Audio Drama Review: Destination: Nerva

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Last week, we wrapped up series two of the Eighth Doctor Adventures; and earlier this week, we finished the Eighth Doctor’s second “season” of the Main Range. This week, we begin something (sort of) new, as we look at series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. Today we’ll begin with Destination: Nerva, picking up immediately after the classic serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Let’s get started!

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

Destination Nerva 1

Leaving London and the company of Henry Gordon Jago and George Litefoot, the Doctor and Leela barely have time to dematerialize before the TARDIS receives an alien distress call…from the year 1895?!  They follow the signal to a house in England, where a battle has taken place.  Human and alien dead can be found; the Doctor identifies the aliens as Drellerans—and they were not the aggressors.  He also finds a Drelleran stardrive, which is faulty and therefore potentially deadly.  They flee in the TARDIS and try to track the drive to the ship it belongs to, but the drive’s effect on the TARDIS nearly knocks them off course.

They arrive on a transport ship, the Chandler, some centuries in the future.  The ship is carrying a construction crew to a space station under construction…and the Doctor is thrilled to discover that the station is Nerva Beacon, which he has visited before (here called Nerva Dock).  With Leela, he has a brief run-in with the crew’s foreman and shop steward, Jim Hooley, who decides they are new workers.  The Chandler is forced to divert to a different airlock, as their expected lock is unexpectedly occupied by a space pod from another ship called the Aeolus.  Upon arrival, he orders the Doctor and Leela into spacesuits and onto the station hull with the rest of the work crew.

The Aeolus pod is of Drelleran design, as is its parent ship; but it’s a human aboard, one Sergeant Henry McMullan.  He enters the airlock without authorization, and demands to be let in.  Chief Technician Laura Craske calls her acting supervisor, Dr. Alison Foster for permission to let him in.  Foster realizes something is not right, and declines, but her signal is cut off, and Laura lets Henry in.  He shakes her hand, and she suddenly becomes compliant to him.  She takes him to the Control Center, and introduces him to the station commander, Commodore Giles Moreau; Moreau declines to shake his hand.  Moreau orders McMullan to medical quarantine as per standard procedure, but is interrupted by a system fault alert.  Elsewhere, Hooley has escorted the Doctor and Leela back inside, and called for security; security arrives in the form of a hovering, robotic Drudger, and takes them (using mild force) to the Control Center.  Hooley returns to the hull.  Moreau, meanwhile, traces the fault to the airlock where the pod is docked.  McMullan tries to control the situation, and appears to mesmerize Leela, but the Doctor breaks her free of it.  McMullan wants to shake hands with everyone, but Leela realizes he is not what he seems.  Moreau orders the Drudger to arrest them all, but it collapses in system failure.  Laura, meanwhile, becomes suddenly weak and incoherent.  On the hull, Hooley is behaving similarly to Laura; Foster orders him back inside.

The Doctor realizes McMullan is wearing the same uniform under his spacesuit as the dead soldiers they saw in 1895.  He realizes the Aeolus is a Drelleran ship, and confronts McMullan about stealing it.  A proximity alert sounds; the Aeolus has arrived, and will soon dock.  Henry, it seems, is an advance troop, carrying some kind of fast-moving infection that affects not only people, but the station systems; it is carried on the skin, in the form of a separate, independently-acting epidermis; the Doctor dubs it an “Epiderm”.  Laura quickly becomes a similarly-mutated creature.  The commander of the Aeolus, Lord Jack Corrigan, contacts them.  The Doctor, Leela, and the Commodore are forced to run.

Corrigan communicates with the Epiderms forming on the station, and says he and the crew will join them for the final unification of humankind.

