and run. Benny and Joseph are quickly recaptured, while Victor is shot with the stunner on full power; he manages to crawl into the transmat with the skull. Meanwhile, on the station, the Doctor finds that Remnex’s body is missing. Over Lomas’s objections, he wakes up Ace to help him investigate. As they talk, they encounter Victor near the transmat; he hands over the skull, but succumbs to his injuries and dies. The Doctor experiences something like a seizure when he touches the skull; he realizes it is parachronic, partially outside time—and this has horrific implications for the black light explosion. He gives the skull to Ace, who is unaffected. He tells her to guard it, and sets off for the transmat, which he suspects has been altered for safe transport. As soon as he reaches the cavern, he meets Joseph—who reveals that, unfortunately, the Doctor has walked into a trap. The Doctor is brought before the Emissary.

Slyde returns to the station in pursuit of the now-deceased Victor, and accosts Ace, demanding the skull. She breaks free and runs. She reaches Lomar, and warns her that Slyde is a member of the Cult of the Dark Flame—but as Slyde arrives, Lomar reveals that she also is a member of the Cult.

Part Three:

Ace has hidden the skull, and uses its location as a bargaining chip for her life. She then uses a smoke grenade to cover her escape, and hides in the dark light laboratory. Slyde and Lomar find her there, but it becomes a standoff; she threatens to detonate the smart bombs she is carrying if they attack her.

In the caverns, Broke locks up the Doctor and Joseph along with Benny. Joseph apologizes for trapping the Doctor, but says that Broke would have killed Benny otherwise. Broke returns and takes the trio for an audience with the Emissary. Benny mocks the Emissary, disbelieving his claims—until he reanimates the long-dead bones around them, giving them life and strength, if not flesh. He explains that he requires the skull of Vilus Krull—his own skull from his original life. The Doctor explains that Victor died to get it to safety, and it is now hidden. The Emissary threatens to burn the information free of the Doctor’s mind, but refrains, and puts them back in the cell. There, the Doctor explains that the Time Lords believe the Dark Flame to be an energy source from a pocket universe, which will be created far in the future at the death of this universe; the bizarre physics of that time will allow it to function backward in time to this day and beyond. The parachronic skull connects to that universe, making the black light explosion very dangerous indeed—it will spread the flame’s power throughout all of space and time.

Lomar reports to the Emissary about Slyde’s standoff with Ace. The Emissary gives the Doctor ten minutes to retrieve the skull, or else his skeletal troops will kill Benny. Back on the station, the Doctor tries, but fails, to reason with Lomar. In the lab, the Doctor convinces her and Slyde to let him talk to Ace alone; he uses that opportunity to fill her in on a plan. Meanwhile, in the cells, Broke antagonizes Joseph over Victor’s death, until the robot flies into a rage and attacks Broke, gravely wounding him. However, Joseph is shocked at his actions, and allows Broke to deactivate him. Elsewhere, the Emissary forces Benny to look into his eyes—and takes control of her.

Ace takes the Doctor and Lomar back to the transmat, and hands over the skull. She expresses concerns again about the safety of the transmat; to set her mind at ease, the Doctor adjusts its focusing coil. Once in the caves again, they are reunited with Benny. The Doctor breaks away and grabs the skull, tossing it to Ace, who throws it to Benny. The Doctor tells her to throw it into the transmat, which has been recalibrated to destroy it completely—but Benny hands it over to her new master, the Emissary.

Part Four:

The Doctor doesn’t believe Benny has really surrendered to the Dark Flame. To prove it, the Emissary has the skeleton creatures hold Ace down while Benny beats her. The Doctor gets him to stop, but remains unconvinced; he is sure Benny is being controlled by force. Meanwhile the injured Broke arrives, and offers himself as a new body for the Emissary, whose current body is decaying; the Emissary declines, and orders Broke to fix the transmat. The Doctor asks to follow the Dark Flame as Benny has done, but the Emissary refuses. When the transmat is fixed, the Emissary leaves Broke to die and takes Slyde, Lomar and Benny back to Orbos. He intends to kill Benny and take over her body; and there is still the explosion to oversee.

Broke destroys the transmat controls, and then dies. The Doctor is sure that the Emissary is not strong enough to control him as well as Slyde, Lomar, and Benny; that is why he refused the Doctor’s surrender. The Doctor reactivates Joseph and recruits him to help repair the controls. However, the control processor is ruined. Joseph offers his own processor—his “brain”—to replace it, knowing he will essentially die in the process. Reluctantly the Doctor agrees, and says goodbye to Joseph before pulling out the processor. He and Ace then transmat back to the station.

Slyde and Lomar prepare the experiment, and install the skull. They activate the solar generator, creating the artificial sun; Benny then activates the converter, and the light from the artificial star begins to darken. The Doctor and Ace arrive as the black light explosion begins. The cultists begin to feel the Dark Flame burning inside them. However, Benny is shocked back to awareness, and sees her hand on the converter withering with age. It’s too late to shut it off, however. Ace tries to shoot the Emissary, but he shuts down her weapon with his mind. He then freezes the Doctor in place; as the Doctor screams in pain, the Emissary gloats that with the Dark Flame’s arrival, he is now strong enough to control even the Doctor. Ace knocks the Doctor out in order to save him, and she flees with Benny. However, this was all part of the Doctor’s plan; and now Ace has had a good look at the converter.

