What’s it about: Long ago, the planet Pavonis IV was saved from certain destruction by the Doctor. Now it is dead, laid waste by environmental catastrophe, but a few survivors and their precious race bank survive on the starship Myriad. Their mission: to scour the universe for the fabled dimensionally transcendental obelisk in which their saviour travels, and persuade him to save their world again. As the TARDIS arrives, by chance, on the Myriad, the Doctor and Romana are just in time to see the crew achieve their goal. Or so they think… Death stalks the corridors of the ship, the artificial intelligence CAIN has lost control, and a force is about to be unleashed that threatens the entire galaxy.
Aristocratic Adventurer: I’m not convinced that Romana makes the best narrator for the companion chronicles and with her character being so beautifully explored in the Gallifrey series these dips back into her timeline are nothing more than throwaway adventures which rely on the strength of the story to hold my interest. Mind you being a Time Lady I’m not sure we should be hearing stories directly from her point of view because it exposes how she reacts pretty much like a human and there are no signs of the powerful intelligence I always thought she had. Listening to a story from Romana’s POV is like listening to a story from the Doctor’s – it spoils the illusion of wonder the character brings to the show. When she realises they are in the constellation of Kasterborous Romana feels an uneasily disquiet. She doesn’t want to return to Gallifrey, not yet and perhaps not ever…not after the things she had seen out there in space and time with the Doctor.
Teeth and Curls: Sometimes the Doctor had a lot to answer for. He thinks the idea of himself being a mythological hero a load of old poppycock even though the idea does appeal. He better not ever skip forward into his own time stream then because he might be in for a big shock!
Standout Performance: Being such a fine actress Lalla Ward brings much of her talent to the role although in the first few minutes when Romana is saddled with the Doctor you can almost hear the disgust in Ward’s voice at having to say nice things about Baker’s Doctor!
Great Ideas: The Doctor and Romana land on a colony ship and discover a genetic race bank. Pervonis IV was their homeworld, a beautiful and verdant planet and home to their people for a thousand years before it was destroyed by a series of cataclysmic environmental disasters. Now completely uninhabitable and ravaged by fierce radiation storms. Only a handful of people escaped on ships like the Myriad carrying with them all the stored DNA data they would need to restore their people. Thousands of strange amorphous beings spilling out of the anomaly – the Pyralis escaping their millennia long imprisonment. The Pyralis are a warlike race of photonic mimics, energy beings with the power to adapt to almost any environment. They seed themselves on alien worlds by learning to act like the native and then mounting a devastating invasion. Parasites who only exist to conquer others. After a century long war with another race they were imprisoned with a void where they have festered for thousands of years.
Audio Landscape: The Doctor’s heavy feet on the grating, the moon imploding, sirens, the screaming faces of the entity, heart monitor, breathing apparatus, a broken monitor fizzing and popping,
Musical Cues: Talk about a musical score that makes you sit up and pay attention in the first few seconds! Throughout this story there are some electronic stings that sound just like the chilling music as the Angel played about with Amy on the screen in The Time of Angels.
Isn’t it Odd: The Pyralis Effect takes a very odd approach to its storytelling by having Romana walking about the Myriad for a full fifteen minutes with nothing of great importance going on. If the majority of the listeners haven’t fallen asleep in that time I would be very surprised. Things do pep up towards the end of the episode as the Pyralis flood from the vent in space and attack Romana at the cliffhanger but since we know very little about them we still don’t actually know if they are threat or not. When they say ‘we shall illuminate you’ they could just be electricians from another dimension come to fix a bulb. I have always been unconvinced by the scientific approach of Christopher H Bidmead in season eighteen (despite the shows high production values in that season) and this feels like another story in the Leisure Hive/Meglos vein which abandons characterisation in favour of not terribly interesting science.
Standout Scene: Less about the writing and more about the execution, the Pyralis streaming from their prison is a top dramatic moment and the only one the story really achieves – the exciting music and Lalla Ward’s hurried delivery helps to highlight the panic of their release.
Result: A shame to halt the momentum of quality of this series of Companion Chronicles so dramatically, The Pyralis Effect is the dullest entry in this series since Fear of the Daleks. It lacks the humour of the Williams era and the energy of JNTs tenure and the story tries to take on a poetic atmosphere (highlighted by the superb music) but the script isn’t strong enough and its ideas fails to generate much interest. Romana feels more like a plot function than a character in her own right and the Doctor is lost in a story that doesn’t fit his exuberant character from this time in his life. None of the guest characters grabbed me and so all I was left with was the science of the piece which leaves the overall atmosphere very dry and dusty. I had to force myself to stay focussed on this story as my attention tried to drift away every couple of minutes or so. I remain unconvinced that Romana makes a good avatar for this series: 3/10
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/404-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Pyralis-Effect