As the Aeolus docks, the Doctor warns the others not to let the creatures touch them.  Hooley enters the airlock, but the inner door won’t secure.  He insists something is wrong with him, and Foster tries to intervene—but she is stopped just short of touching him by the Doctor and the Commodore.  Hooley dies while they argue, and Foster is outraged; Leela is forced to hold her back.  She sees Hooley begin to transform, and she flees with the others.  Elsewhere, Corrigan comes aboard, and meets a security team—and absorbs them into the Epiderm entity.  The Doctor’s group flees to the Chandler, but Moreau is touched by one of the creatures as the airlock closes; unknown to anyone, he is infected.  They cast off from the station, breaking the airlock in the process.  The Doctor sees, to his delight,  that Nerva is orbiting Jupiter, as he once guessed.

Moreau sends a distress signal to the nearby supply ship from whence the Chandler originated, and requests a quarantine of Nerva, but is unsuccessful, as Jack blocks the signal.  Jack tries to entice them back, and explains how he took the Aeolus in the nineteenth century and used it to try to build a British empire in the stars.  The group discovers that the supply ship is already infected.  With nowhere to go, Leela suggests using the TARDIS to get to Earth, but the Doctor thinks it won’t work—and it becomes moot, as Moreau transforms and blocks their way to the TARDIS.  The Doctor locates spacesuits and gets himself, Leela, and Foster onto the hull.  Outside, they see a huge ship coming—a Drelleran ship, centuries more advanced than the Aeolus.  It teleports them aboard.

Two Drellerans meet them.  They show the group a video of Jack’s initial conquest of a Drelleran expedition, and explain how he conquered the peaceful Drelleran society afterward.  They explain that, in revolt, the Drellerans unleashed a virus which creates the Epiderm creatures.  The infected Jack was compelled to return to Earth and infect the rest of humanity; it’s sheer chance that he landed on Nerva first.  The Doctor argues that humanity has matured since then; Foster and Leela convince them of his trustworthiness.  However, they have made up their minds, and they infect the trio with the virus.  They then return them to the station, where the Epiderms wait.

When the Epiderm tries to merge with them, it begins to die.  They realize they were infected with not the virus, but a cure.  It spreads rapidly, and all over the station, people begin to recover and awaken.  The exceptions are Jack and his crew; having used stolen Drelleran technology to extend their lives, they now cannot handle reversion to normal, and they die.  The Doctor encourages Foster to take the opportunity to develop a serum against the Epiderm virus, because Moreau is still infected—and not only that, but his infection of the Chandler is separating them from the TARDIS.

Later, with the TARDIS recovered, Leela and the Doctor discuss their travels.  He asks where she wants to go, and she takes him up on his previous offer to teach her about the universe.  With that, they depart.

Destination Nerva 2

Cast and crew of Destination: Nerva

 

To be honest, I was under the impression that Big Finish had been doing Fourth Doctor adventures long before 2012, when this story was published. I don’t mind being wrong, however; and they’ve gone to great lengths to put plenty of Fourth Doctor material on the market since then. This story is a decent opener, though it feels very short. It begins, as I said, minutes after the end of The Talons of Weng-Chiang, as evidenced by the fact that the Doctor and Leela are still wearing the same clothes; and naturally, it references that story several times. Tom Baker’s age doesn’t show at all here; he puts in a great performance, as does Louise Jameson.

My usual criticism of the Fourth Doctor/Leela team still applies here, unfortunately: They have a very strange relationship, and it wouldn’t be such a stretch to refer to it as a master/slave relationship, or better, master/pet. I will grudgingly admit that it fits in with the established chronology in that sense; Talons is a very early story for Leela, and this one follows immediately after, so their relationship has had no time to grow. I wish I could say it gets better with time, but I don’t think it does, or at least not enough. Leela does get some character growth in other materials after leaving the Doctor’s company on Gallifrey, so there’s that. Here, she is very obsequious toward him, practically fawning over him when speaking to Dr. Foster; it makes for the only really awkward moment in the story.