As the Doctor recovers, he taunts the Emissary; he insists that the Dark Flame is not a being, but a simple force of nature. It has no will; it simply obeys Krull. He challenges Krull to a battle to prove it; they will both put their hands on the skull and battle for control of the Flame’s power. Enraged, the Emissary agrees, and joins battle with the Doctor. However, the Doctor had adjusted the transmat after using it; and now Ace and Benny use it to teleport back into the lab, catching the others off guard. Benny deactivates the converter, and time twists back on itself, wiping Krull from existence. The artificial star returns to normal, and Benny’s hand is restored. Slyde and Lomar are knocked unconscious.

Lomar awakens to find things changed. She and Slyde are now free of the Flame’s control; Slyde is naturally unpleaasant, but no longer directly dangerous. However, the Doctor suggests that his researches be redirected. The Doctor explains that he tapped the Flame’s power briefly; he fought down the temptation to set everything right—a level of power even he should not wield—but couldn’t help fixing a few things—like Benny’s hand, and Remnex’s death. No, the old researcher is not restored to life; but his death was peaceful, in his sleep. The skull has been sent out into the continuum forever, and Krull is no more.

Before the Doctor and his companions depart, he takes the omnitronic processor—all that is left of Joseph. In honor of Joseph’s bravery, he intends to take it to someone who can try to salvage Joseph’s memories; and he hints that Benny may need Joseph’s help again someday.

The Dark Flame 1

While this story isn’t a direct port of the New Adventures—we’ll get to those eventually with the Novel Adaptations—it feels like one. Those adventures, I find, tend to be a bit darker and grimmer than the average televised story (and by extension, the average Big Finish story), though not terribly so. They often feature large, world- or universe-ending threats, often involving ancient resurrected evils and paranormal phenomena, some of which are explained away in scientific terms, but very often not. All of those points are present here. While I often find myself getting impatient with the New Adventures, I didn’t feel that way at all here; I think that’s largely because of the format change instead of the content. The novels are brooding and slow, often leaving the action behind to examine what’s going on in the characters’ heads—this seems to be true regardless of which author we’re reading. Audio doesn’t lend itself well to that kind of literary indulgence, and so we’re forced to cut the story back to its essential action; and Doctor Who thrives on action! We end up with a story that’s very much a New Adventure in tone and content, but very much the Main Range in execution, and that’s a great combination.

The story deviates a bit from the typical pattern with regard to its major villain, the titular Dark Flame. Typically, when Doctor Who stories set up an overpowered or supernatural villain, they follow through; the Doctor’s ingenuity may be what triumphs, but the threat is real. Less often we get a story like this, where the villain is not at all what it seems—still dangerous, perhaps, but not what was advertised. There’s potential to fall flat in stories like that, but here it’s an integral part of the plot, and it’s played triumphantly. The final confrontation is a bit abbreviated, but the lead-up is fantastic.

The voice acting for the secondary villain, the Emissary of the Dark Flame (and also for one of his henchmen, Slyde) is a bit over the top, but it’s easy to forget about that once you reach, say, part three. (I’d say part two for Slyde; however the Emissary doesn’t actually show up until part two.) The other supporting characters are decent; and Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, and Lisa Bowerman all turn in their usual great performances.

Continuity gets a bit tangled in this story. It ties into not only the Doctor’s portion of the New Adventures, but also Benny’s, as well as other audio dramas, especially regarding the character of the android Joseph (whom, incidentally, I can’t help picturing as Michael Fassbender in the role of the android David in Prometheus). Much of this tangled continuity involves stories I haven’t read or heard yet, and so I’ll borrow a summary quote from the Doctor Who Reference Guide:

Joseph the porter (whom we shall refer to here as Joseph-2) was first introduced in the [Bernice] New Adventure Oh No It Isn’t!, which on the face of things suggests that the Doctor supplied Joseph-1’s omnitronic processor to the University of Dellah. However, in Tears of the Oracle it is revealed that Joseph-2 was in fact a front for the People’s [The Also People] ship J-Kibb, which therefore suggests that the Doctor instead gave the omnitronic processor to the People for them to incorporate into their fake University porter. However again, J-Kibb and Joseph-2 were destroyed, and thus in The Doomsday Manuscript Irving Braxiatel gave Benny a new porter whose personality and appearance were based on Joseph-2. Since Joseph-3 in The Greatest Shop in the Galaxy and The Green-Eyed Monsters is performed by the same actor who voiced Joseph-1 in The Dark Flame, it’s at least possible that the Doctor in fact supplied Joseph-1’s omnitronic processor to Braxiatel for use in Joseph-3, and simply advised on the programming of Joseph-2 in order to maintain the historical balance. In any case, one thing is clear: for any of this to work, the Doctor most likely already knew something of Benny’s future by this point, devious little git.

All in all, it sounds like I have my work cut out for me in catching up with the novels.

Other continuity references: Black light was first encountered in The Mysterious Planet. Ogrons, mentioned here by Benny (but not actually seen), first appeared in The Day of the Daleks. The Cult of the Dark Flame will reappear in another Benny story, The Draconian Rage. The Doctor mentions Chelonians, which first appeared in the VNA The Highest Science; his actual line, “Sleep is for Chelonians”, is an oblique reference to The Talons of Weng-Chiang, where the Fourth Doctor commented that “Sleep is for tortoises” (the Chelonians are a tortoise-like race). In conversation with Remnex, the Doctor mentions that Mel is traveling the universe with a con artist (Dragonfire; Remnex gets the Best Comeback award here, when he remarks to the Doctor that “nothing has changed, then”). Ace’s military and paramilitary career (Deceit) gets a reference. In trying to wake Ace, the Doctor says “We’ve got work to do” (a reference to his last line in Survival); he uses her surname “McShane”, which originated in the VNAs (sorry, could not track down which novel specifically revealed it), and finally succeeded in waking her by calling her “Dorothy” (Dragonfire).

