What’s it about: Trapped within E-Space, the Doctor, Romana and Adric are searching for a Charged Vacuum Emboitment – the gateway back to our universe. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack... Then, by pure chance, a brand new CVE rips into being. Its makers are The Farrian, a warlike race who possess the technology to break into E-Space. But they have come to invade and plunder this new territory, and the riches of the planet Ballustra are their first target…
Aristocratic Adventurer: Now this is one gap I am very pleased they explored in continuity, at least for the sake of the various spin off material that has seen Romana become the President of Gallifrey. It’s been decades since Romana said goodbye to the Doctor at the Gateway and remained behind in E-Space. She has had so many adventures (as the Doctor would say) but she feels that word is too romantic for some of her experiences. Living amongst the Tharils and helping them to liberate their brothers of countless worlds, there have been successes and setbacks. Romana’s is considered beautiful but her clothes are described as florid. Perhaps she had travelled for so long with the Doctor that the concept of home (be it Gallifrey or their home unierse) had been eroded. Its a shame that the companion chronicles feel the need to copy their chosen era so completely because I would much rather have enjoyed hearing Romana recount a tale that happened after she left the Doctor. There is a rich vein of storytelling there that is as yet completely unknown but instead we listen to another E-Space Doctor Who story.
Teeth and Curls: The Doctor always likes to add some tweaks to Romana’s calculations which she always untweaked when he wasn’t looking! Apparently the Doctor does childish glee with astonishing frequency! With Romana off having adventures and the Doctor sleeping off a headache and waking up to discover all the madness has gone on without him I had a serious flashback of the latter half of season seventeen, particularly The Horns of Nimon.
Pudding Bowl Haircut: This story acknowledges how Romana resents Adric stowing away on board the TARDIS and inveigling himself into their adventures. She knows she hasn’t given him much of a chance and so takes the opportunity whilst they are locked in a cell to get to know him a little better. His parents had died in a forest fire and he had been left to fend for himself, educating himself and working his way into the elite class amongst his community. Adric would never have fitted in with his brother’s rough and ready group but the fact that he was attempting to do so proved how unhappy he was with his life. Romana thinks that there is a sadness about Adric in that he was entirely prepared to spend the rest of his life in N-Space cut off from all of his friends and family.
Standout Performance: Lalla Ward is such a fine actress that you wouldn’t be able to tell if you were hearing Romana’s exasperation of being stuck with a stroppy and childish Doctor and an irritating child genius or whether this is Ward’s own feelings about Baker and Waterhouse during the troubled final season.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Then he took out his gun and he shot Adric’ – that must have been very satisfying to write!
Great Ideas: Some time must have passed between stories during the E-Space trilogy because Romana states here that they searched for another CVE for months. CVEs make no detectable footprints in the three primary dimensions which makes spotting one rather difficult. They occupy the spaces between reality and are so violent that when they form they punch a hole between universes! A lush verdant world with a moon orbiting and a CVE dominating the space as a huge, rippling, blurring expanse cracking and screaming with energy – season eighteen always had a penchant for potent science fiction imagery and ideas and this would have been perfectly in place during Bidmead’s time on the show. When the CVE swallows the planet it causes quakes and storms the like of which they have never seen before. 15% of the planets population died in what they considered to be the opening onslaught of a war. Large numbers of spaceships surrounding the CVE, bristling with weaponry and using the access points to launch large scale attacks on planets in E-Space. Black clouds vomiting from the CVE from N-Space, millions of spaceships moving in tight formation flanked by a massive warship. The target the military ships first, destroying the smaller ships and incapacitating the larger ones. The Farrian Raiders are very efficient killers, they send tiny discs no larger than a coin to worlds which are transmat points for their warriors to appear on the surface and begin to subdue. Genellium is a rare element in N-Space but abundant on Ballustra. Most of Farrian culture is made up of what they had salvaged from other races and at one point they acquired a mathematical genius who could figures out how to open up CVEs that lead into E-Space. There were no territorial ambitions on Ballustra, the Farrian would complete their mining and take their booty back to N-Space and they would suffer no more.
Audio Landscape: The wibbling power of the CVE punching a hole between universes, the TARDIS detection instruments, the TARDIS taking a knocking from the CVE, buildings crumbling, lightning rumbling, the battleships opening fire, lasers firing, screams, running, explosions tearing up the ground, the console going for a burton.
Musical Cues: I really enjoyed the optimistic fanfare as the TARDIS turns up to save the day at the climax.
Notes: K.9 is once again under repair and out of action – its almost as if this story was co-written by JNT and Chris Bidmead!
Result: An unusual story in that it is mostly well written and certainly well performed but it doesn’t really have the impact that the invasion of an entire world should. Perhaps it is because it is told through Romana’s emotionless, alien eyes that it fails to engage or that because the motive and the method are both coldly scientific and the impact on the people is never really felt beyond a throwaway statistic. Oddly the closest thing we get to character examination is of Adric which might go to show how effective that side of the story is. To be fair to Andrew Smith he has mimicked the static technical storytelling that was rife in season eighteen and the first half of this story is full of memorable sci-fi imagery that reminds me of the best moments of that season but the biggest problem is that there is very little heart and it is difficult to care about the events unfolding. Even the conclusion when the invading army seem to decide that they are needed back in N-Space on a whim and the closure of the CVE trapping our heroes once more in E-Space seem distressingly inevitable. I always head into these Romana Companion Chronicles with high hopes as Lalla Ward is a terrific performer but she has yet been given any material that is truly worthy of her: 5/10