What's it about: The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Nyssa to a vast pyramid, floating in space. A tomb ship – the last resting place of the God-King of the Arrit, an incredibly advanced and incredibly ancient civilisation, long since extinct. They’re not alone, however. Another old dynasty walks its twisted, trap-ridden passages – a family of tomb raiders led by a fanatical matriarch, whose many sons and daughters have been tutored in tales of the God-King’s lost treasure. But those who seek the God-King will find death in their shadow. Death from below. Death from above. Death moving them back and forward, turning their own hearts against them. Because only the dead will survive.
An English Gentleman: Davison sounds a little more invested in this story which is strange because it gives him even less texture to play about with than Moonflesh. I would have loved if he would have snapped Virna's neck, sawn it off her head with a rusty blade and then ripped out her spinal column. I honestly wouldn't have objected. At least it would have been something out of the ordinary. He bellows, objects and behaves in a generally Doctorish manner...yadda yadda yadda. Just copy and paste what in Moonflesh. Davison is not being pushed by any of this material.
Alien Orphan: I discussed in my review of Scavenger (which is becoming more and more appealing with each successive release since then) that it was quite refreshing (at least for me) to enjoy a companion who is simply along for the ride rather than one that is suffering all kinds of emotional turmoil and intense development. You only have to look at the latest Hex story to see the kind of unpersuasive madness that leads to (let the character go already). Back in the day many of the Doctor Who boys and girls were simply there to prop up a story, provide some jeopardy and banter and make the Doctor look extremely clever as he explains all the complicated science to them. Nyssa was one of them. Irritatingly I am having the reverse reaction to her treatment lately...which is to fulfil the function of the traditional companion to the nth degree. Where Flip was infectiously bouncy and addicted to danger so she could get away with an absent back story and missing dimensions, Nyssa in the recent releases is being written in such a level headed, plain and sensible fashion that it is impossible to find anything of significance to grab onto. Where Flip was vacuous from the word go, Nyssa has a fascinating back story built into her character (the destruction of Traken, the death of her father, the alien orphan walking abroad in a dangerous universe) that is ripe for exploitation. Frankly there is no excuse for her to be written in such a tediously monotonous way. Sarah Sutton is ready to up her game whenever a script emerges with the right material (Spare Parts, Creatures of Beauty, Circular Time, The Eternal Summer, The Emerald Tiger) but she has been particularly ill served of late. I don't know how many more Nyssa stories I can listen to where she wanders about giving stock responses to disposable threats. That just doesn't float my boat.
Great Ideas: The Tomb Ship is a treasure house, a repository for all the God King's wealth. When the Tomb completes its journey it explodes with enough power to create a new star - a bomb. The music of the spheres are radio waves emitted from the stars. Arit-co means slaves of the Arit, genetically engineered to live aboard this ship and serves its occupant - the Arit God King. The Arit thought their Kings were Gods even after they died all alone and drifting through space for thousands of years. A God needs his worshippers until it was time for the ship to go nova and turn a God King into a God Star. An inhabitant planetary system with a supernova bomb heading towards them...this story is channelling the Voyager episode Dreadnought. Jhanni is one of Virna's children who came on her last expedition. She has been waiting for her mother to come back for her ever since. The God King is a nine foot tall giant in funereal robes waiting on his throne to become a living star. A cellular stasis field keeps him looking as though he only died yesterday. Is the scrap between Virna and Jhanni the first instance of a full blown Eastenders-style bitch fight in Doctor Who? I suppose that's worth celebrating.
Audio Landscape: A banging door, TARDIS landing, crackling fire, insect creatures forming a bridge, gunfire, screams in the distance.
Musical Cues: I feel as if I am being hyper critical of this release (thank goodness this gets me up to date with this years main range releases so I can head over to the companion chronicles next and start spreading the love) but even the music treaded water as much as I could tell. The trouble with one big bold action adventure after another is that they all require the same kind of score; bolshie, strident and melodramatic. After a while they all blend into each other. I can't remember the last time the music in the main range genuinely surprised me (yes I can, it was Fanfare for the Common Men but that was a special case) in the way that it used to habitually in the first 100 releases. Remember Alistair Lock's stunning orchestral soundtrack for The Fires of Vulcan. Or Russell Stone's romantic, melancholic score for The Stones of Venice. Or the unnerving work of ERS on Time Works. These days every other story sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster. It's not that it is bad music and all of the isolated soundtracks are fairly decent in their own right...it's just they all bleed into one another and nothing stands out as particularly worthwhile. And I'm talking about Richard Fox and Lauren Yason here, and I consider them the best of the Big Finish musicians. Go check out their work on the companion chronicles, it makes this shallow action adventure fare haemorrhage into insignificance.
Standout Scene: Some amusement when Nyssa groans in pain but it sounds like she has finally blossomed as a woman.
Result: It feels like the well of talent is starting to run dry. If you had never heard a Doctor Who story before then this might...might just scrape a pass on the grounds of its novelty. But with 185 main range adventures coming before it (ranging from the ultra traditional to the boldly radical) the sheer level of banality that Tomb Ship offers simply is not good enough. It's another adventure that feels like it should be seen rather than heard and fails to exploit the muscles of the audio medium; the exploration of language, ideas, relationships and atmosphere. Whilst acceptable in their own right, the sound effects and music are starting to sound a little familiar too. I think script editor Alan Barnes needs to take a step back and ask himself if these stories need to be told because even a causal glance at efforts like Moonflesh and Tomb Ship would suggest otherwise. The setting might have been interesting had it been a little more incongruous and exotic. The characters might have excited if they had more than one dimension. The plot might have surprised if it had a single twist (especially the biggie regarding the treasure, a hackneyed concept when it was utilized in Enlightenment) that wasn't signposted from the very beginning. Except for that twist...which is just absurd. Tomb Ship could be made to work if it had its guts completely torn out, extra nuances added to the family dynamics, more spirited characterisation of the fifth Doctor and Nyssa and extra chills added by actually making us give a damn about the guest characters rather than wishing to see them all dispatched so we can head off and hang out with a more engaging bunch. More importantly it needs to be shortened to a two parter...although I still think it would struggle to fill half the length with a plot quite this thin. It breaks my heart to see the main range churning out such mediocrity - I can remember a time when this was the only product that Big Finish produced and each story was so thrilling to get hold off upon release (I travelled all the way from Crawley to London to Forbidden Planet to get my mitts on The One Doctor as soon as possible). Nowadays I find all the innovation and diversity in the spin off material and find myself in the unfortunate position of praying that the main range wont disappoint. That's two clunkers from Rennie and Beeby as far as I am concerned. No more please: 3/10