Nerva Beacon, or Nerva Dock as it is known here, is a good location for stories, and I don’t mind revisiting it, especially as it’s already been established as surviving for thousands of years. The Doctor makes some reference to his previous visits (The Ark in Space through Revenge of the Cybermen, covering almost all of season twelve), but not in any great detail, which is appropriate for the rushed action of the story. (I say “rushed” in a good sense; it’s hectic for the characters, who are racing against time to escape the Epiderms.) Ironically enough, the Doctor doesn’t really do much to solve this crisis, other than a few moments of trying to persuade the Drellerans; it’s they who save the station crew, by administering the cure. That’s a strange turn for the normally proactive Fourth Doctor and the combative Leela, but it’s okay once in a while.

Most of the continuity references seen here are, naturally, from The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It’s worth mentioning that that serial’s Jago and Litefoot, mentioned again here, will eventually have their own audio series, and will appear in a few other Doctor Who audios as well (The Justice of Jalxar, Voyage to Venus, possibly others). The Drudgers, the station’s hovering security robots, originate in the Audio Visuals audio productions; for Big Finish, they first appeared in The Sirens of Time, and reappeared in Invasion of the Daleks (Dalek Empire I), as well as a Bernice Sumerfield novel (Benny and Louise). The Doctor mentions that he once knew a butler named Butler (The Foe from the Future). As well, there are the previously-mentioned references to season twelve.

Overall, there’s not much to complain about, other than the general relationship between the Doctor and Leela. It’s a quick story with no real loose ends, and no overarching story arc (at least, as far as I can tell at this point). It’s fun to listen to, and doesn’t require much investment of time or energy. Not a bad start to what I hope is a good series.

Destination Nerva 3

Next time: The Renaissance Man! 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.

Destination: Nerva

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Fourth and Long: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twelve

With the exit of John Pertwee last week, we’ve reached the longest-running Doctor of the classic series, Tom Baker! It’s a record that has yet to be surpassed even in the revived series.  Personally, I’m a little too young to have seen him in first run—I was born at the end of the seventies—but courtesy of a very slow and laid-back public television station, this is the Doctor I grew up with, and I always considered him to be “my Doctor”.  (To the best of my memory, the local station dropped broadcasting of Doctor Who at the same time as the first-run termination of the show by the BBC, but we had only reached the Fifth Doctor at that time—at least, I don’t recall Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy from those days, and when the movie was released in 1996 I recall being very surprised that Paul McGann was the eighth Doctor.)  Let’s get to it!

robot 1

Doctor meets doctor

 

After a momentary cameo last season, the Fourth Doctor makes his real debut in Robot.  He and Sarah Jane are immediately joined by new companion (and doctor) Harry Sullivan, the first true male companion since Jamie McCrimmon.  It’s also the final regular appearance for the Brigadier (whose middle name, Gordon, is first mentioned here), though not his last overall; we’ll see him again next season, plus a bit in the eighties.  The same goes for Sgt. Benton (here promoted to Warrant Officer), though with slightly different future appearances.  As for the Doctor, it was an unusually smooth regeneration, perhaps balancing out the turmoil that led up to it, and most likely due to K’anpo Rimpoche’s assistance.  Tom Baker even resembles a young John Pertwee a bit, though their personalities will prove to be very different.

robot 2

Couldn’t get a shot of the day pass.  Here’s Sarah Jane, the Doctor and Bessie instead.

 

We get a sort-of specific date for this serial: April 4th, as seen on Sarah’s Think Tank day pass.  Her thumb obscures part of the ticket, and we aren’t sure if it’s supposed to be 1974 or 1975 (the original broadcast spanned both years).  I expect it’s 1975, as that is more consistent with the rest of the season.

Robot 3

K1, doing a mean King Kong impression

 

We get a sympathetic villain in the titular robot, K1 (I want to make a K1/K9 joke here, but it’s just not coming together). He’s being used, but he doesn’t want to be, and he suffers greatly for it.  He’s the victim of a plot by misguided scientists to rule the world, and nothing good comes of it in the end.