Overall: After the lackluster Nekromanteia, it was nice to get back to a story that was genuinely enjoyable. While I do, as I said, get impatient with the New Adventures, I mostly enjoy them; and this story is a refreshing take on the kind of material we get in that series. Ace has always been one of my favorite companions; Bernice, not as much, but she’s at least entertaining when she’s not being mind-controlled (wait, no, that happens to her here as well…never mind). Well, at least Bernice is very well represented here. Although the New Adventures tend to be a bit cut-and-paste in their broad strokes, this story breaks away from that a bit by giving us a unique adversary, and a very comfortable running time as well. I wasn’t expecting this to be a great story—it doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s list of the best Main Range audios—it was surprisingly good. It’s worth checking out, if you haven’t already.

Next time: We’ll check out something unusual: a Doctor Who musical! The story in question is Doctor Who and the Pirates, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe. 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 Dark Flame

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Audio Drama Review: I, Davros: Guilt

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Toda we’re concluding our look at the origins of the Daleks’ creator, Davros, with I, Davros: Guilt. Let’s get started!

Guilt 1

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

The Daleks tell the older Davros that he should have been exterminated as a weakling after his accident, no longer fit to live. He insists that even though his fellow Kaleds believed the same, they were wrong about him, and he set out to prove his worth and his strength—and make their judgment their downfall.

The younger Davros, now working from his life support chair, is overseeing a cerebral augmentation surgery conducted by his assistant, Ral. Once Davros used to perform such surgeries himself, but his hands are no longer capable, and so he walks Ral through the process despite the young man’s fear. It is a success, and Davros agrees to meet with Ral later to review their work. Meanwhile, a Thal saboteur in combat gear and a gas mask approaches from the wastes, and stops outside the Kaled city, which is now covered by a set of domes against the ruined environment. He communicates with a Colonel Murash, who says that Doctor Hurdal is concerned about the radiation level, which is unstable but high. However, the saboteur has taken anti-radiation tablets. He attaches explosives to the atmosphere generators on the dome, and Murash gives him the codes to operate them…and then apologizes for the man’s sacrifice. Before he can escape, the explosives detonate early.

In the Kaled Tech-Ops center, an officer Ludella tells the Supremo about the explosion in the science dome, near the medical centre. Mutos are flocking to the site, as well. The Supremo tells her to send a rescue team with a military squad—and to eliminate any Thals they find. Meanwhile, in the med center, a Muto named Baran leads the invasion, and his people search for useful supplies. They find Davros trapped in the rubble, and banter with him briefly about his genetic purity versus theirs. Baran tells him that the Thals, not the Mutos, are responsible for the explosion; but then they are cut short and driven away by a Thal squadron led by Murash. One of her team members confirms Davros’s identity—and Davros is stunned to see that the team member is Ral. As they take Davros away into a waiting vehicle—leaving his life-support chair behind—Ral explains that he betrayed Davros because he is disgusted by Davros’s moral stance. The group departs with their prisoner just ahead of the Kaled team. Later, Ludella receives confirmation from the team that there were no survivors; but Davros’s body is among those unaccounted, though his chair was found. Still, Thals were seen escaping, so it is likely that Davros—their greatest scientist—was kidnapped rather than killed.

The Thals in their city make an announcement about their victory as Davros is placed in a cell. Murash and Ral visit him, and explain that they have tried for years, at great effort, to acquire him. Murash demands Davros’s knowledge of all new and developing Kaled weapons; Davros doesn’t comply, but hints that all his contributions are biological in nature, and mostly constructive rather than destructive, as he works toward restoring their people and their world. Ral confirms that this is at least partly true, but Murash isn’t content; she wants the science behind the work, not just the results. Davros insists that without his chair, he will die before he can tell them what they want, and Ral concurs, though he thinks they can sustain Davros’s blood flow. Davros insists again that he only wants to see the end of the war, and no longer works on weaponry. Murash goes to report in, but Davros demands an explanation of Ral’s betrayal.

Meanwhile, the Muto, Baran, has fled into the Kaled dome rather than out. He is secretly a Thal Sergeant, working undercover; as he travels through a warehouse, Murash communicates with him and tells him to find out what he can about the latest Kaled weapons. He will hear the latest regarding Davros in tomorrow’s news. Unknown to him, Ludella intercepts his signal and is able to boost it, and sees Murash’s image. She learns that the Thals have Davros, and patches the message through to the Supremo. Murash seems to become aware of it, and puts the message on an eighteen-hour loop; she presents three demands to the Kaleds in exchange for Davros’s return. She demands the cessation of weapon development; the release to the Thals of all weapons data; and the release of all Thal political prisoners. Otherwise, Davros will be killed. The Supremo tells Ludella to signal a red alert and get the Security Commander for him; in the meantime he gets a call from High Councilor Terrant.

Davros argues with Ral, and calls him lucky; the Thals are known to betray their operatives. He insists that if he dies, Skaro’s future will die with him.

The Supremo prepares a team to retrieve Davros, under the command of one Lieutenant Nyder. He recognizes the man as having led an assassination mission just a month earlier, but Nyder says that he cannot discuss it even with the Supremo. Meanwhile, in the ruined medical centre, a Kaled Corporal named Kaston is killed by Baran, who takes his uniform.

