What’s it about: Margrave University in 2001, and Raine Creevy is enjoying her first trip into the future. For the Doctor, there are mysteries to solve: what are the alien creatures imprisoned in the science labs? And what are the true motives of the student Scobie and his followers? With enemies on all sides, the Doctor teams up with his old friend Brigadier Bambera and the forces of UNIT in a battle for the future of the whole world
The Real McCoy: The Doctor has been outfoxed and bamboozled by a superior intelligence…himself! He seems to have set up the entire story before he has even arrived but for once he is not aware of it – its something he is going to have to do once the adventure is over! The Doctor poking at the bomb, trying to diffuse it but only making the time speed up is hilarious – as the pitch gets higher and faster it just encourages him to fiddle about it even more. When confronted with homicidal alien vegetation the Doctor is full of the joys of spring, considering it his new friend and chatting away as though having a gossip over tea and biscuits! The Doctor sounds like a man who comes back from a lot of spaceships. Shouldn’t the scene that sees the Doctor waiting for the Metatraxi be funny…and not painful? He likes things enigmatic, spooky and a little mysterious.
Safe Cracker: She wishes she went to a university campus in the country but her parents wanted to keep an eye on her. Rather wonderfully Raine kicks off this story by digging Ace’s (lack of) education. She’s an easy person to like, this one. Raine finds Ace breathtakingly blasé about time travel (couldn’t have put it more succinctly myself). Raine has a very natural reaction to seeing an alien lifeform (no she doesn’t punch the air and go ‘Ace!’), she is absolutely terrified and babbles incoherently. Raine looks up her father online and discovers that he is dead and it haunts her. She decides to stay on the Earth for a little while to come to terms with her fathers death but asks the Doctor to return for her in a week.
Oh Wicked: Ace’s undercover abilities have been blunted by travel and the ‘happy herbivore’ has ordered the biggest, fattest beef burger on the planet! Ace tells the Doctor that she wont always be around…don’t get me started on that. She thinks it’s a lot more fun with Raine around.
Oh Shame: Its wonderful to have Brigadier Bambera back in the series because she is by far (along with her fabulous bit of fluff Ancelyn) the best innovation to come out of Battlefield and Angela Bruce imbued the character with a real sense of emancipation and confidence. You could well believe this was the UNIT of the near future manned by very strong women in all the best roles. Whilst I do think it is wonderful to have Bruce back it rather reminds me of the Aldred situation – whereas she was perfectly naturalistic on television she is a little wooden on audio with a delivery that is either monotonous or a little too enthusiastic. Her inclusion gives this story an authenticity lacking in the previous two but I’m not sure it does the character (who kicked ass in Battlefield) any favours. I laughed every time she started a sentence ‘I would like to go on record…’ to cover her ass in every eventuality. Clearly the blood and thunder days are long past, you can no longer shoot first and think later but you have to have an adequate explanation for every situation.
Standout Performance: Although she is sidelined (cheers Ace), Beth Chalmers once again gives a lovely performance. I really hope they get rid of the bad smell of Perivale in the next story and commission a second season of Lost Stories with Raine – we are hardly seeing the best of her and time is running out but what we have seen is charming and likable.
Great Ideas: The first episode shows more promise than the last two stories put together. Its not the best first episode ever but the way Cartmel approaches the story with the Doctor and Bambera investigating an icky alien life in the university labs and Ace and Raine undercover as student anarchists provides two equally interesting and (more importantly) engaging plots running concurrently. Now this is one setting I could imagine that would come from the same era as Battlefield and Survival, a contemporary near future university campus with Bambera running around waving her gun about. UNIT has been charged with providing security and protection for the important research that is going on at the university. UNIT headhunts the top graduates at the university and they store some of their top secret alien finds her. Trees with sharp claws that spring up from their skin and sting you leaving you paralysed, wraps you up in the root bundle and digests you – ugh! A spaceship turns up randomly at the end of episode two which channels the third cliffhanger to Remembrance of the Daleks (at least it could be explained away by the previously mentioned satellite on the university). There’s a force field that surrounds the entire university which recalls The Daemons. Has Cartmel gone cherry picking from all the classic Doctor Who stories?