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Until next time, Brigadier

 

Some oddities: We’re beginning a run of more than a full season in which the TARDIS interior is never seen, though the Doctor does use the TARDIS.  At some point, the Doctor has an offscreen visit—alone, it seems—to the planet of the Sevateem from season fourteen’s The Face of Evil; it’s suggested it happens here, in part one, while Harry is incapacitated and the Doctor is in the TARDIS (we even hear the dematerialization sound, and it’s proposed that he is returning, not leaving, when the others enter the room).  If so, his post-regeneration confusion might account for why he later has trouble remembering the trip.  Finally, it’s mentioned that the USA, USSR, and China all gave their nuclear launch codes to Britain for safekeeping. While I can believe in a seven-foot transformable robot, that proposition stretches credit a little too far for anyone who grew up during the cold war.

Nerva beacon

Nerva Beacon

 

The Doctor, Harry, and Sarah land in the far future—approximately the year 15,000—on the space station Nerva Beacon in The Ark in Space.  Nerva will be the “lynchpin” of the season, as they return travel to and from the station.  At this time in history, Earth has been abandoned for about ten thousand years due to solar flare devastation around the year 5,000; it’s the same diaspora that spawned the Starship UK in NuWho’s The Beast Below.  Nerva is populated with hibernating humans whose mission was to repopulate the planet.  The station has been partially taken over by the Wirrn, a spaceborne insectoid race that wants to assimilate the humans for their knowledge.  I remember being absolutely terrified by the Wirrn as a child; they’re still an effective enemy today.

Wirrn infection

You should get that looked at, dude

 

I never cared for the way this serial presents Sarah Jane. She comes across as weak, another screaming damsel in distress, which is very different from her time with the Third Doctor.  Although this serial is the high-water mark for that portrayal, it’s something that will continue for the rest of Sarah’s time with the Doctor.

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Sontaran Bondage Games?

 

After freeing Nerva from the Wirrn, the Doctor and his companions transmat down to the supposedly-empty Earth to repair the transmat receptor beacons—a one-way trip if they can’t fix them—in The Sontaran Experiment.  (The date, of course, is the same, as this serial immediately follows the previous one.)  It’s a short adventure, only two episodes long—in fact, it’s the shortest serial of the 1970s, a product of script editor Robert Holmes’s aversion to six-episode serials.  He preferred four-episode stories, but with the next serial, Genesis of the Daleks, he had no choice but to accept the longer version; therefore he compensated with this brief contribution.  The Sontarans return in the person of Styre, another clone warrior; though genetically identical to Linx from the previous Sontaran story, he looks different, as the costume had to be replaced.  (Kevin Lindsay, the actor, suffered from a health condition exacerbated by the original costume; six short months later, the same condition would claim his life.)  This story, along with Genesis of the Daleks, is one of the eight TARDIS-free stories that I’ve previously mentioned; after Genesis, it won’t happen again until 2008’s Midnight.

sontaranexperiment

The Doctor challenges Styre to combat

 

Here we find that Nerva isn’t the only place where a remnant of humanity survived; in fact, they’ve spread through the stars and become a vast empire (not, though, one of the four Great and Bountiful Human Empires—the dates don’t match up). Nerva, in fact, is considered something of a lost colony, the future’s Atlantis or Roanoke Island.  Earth itself, however, is still not reinhabited; its only occupants are a crashed human expedition, and the Sontaran who would use them as slaves and experimental fodder.  The Doctor fights Styre hand-to-hand at one point, and actually wins, though with some help from an energy feedback; either Styre is a terrible Sontaran, or the Doctor is a much more capable warrior than we’ve been led to believe.

Do I have the right

Do I have the right?!

 

In Genesis of the Daleks, we get one of the classic series’ most famous serials.  The Doctor is intercepted en route back to Nerva by the Time Lords and sent to Skaro at a point in its distant past (about 4,000 BC, it seems).  He’s given a mission:  Stop the creation of the Daleks before they grow to destroy all other life.  Failing that, he is to change them in some way that reduces their aggression, or find some weakness to exploit.  Let’s get it out of the way:  though he fails to destroy them (with the famous “Have I the right?” line), he sets their development back by a thousand years; however, the timeline we’ve been seeing all along incorporates that change, meaning that past appearances of the Daleks won’t change retroactively.  It can also be argued that he inadvertently saved Davros’s life, thus later creating a schism in the Daleks that arguably weakens their ability to conquer.