Nyder’s team makes their way to the Thal dome, and uses an explosion to force their way in. They fight their way to the cells, using Thal weapons from the fallen defenders to resupply themselves as they go. Davros is nowhere to be found, however. They find Murash guarding a door; listening in, the Supremo identifies Murash’s voice, and demands she be taken alive, but Nyder pretends not to hear the order, and reports that all the Thals in the area are dead. Passing through the door, they find Ral holding a gun to Davros’s head. The standoff ends with the sound of a gunshot—and Nyder reports success. The Supremo, though perhaps not entirely thrilled at Davros’s survival, sends a medical team to meet the strike team near the Kaled dome.

Davros wakes up, delirious, and sees visions of his mother and Yarvell, alternately mocking and scolding him, and offering him tea. He comes to his senses, and realizes it is the Supremo’s voice he actually hears. He ponders the fact that the Supremo brings up memories of Calcula, and asks why he thinks that might be. At any rate, he is temporarily stranded in the hospital, as the technicians are repairing his life-support chair; the Supremo tells him that he is restrained for his safety, so that he doesn’t accidentally damage his connections to the hospital’s life-support systems. The Supremo also, grudgingly, admits that there was concern about Davros’s mental state after his experiences. Davros takes the moment to enjoy the linens on the bed, and then asks to speak to Lieutenant Nyder. The Supremo sends Nyder in, and then leaves. Davros thinks Nyder feels repulsion toward him, but Nyder denies it, and claims to be an admirer of Davros and his work. Davros thanks Nyder for saving him, and Nyder explains that he killed Ral with a headshot. Davros considers recruiting Nyder for a team. When Nyder leaves, he bumps into Baran. He pulls the alleged soldier and assigns him to guard Davros’s door, unwittingly making the spy’s job easier.

Davros has recovered enough to visit the Council of Twelve and the Supremo, who congratulate him on his recovery. He presents to them his accumulated research into changes the Kaleds have undergone due to the war. He claims to have evidence that they will eventually evolve into something else entirely, but only if they manage not to wipe themselves out in the meantime—and meanwhile, their birth rate has become catastrophically low and unreliable. The Council scoffs, but he is serious. Meanwhile, Baran breaks into Davros’s office in search of information; among other things, he learns that Davros has been experimenting on the body of his own mother, Calcula!

Davros makes a radical request of the Council. He believes he can save their race; but to do so, he requires mandated access to all the children of the Kaleds. He wants them to be seized and housed in the science dome and declared state property, so that he has access to them for research purposes. The Supremo rejects the proposition, refusing to allow it to come to a vote. Davros begs them to reconsider, and the Supremo allows that the Council should think it over.

Davros vents his frustrations with the Supremo to Nyder. Nyder claims he would have approved the request, and Davros muses that one day Nyder may have that much power; but this is not that day. Elsewhere, Ludella reports to the Supremo that Kaston has been found dead and stripped of his uniform. Patrols are doubled in the area, but the Supremo seems too distracted to take further action.

Davros gives Nyder a long-banned copy of an old Dal Book of Predictions. It analyzes the evolutionary track of Skaro’s races, finding evolution necessary for overcoming war and other evils. On the last page, it proclaims that “on that day, men will become as gods.” In the Dal tongue, the word for “gods” reads as “Dal-ek”. Davros believes he is facilitating that transformation. Nyder reports that there may be a Thal spy in the dome; he predicts the man will be found, and offers him to Davros for experimentation. Davros wants to speak with him before he decides.

Davros meets again with the Council the next day, and hears the Supremo again reject his request. When Davros speaks, he breaks tradition by refusing to thank the Supremo. He accuses the Council of placing superstition before science, and castigates them for their ignorance. He then shows them a button, and claims that they have all been implanted with micro-explosives via their anti-radiation tablets; the button will detonate them all at once. The Supremo calls for Nyder to deal with Davros, but Nyder sides with Davros, and orders the guards out. Davros declares the Council and the Supremo relieved of duty, and presses the button, killing them all.

Nyder takes the news to Ludella, claiming that a fault in the heat exchanger in the Council chamber flooded the room with teroxin, killing them all. As Davros is the highest-ranking civilian on hand, he will take emergency control, and has placed Nyder in office as security commander.

Davros makes an announcement of the emergency measures, and promises a smooth transition to a new governing body. In the meantime, he announces an emergency—but mandatory—child protection programme, requiring all children under five to be brought to Paediatric Facility K-99. Davros then heads to that facility, using his mother’s old password—“CALCULA”—to gain admission. Inside are several of his experiments already living with various mutations and alterations; he moves among them, congratulating them and feeding them.

Later, Davros and Nyder are engaged in converting the Council Chamber into a new laboratory, when Ludella breaks in. She demands the return of her son, Kento, who was taken for Davros’s programme that morning. Davros insists the boy will be returned after receiving exams and innoculations, all the healthier for his trouble; Ludella demands to see him. Davros allows it, and lets Nyder supervise; Nyder orders Baran to take her there, though the spy doesn’t know the way. Nyder secretly tells him to make sure Ludella never enters the facility, and then tells Davros that he has dealt with this problem—but still doesn’t know the whereabouts of the spy.

