What’s it about: The Doctor is separated from the TARDIS in the bowels of gigantic spaceship. The ship has one humanoid inhabitant but is he really as friendly as he seems?
The Real McCoy: I think this the only time we have heard Sylvester McCoy narrating a story (correct me if I’m wrong) and he is more than up to the task. In fact he sounds far more comfortable literally telling a story than he sometimes does taking part in one, accentuating the menacing and the atmospheric with those gorgeous Scottish tones of his. Am I rude in suggesting that I find the seventh Doctor works at his absolute best when he isn’t encumbered with assistants? Either the quality of the writing goes up or McCoy feels he has to up his game because he is so exposed but there is something confident and charismatic about the solo seventh Doctor that really appeals. There’s none of this melodramatic ‘Haaaaaace!’ shrieking or agonised strangling (its audible gurning – go on, put The Rapture you can actually hear it!) – its just McCoy alone doing his damdest to entertain.
He’d been promising himself a holiday for some time and the planet Ormelia has always been a favourite haunt in his younger days. There seems to be the impression that because the Doctor is travelling alone this must be set in the seventh Doctor’s future not long before his death but that cannot be the case because we can still hear the old console noise and the McGann console was introduced in an Ace and Hex story. The Doctor has been at this game long enough now to know that if he contacts whoever is in authority he will be letting himself in for accusation, insinuations or even something a little more terminal. The Doctor manages to get the TARDIS back in record time – it’s a little like when they found the fourth second of the Key to Time in The Androids of Tara in about five minutes! He’s diffused a couple of bombs in his time but this one was a piece of piddle!
Standout Performance: As wells as providing a memorable score Nicholas Briggs gives a sympathetic performance as the simple but rather lovely Vilgreth. He reminded me a bit of D84 from Robots of the Death, that same dim manner and delivery that is very appealing. He’s as cute and appealing as the Grallians were annoying in The Davros Mission! I love the way that is subverted in the story as he turns out to be homicidal mainiac after offering the Doctor tea and shortcake acquired from the last place he massacred!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Officials? Spanners in works!’
Great Ideas: The TARDIS displays a penchant for the grimy, the odious and the dangerous over holiday destinations any day of the week. I do love the idea of a gigantic spaceship for the Doctor to explore – no wonder he experiences a Doctor Who adventure in microcosm on board! Centuries ago planet eater spaceships were built to devour planetoids and asteroid belts to clear the space lanes. The Doctor realises with some sadness that this planet eater was heading straight for Ormelia and that was why its furnaces were so vast. Titanthropes are an evolutionary blind alley, much larger and more intelligent than their contemporaries the Neanderthals. The Professor wanted to cure Vilgreth of his violent urges but he saw that as an act of aggression and murdered him and all his staff. The ship is destroyed in orbit and broke up before it reached the atmosphere…to the inhabitants it would have looked like a rather spectacular fireworks display. There is a moral here that people who are true to their nature aren’t evil…the unfolding of time does the rest.
Audio Landscape: A grumbling TARDIS console, the deck hatch opening, the Doctor whistling, the hissing, growling flames of the furnace, birds tweeting, ticking bomb, explosion, making a cup of tea.
Musical Cues: It has been so long since I started this Big Finish venture and so much has happened along the way – meeting new friends, getting to know the production staff a little – that I had forgotten about some of the early contributors to the range. Remember the exquisite musical stylings of Russell Stone and Alistair Lock? The majestic, romantic score for The Stones of Venice or the bombastic, cinematic approach to The Fires of Vulcan? This is Alistair Lock through and through; its classy, powerful and highly hummable!
Notes: As an updated Audio Visuals story this alerted me to the fact that they existed and I sought out more information on them. I still haven’t listened to any of them mind (and the wealth of Big Finish stories being releases I think it will be a while before I do!) but they sound intriguing and I look forward to them.
Result: Rather lovely as a Doctor Who story in microcosm complete with a villain reveal, a race against time to stop a bomb and a planet saved! The idea of giant planet crushing spaceships is a gorgeous one and one that has real legs beyond this mini Big Finish freebie. What really impressed me beyond the economy of the storytelling was Sylvester McCoy’s lovely performance – particularly when he was narrating. That’s an experiment that should be repeated at some point because he proves to be a very enjoyable storyteller. You couldn’t enthuse about this tale too much because it is very slight but as a taster of what Big Finish can do with some nifty sound effects, a great score and an example of how well they brought the 80s Doctor’s across from the screen to audio it is a worthy little piece. I judge it not on its merits as a standalone Doctor Who story but as a appetite whetter for more Big Finish productions and on those terms: 8/10