Davros and Nyder

Nyder and Davros

 

This entry is getting long, so let’s mention some noteworthy things in this serial. The Dalek raygun visual effect is first used here, though we can assume previous serials implied it.  The scenes of the war between Kaleds and Thals will be famously recapped in Series 9’s The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, where the Twelfth Doctor saves young Davros, thus answering the dilemma he poses to Sarah Jane and Harry about killing a child you know will become a monster. The Kaleds are unusually ignorant for an advanced race, believing there are only a few stars and that those worlds have no inhabitants.  The Thals make their final (or technically, first!) onscreen appearance here.  The Kaleds (except for Davros) only appear here.  Davros appears to die, but don’t be fooled; he does that often.  The Daleks don’t seem to require any kind of power transmission; there’s a theory that says that the Daleks from early appearances (The Daleks, et al.) were mutants left behind when most of their race fled Skaro, and only had access to inferior prototype machines until their cousins later returned.  And last, Davros’s assistant Nyder:  That man is terrifying.  He’s one of the most unquestioningly evil characters we’ve ever seen.  While the Daleks scared me as a child, Nyder scares me as an adult.

Genesis of the Daleks

One more matter, and it’s crucial to the revived series: The Doctor’s actions here are often considered to be the opening salvo of the Last Great Time War.  Although the Daleks lack time travel at this point, Davros’s hatred for the Time Lords begins here, and will eventually—in the era of the Eighth Doctor—blossom into the war.

Revenge of the Cybermen

Cybermen on Nerva!

 

In Revenge of the Cybermen, The Time Lords aren’t done with the Doctor; instead of sending him back to the time he left, they send him to Nerva somewhere earlier in its history. (A History of the Universe gives a date of 2875, but this seems inaccurate; it is more likely to be shortly before the year 5000, some brief decades or centuries before the solar flares.)  The station has not been repurposed as an ark yet; it is a warning beacon near an errant asteroid called Voga.  Unknown to its crew, Voga is a remnant of the legendary planet of gold, which was destroyed by the Cybermen during humanity’s wars with them; Cybermen are vulnerable to gold, as we learn here.  Although this is still far in our future, these are Mondasian cybermen, not the hybrid version seen in Series 7’s Nightmare in Silver.  This is the final appearance of the Cybermen until Earthshock in the mid-1980s, though they may get an occasional mention in the meantime.  We see a new type of Cybermat, as well, one that is more like a snake than a rat.  It’s a simple story; the Cybermen are in league with a human on Nerva to bring about the destruction of Voga.  The Doctor, working with the Vogans, puts an end to their plans.

Vogans

Welcome to Voga

 

Some final thoughts about the Fourth Doctor: This season demonstrates that the nice, polite Third Doctor is well and truly gone.  Baker’s Doctor can be arrogant and cruel to his companions; he’s capricious in a way we haven’t seen before, even while working for a good end.  Looking back, it’s painfully obvious that this was a growing-up phase for him—his adolescence, if you will.  He certainly has the same sense of responsibility, but it bothers him to have it; he wants to just roam around, enjoy life, and be idle.  It’s no coincidence that he continually gets forced into responsibility.  Unlike the Third Doctor, he’s bored by his work with UNIT (though he never really quits!  Eleven later acknowledges that he still has the job, which incidentally may explain how he bought Amy and Rory’s house despite never having pocket money—he probably had pay accruing and drawing interest in escrow for years).  This is very much his teenage rebellion phase, though we’ll see some growth by the time he regenerates again.

Next time: Zygons, evil gods, and seeds of doom!  See you there.

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Robot (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

The Ark in Space

The Sontaran Experiment

Genesis of the Daleks (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Revenge of the Cybermen

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