Outside the nursery, Baran apologizes to Ludella, then knocks her out. With a bit of technical intervention—plus some good guessing regarding Davros’s password—he manages to get inside, and is delighted to know his efforts are paying off. He finds a number of the experimental children inside. One attacks him, setting off alarms; Nyder arrives shortly thereafter, and starts shooting the creature. Davros arrives as well, and demands to know why Nyder shot the creature; when Nyder says it attacked him, Davros attributes it to behavioural regression. Nyder explains that it also attacked Kaston, but Davros then recognizes Kaston as Baran—the spy! He orders Baran to be taken to the new laboratory for surgery. He orders Ludella brought inside, where she will serve as food for the children.

Davros operates on Baran, performing the cerebral augmentation surgery which has previously only worked on Kaleds. If it works, he has a new prototype travel machine, based on his own chair, ready and waiting…

In the morning, Davros shows Nyder the prototype, the Mark I. The surgery seems to have been successful, and the mutant is inside. Nyder draws a weapon in light of the activation, but Davros has him holster it, as the creature’s aggressive tendencies have been suppressed. He activates the creature, and its new, mechanical optical stalk twitches. It looks around, then focuses on Davros, who introduces himself as its creator. It repeats Davros’s name, and then declares, “I am alive!” Davros’s planned future, it seems, is arriving right on schedule.

Guilt 2

At last, we come full circle, and meet the Davros we know and love (to hate, that is). The elapsed time between the previous episode and this is not stated, but seems to be a few years, at least; Davros is old enough now to comment to Nyder—who didn’t appear to be a very young man in his appearance in Genesis of the Daleks–that things Davros remembers were before Nyder’s time. Davros has outlived the expectations of the Supremo in Corruption, and has risen to the top of the scientific elite to the point that he is comfortable with ambitions of rule. He carries out those ambitions here, leaving himself in the position at which we find him in Genesis; it isn’t clear exactly when Genesis takes place, but it appears to be not long after this story. (The writing staff state in the interviews for the series that Genesis takes place perhaps six months later, but this isn’t made clear within the story.)

I was surprised to see that Davros has become something of a pacifist at the beginning of this episode, though he would never use that term. He has diverted himself from weapons research, and turned toward biological science, but even within that field he is working on peaceful endeavours rather than weapons. While he certainly still believes in the Kaled race over the Thals, he is more concerned with healing and evolving the race and the planet than with winning the war. Of course, later we will see those two courses of ambition merge into one, as he applies his biological and technological expertise to the conquest of the universe at the head of the Daleks.

We introduce yet another sympathetic character here in the person of Tech Ops officer Ludella; but not much effort goes into her characterization. We don’t even find out that she has a family until minutes before the end of the story, just before her death at Davros’s direction. However, that’s a fitting trend by now; there’s very little chance that Davros will show any humanity, and therefore there’s no sense in pouring effort into building a character for him to care about.

In the end, everyone we’ve met along the way is dead. Davros’s entire family is long gone, and here we witness the end of the Supremo and the Council of Twelve (not a spoiler, really, as we already know them to be gone by the time of Genesis). In their place, we get Nyder, who is a Lieutenant here. I always found him to be a compelling villain; he is brutal and utterly without scruples, a man on whom no leverage works. He comes on the scene fully formed here, and throws himself into Davros’s service; perhaps this too is appropriate, as Davros himself has been the same at his core all along. I’ve reflected often during this listen that the progression portrayed in the titles—from “Innocence” to “Guilt”—is an illusion, as Davros has been corrupt from the start.

I was a little disappointed that this final chapter doesn’t include a closing voiceover of the older Davros with the Daleks. Throughout the story, he’s been building a case for his own importance based on these stories, and I can’t help feeling that the closing argument was left out. In fact, the story ends surprisingly abruptly; we get the first words from the first prototype Dalek, and…that’s it! There’s no wrap-up at all. After the substantial work that has clearly gone into the presentation thus far, it’s a little jarring.

Looking over the series as a whole, I was impressed with the way it portrayed the Thals and the Kaleds as equal combatants in the war. Classic Who, whether intentionally or not, leaves one with the impression that the Thals have the moral high ground. There are no such illusions here, as both sides engage in espionage, sabotage, murder, and betrayal of their own people—not to mention the obvious attempted genocides. It’s perhaps a bit ironic—and this definitely counts as a spoiler, if we’re counting—that the first Dalek is created from a Thal rather than a Kaled. (That role, both before and after Dalek conversion, is played by producer Nicholas Briggs, who routinely voices the Daleks on television as well as for Big Finish.)

The voice acting has been top-notch throughout the series. Despite the fact that we’re dealing with characters who, practically by definition, suffer from megalomania, no one is too over-the-top. Nothing is over- or under-played. I feel especially compelled to mention the role of Nyder, played by Peter Miles; thirty-one years after his previous appearance in Genesis of the Daleks, there’s no indication that he’s aged at all. Nyder, as portrayed here, is as quietly imposing as always. (I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was Miles who played Curator Gantman in Whispers of Terror, as well.)

Many of the things we see in Genesis of the Daleks are in place by now, and bear mentioning, as they appear in this story. The Kaled and Thal cities are now shielded by environmental domes, and the populations have been further reduced both by war and by declining birth rates. Davros’s chair is present in the form we know; it was mentioned at the end of the last installment, but not described, whereas here he states that he has based the Mark I Dalek form on his chair. He can survive for a time without it, though with much pain, as we will see much, much later in The Witch’s Familiar. Davros ends the story as the acting head of state, a situation he promises to give up when a new government is established, although Genesis makes it clear he does not. Likewise, Nyder is established as Security Commander. The Mutos from the wasteland are present, as are the monstrosities in the caverns outside the city. The word “Dalek” gets an origin here, as the Dal Book of Predictions uses it for its final phrase, translated to “as gods”. Other continuity references are mostly to the earlier episodes in this series.