Audio Landscape: Water flowing, water fowl crowing, bubbling science labs, the fresher atmosphere in the university bar, Ace’s grumbling stomach (ugh!), an explosive time beeping down, wet footsteps, the whipping tendrils and alien gurgling of the creatures, flying through the air in the shuttle, the echoey interior of the ship, the gravelly voices of the aliens, the weapon firing and striking the playing field.
Musical Cues: Whilst not enjoying the harmonious and atmospheric music of the McCoy era (I really wanted a decent Ayres-ish score but hey-ho) the music is a step up from Thin Ice and Crime of the Century with some subtle piano undercurrents and freakish electronic stings. You can hear a Guiro being scraped in episode three that reminded me strongly of Death to the Daleks!
Isn’t it Odd: As seems to be the norm with these McCoy Lost Stories there is an awkwardly realised action sequence in episode two that features screaming (from both the victims and the alien creature) and a rustling noise – the whole scene lacks clarity and sounds like…well a lot of noise! There is a ‘You lied to me!’ ‘You lied to yourself’ exchange which never happens in real life. There was some pretty awkward descriptive dialogue in part three: ‘Its like some kind of alien hover platform!’ Umm…the Numlocks? Was Andrew Cartmel desperately seeking inspiration and looked down at his keyboard? All sense of danger flies out the window in part three when we meet a race of repetitive and cheerfully serene herbivores who want to free all the cute wickle animals from the laboratories. Season 26 was bolstered by some bloody scary monsters (the truly menacing Destroyer, Josiah Smith’s cast offs, the Haemovores and the Cheetah People – especially Midge transforming) and yet there has been a shocking dearth of decent monsters this year. They haven’t been remotely scary. So far we have had fish finger eating Ice Warriors, surfer dude Metatraxi and hippy peace loving vegetarians! There’s still time in Earth Aid to provide a little menace but this might just have wound up being the least frightening season of Doctor Who had it been transmitted. Once again there is no reason at all for Ace to be involved in this story – Raine is kept away from the Doctor because of her involvement and they share the same undercover narrative thread. This story would work just as well without Ace which makes her involvement questionable. Listen to the story and then go and read the synopsis on the back cover again…its one of the worst examples of overstatement I have ever read! The return of the surfer dude Metatraxi made me shudder. By setting up the carnivorous plant creatures in the first two episodes and the animal loving vegetarians in the last two…can you imagine how the Doctor defeats both? Oh marvellous, Raine decides to stay behind whilst the Doctor goes off with Ace. What a sour note to leave the story on.
Notes: Given the strength of these Cartmel run Lost Stories it does make me wonder if JNT had more than a little influence over the successfully innovative seasons 25 & 26. Without his involvement, Cartmel’s masterplan is a shockingly bland season without any of the wham bam scares and set pieces. Its an interesting thought.
Result: It’s The Seeds of Doom (with a dash of The Green Death politics) for the McCoy era with the Krynoids (in all but name) running rampage around a university campus. The in-yer-face tone and pace of Animal reeks of the McCoy era so lets chalk this up as a minor miracle – a story that successfully captures the noise and bluster of the late eighties! The return of Brigadier Bambera is fun and although I found Bruce’s performance a little stiff the character is supposed to be a military stuff shirt so I guess that (kind of) fits. The plot is painfully linear and doesn’t hold too many surprises and despite the first episode suggesting this is going to be something quite modern it actually winds up traditional with no great innovations. Anybody expecting the audio take on the Andrew Cartmel New Adventure Warlock will be bitterly disappointed, this is like the castrated Disney version of that book which sees the peace loving aliens wanting to free all the ickle wickle cute animals from the laboratories and gobble them up. Animal isn’t the strongest Lost Story by a long chalk, there isn’t ever a sense of threat and the ending is crushingly predictable but it is mildly entertaining for the most part and after the last two stories I will happily take that: 6/10
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/205-Doctor-Who-Animal