Overall: After some slow moments in the first and second installments, this story has definitely taken off in the final two chapters. The end product is a ruthless, cruel, manipulative Davros, one truly worthy to be the creator of the Daleks. It’s easy to picture this Davros answering the Fourth Doctor’s question about the use of a virus to destroy all life: “Yes, I would do it! That power would set me up above the gods. And through the Daleks, I shall have that power!” All the more poetic, as “Dalek” is a word for “gods”, as established here. I recommend this story for anyone interested in Davros and the Daleks; its few weaknesses do little to overcome its strengths, and it’s worth the hours invested.

Next time: While we’re on a Davros streak, I may finish with the only-somewhat-related The Davros Mission, which is also available on Spotify, and is only a single episode. We’ll also continue our Short Trips reviews with the final entry of Volume I, and then Volume Two next week; and we’ll continue the Main Range with Nekromanteia! 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.

I, Davros: Guilt

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Audio Drama Review: I, Davros: Corruption

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing our look at the early life of the creator of the Daleks, in I, Davros: Corruption. Let’s get started!

Corruption 1

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

Davros continues his analysis of his own past, musing on his progress through the Kaled Science Elite, and his growing political skill, all in pursuit of power.

A squad of Thal paratroopers come under Kaled fire as their plane is destroyed. As they land and commence their mission, they know they will not return home. Meanwhile, Councillor Matross summons Davros to the Council of Twelve, which now includes his mother Calcula, to answer for the expenses of the Scientific Elite. As the meeting devolves into argument, they are attacked by the surviving Thal paratrooper, who shockingly reveals that she has come to kill, not the Supremo, but Davros! He outwits her by ordering Calcula to reactivate the magnetic field of the assassin’s parachute; the planet’s magnetic field is strong here, and crushes the assassin to the floor, killing her.

Davros takes advantage of the situation to analyze the Thal female’s DNA. He finds it to be completely different from Kaled DNA, implying the two races have no common ancestor—they simply fill the same ecological niche, though with certain differences in internal organs. Davros notes that Thal men outnumber the women seven to one, but laments that the mass extinctions of other life forms in the war make it impossible to draw good comparisons. If any living creatures remain, they are in Drammakin Lake—now the Lake of Mutations—and the tunnels beneath the city. His associate Shan suggests capturing some samples in order to preserve as much of the genetic record as possible before it is too late. Davros disagrees, looking to the future instead of the past; but at any rate, non-military research has been banned, and so Davros directs another associate, Ral, to develop a quick test for Thal DNA. Perhaps a biological plague weapon can be developed. As Ral leaves, Davros asks Shan to stay behind.

Calcula meets with Section Leader Fenn of the Military Youth. Davros joins them, introducing Calcula to Shan, who was formerly in the Military Youth herself. Davros speaks highly of Shan, gaining Calcula’s notice. Calcula introduces Davros to Fenn, and says that she is planning a movement for the Youth; Davros interprets this as seeking a power base. He excuses himself and leaves with Shan. Fenn misspeaks and angers Calcula, but gets back in her graces by agreeing to a job before he knows what it is—a kind of loyalty she approves.

Davros jokes with Shan that, as Calcula is now technically her leader, she might be a spy; but Shan reminds him that Youth membership is compulsory, and that things have gotten worse with Calcula’s involvement, with any questioning resulting in punishment and even death, even for the very young. Davros expresses some frustration with the private army of loyalists that Calcula seems to be constructing. They are distracted by the DNA analysis; Shan assumes there is a fault, as the damaged DNA is changing—evolving, possibly? It makes no sense, as evolution within an individual is unheard of. Nevertheless, Davros thinks they can shape their own genetic destiny; Shan isn’t so sure, as they are killing Skaro, and have found no other life-supporting worlds. She mentions her own home in Darrien, which is now lifeless; Davros counters even this, pointing out the mutated worms and monsters that survive there and elsewhere. He reminds her that she herself proposed a solution in a paper a year prior; and now it’s time to make her dream reality.

Fenn provides Calcula with Shan’s personnel file. He admits that he has known Shan for years, but doesn’t like her; she is too clever. Calcula suspects that Davros is becoming romantically involved with Shan, and she wants to make the most of it; hence, the file. Fenn leaves, and Davros arrives; Calcula reads parts of the file to him. Shan’s family, while poor, is well-connected. Davros shows her blueprints for a radiation machine—not a weapon, but a variation on a cancer-curing device he invented. She dismisses the achievement. He inquires about her interest in Shan, and reacts badly at the suggestion that the Council may be interested in her. She changes the subject, and tells him that Councilor Matross has died in an accident, removing an obstacle to Davros’s work…and she hints that she may have had something to do with it.

Davros makes up with Shan over his earlier, disparaging remarks about Darrien. The conversation turns to their work, and he excitedly reveals that his machine can definitely shape the direction of mutations. He suggests that they may engineer an organism that can survive any environmental changes on Skaro. It need not be attractive, but must be intelligent, and have strong survival instincts.

At dinner, Calcula is pleased to see Davros reading a paper on obstetrics. She interprets his distraction as sulking over the obstacles from the Council, and reminds him that Matross is out of the picture. He is more determined than ever not to get politically entangled, but she suggests that he at least attend the unveiling of a new weapon he invented—and why not bring Shan along?

Shan joins Calcula in the War Room for the unveiling and the attendant military push. Shan’s father, in the military, is leading the campaign, but they are unable to speak to him from here…but perhaps he will survive and be able to speak afterward. They watch as the weapon, a massively overpowered beam generator, breaches the wall of a Thal command bunker; as survivors pour out, they are slaughtered by the Kaled ground forces. To the Council, it is much like a sporting event; Calcula complains that things of this nature aren’t shown to children more often. Another Councilor, Valron, is surprised by her reaction, and argues briefly with her. As the weapon’s power requirements burn it out after one shot, the Supremo asks Davros to build more of them. He asks Davros to stay as he addresses the people; Calcula offers the disgusted Shan a ride home, but she refuses, and walks.

As Shan tries to leave, Fenn accosts her, and refuses to leave her alone. Valron intervenes, and Fenn apologizes and departs. Valron is more sympathetic to her view on the carnage of the evening, and offers to walk her home. She accepts.

Davros is starting to see the Council’s view on things—more efforts like this might win the war, and wipe out the Thals completely. He advises the Supremo to pursue such a genocidal course; after all, logically, only one life form can triumph. The Supremo changes the subject and reveals that Thal spies are known to be in the city; one such is Fenn, who will soon be arrested. Davros wants to warn Calcula, but communications are down; he goes to do it in person.

Calcula finds Fenn waiting for her at home. He tells her that Davros is waiting for her in his lab, and leads her there as she exults over the massacre. When she unlocks and enters the lab, Davros isn’t there; Fenn immediately begins destroying Davros’s equipment. He says that the Supremo sent him to destroy Davros’s work in exchange for a promotion; and that he is also to injure Calcula, ensuring that she will fade into obscurity. She declares him a spy, and tells him she will do anything to protect her son and his work. She switches on the radiation machine, and Fenn cries out in pain; but she has already doomed them both with a high dose of radiation. As Fenn dies, she tells him that these actions will also bring down the Supremo, and put Davros on the throne, just as she always wanted. Before Fenn dies, they both begin to mutate.

Davros arrives at the lab, finding Shan already there. Fenn is dead, and Calcula is dying; but Davros only has eyes for the mutations they have experienced, and how it proves his theories. His clinical reaction to his mother’s impending death shocks Shan; she asks him to reverse the process, but he says that he cannot. Calcula tells him that their enemies killed her because they fear Davros, and that he must ascend and destroy their enemies. She expresses her pride in him, and then dies. He sends Shan away and tells her he is not to be disturbed while he works.

Shan finds Valron and tells him Calcula is dead. She also realizes, and explains, that Fenn’s mutations matched Calcula’s, implying that he was not a Thal, but a Kaled. She and Valron deduce that he was not a spy, but that his questionable actions were under orders from someone very senior, more so than Calcula herself, and possibly a Councilor. Valron dismisses her concern that Davros might be next, and tells her to leave Davros to his grief—though she is sure he isn’t grieving.

A pregnant woman named Renna finds that her regular doctor has been replaced by Davros, whom she does not know. He accidentally reveals that she is having a boy, but covers by telling her that she will be offered an injection of a new drug to counter certain negative environmental factors. She agrees.

Shan realizes that Valron is taken with her, and he admits his attraction to her. Shan thinks word of Calcula’s death is being suppressed. Valron worries that the Military Youth may be turned on any Council member who is implicated. Shan suggests making peace with the Thals; the idea is illegal, and Valron is shocked, causing her to backpedal a bit. However, she insists that Davros, at least, should know the truth of who killed his mother.

Shan joins Davros at the hospital, and is surprised to find him working the maternity ward. They argue over their respective emotional involvements in the circumstances. Meanwhile an expectant mother unexpectedly dies of complications, the fourth such death today. He rushes to incubate the baby, but it latches on to Shan and tries to hurt her. He gets it into the incubator, and Shan inquires about their chances of survival, but he does not know. He reveals that each new baby, on which he has experimented, is genetically identical to his post-mutative mother—a new species! Shan tells him that the Supremo ordered Calcula’s death, possibly in league with the Council. Davros acknowledges it, but doesn’t care; Calcula lives on in the new species. He believes no revenge is necessary, as the murderers’ deaths are inevitable—only his new species will ultimately survive. Shan asks what he has taken out of them, and he says he has only removed that which affects their ability to think rationally. She thinks this is horrible, prompting him to disdain her.

Shan returns to Valron and reports Davros’s words. Meanwhile the Military Youth begin to riot, word of Calcula’s death having gotten out. Davros meets with the Supremo, who asks about an anti-radiation drug that was in development; it has been completed and distributed. Davros confronts the Supremo about Calcula’s murder, which the Supremo denies ordering. Davros declines to use his influence with Calcula’s followers to stop the riots, as it was a Kaled, not a Thal, that killed her. The Supremo suggests that the attack was to restrain Calcula, not kill her; but clearly it has backfired. The Supremo agrees to give Davros whatever he wants. Davros turns down a Council position. Instead, he wants complete autonomy and unlimited resources for his science division, starting with new labs underground. He backs up his demand by threatening to prove who killed Calcula, ensuring death for the killer. He suggests that it is more advantageous to leave the Supremo in power, and suggests naming Valron as the murderer in order to stop the riots. To that end, he provides a faked file of documents proving Valron’s guilt.

Davros tells Shan that Valron has pro-Thal views, but she doesn’t believe it. He is angered to learn that she has been discussing their work with Valron, and orders her to end her relationship with the Councilor. Shan argues for pursuing peace with the Thals. The Supremo, having been eavesdropping, enters, and has her taken away to be hung. Later, he makes an announcement that the traitors have been unceremoniously hung; Shan’s father was killed in battle hours earlier, before he could hear of her fate. Davros watches this in bemusement; but he is interrupted by a call from Ral about an incoming Thal warhead. The lab is twelve stories below ground, and Davros is sure he’ll be fine—but an explosion occurs, and he blacks out.

Over the next month, Davros lingers near death, and sees his life flash before his eyes, with visions of his mother urging him to live—even at the sacrifice of his flesh.

Kaled medical technology saves Davros’s life—in fact, it can make him outlive his compatriots, surviving to the end of his natural lifespan, as no one has done in ten generations. And yet, with his terrible condition, do the doctors have the right to inflict this life on him? As he awakens, he learns that the Council and Scientific Elite have decided that if he will die, it will be by his choice. Ral provides him with a poison injector with which he can end his pained existence if he chooses. The Supremo thinks it is over…

However, Davros chooses to live. A week later, he emerges, and meets with Ral; he rejects any thought of weakness and recovery. He lives by machines now, in a life support vehicle. He will improve on the designs, but in the meantime, he feels a great clarity, with the world no longer filtered by his flesh. He feels no more affinity for the Kaleds, but also feels no fear—and he has a destiny to fulfill.

Corruption 2

Things are picking up! Or down, as the case may be; there’s nothing good to be found in Davros here. The title of this installment, Corruption, is a bit misleading, as are the titles for all the installments; collectively they imply that Davros started out good, and slowly became evil. In fact, he was deeply warped from the beginning, and this story only serves to reinforce that fact. We see him become increasingly more calloused, as those around him—those about whom he should care—die in succession. Or perhaps he isn’t becoming more calloused; perhaps he was always that way, and only gains successively more terrible opportunities to show it. In this regard, the series is hindered a bit by a lack of vital characters to kill off; Davros’s family and circle were small at the beginning, and thus, each chapter is forced to insert new characters and establish why Davros should care about them. Results may vary. Here, we are introduced to a possible love interest, Shan, a fellow scientist and former member of the Military Youth. She certainly has some potential; but we’ve already long since established that Davros is not interested in romance, and so the story never really commits to that subplot. Instead, Shan becomes a clone of his long-dead sister Yarvell, having a very similar story arc, sympathies, and fate. She’s a likeable character, but misused here almost by necessity.

The peak of this episode is the transition to the crippled, machine-dependent Davros we know from the television series. (I’m not going to conceal this as a spoiler, for two reasons: It was obvious from the beginning that this would happen eventually; and the upcoming episode is going to assume his condition from the beginning.) With this transition comes a complete alienation from his people. When I first watched Genesis of the Daleks, I wondered at how Davros could be so calloused and hostile to his own people; he effectively initiates the genocide of the Kaled race by transforming the last of them into Daleks, and is quite gleeful about it. Here we begin to get an understanding of why (and I will let that be a spoiler). (On a related note: the population numbers for both the Kaleds and the Thals can’t be very high at any point. It’s never implied that they have more than a few cities each, and by the time of Genesis, they are essentially reduced to one each. We’re very nearly at that point already; mention is made of other cities which are no longer habitable. Curiously, this low population density doesn’t seem to bother anyone, even though it means the race may not be viable much longer; they continue to maintain a recklessly warlike stance, with continued notions of honorable suicide.)

We are treated to quite a bit of backstory on the Kaleds, the Thals, and Skaro, most of which is new to this story. It is noted that there are seven Thal males for every female; that the biology of the Kaleds and Thals differs significantly beneath the surface; that the wartime life expectancy of a Kaled is 52 years, and no one in ten generations has died of old age; that most lifeforms on Skaro are extinct; that Drammankin Lake has now become known as the Lake of Mutations; and that wartime pollution and radioactivity has blocked out views of the sun (though apparently not to the point of causing a nuclear winter). There’s no aspect of life on Skaro that isn’t tragic; it’s a wonder anything good or beautiful ever arose.

Continuity references: This story draws upon the audio drama Davros for early mentions of its events, including the use of rodents for research, and the research paper by Shan which indicates re-engineering of the race would be necessary. The Lake of Mutations was previously called such in The Daleks, as well as in the preceding chapter of this story, Innocence. Davros mentions the Varga plants and their effects (Mission to the Unknown, I, Davros: Purity). He mentions the Mutos (Genesis of the Daleks; also mentioned in Purity). The notion of the genetic divergence between the Kaleds and Thals is also mentioned in We are the Daleks!, though that story gives a different account of their origin (according to the wiki, at least; I have not yet read that story).

Overall: This is certainly the most interesting episode so far. The first episode, Innocence, is certainly good; but I couldn’t help being impatient for what was to come. The second, Purity, wanders a bit too much. This episode puts us back on track, and moves Davros into territory that is familiar, but not yet exhausted of its potential. He truly becomes the villain he is meant to be. I’m interested to see how the story ends.

Next time: I’ve been set back a bit by responsibilities at work, but I still hope to post about the next Main Range entry, Jubilee, this week; and then we’ll wrap up I, Davros with the final chapter, Guilt! 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.

I, Davros: Corruption

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