We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Immortal Beloved, episode three of season one of the Eighth Doctor Adventures range of audios. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!
The Eighth Doctor is still trying to return Lucie Miller to her home in 2005; and again, he is unsuccessful, due to the Time Lords’ shield in the vortex. The TARDIS takes them to what appears to be ancient Greece, where they interrupt a pair of star-crossed young lovers, Kalkin and Sararti, in the midst of throwing themselves off a cliff. They save the young couple from death; but the relief is short-lived, as they are located by…helicopters?!
It’s immediately apparent that this is not ancient Greece after all; instead it’s another world, which is never named in the story. (The Discontinuity Guide calls it Caleva, but I could not find a source for this information. If it was named in the audio itself, I missed it, but I don’t believe it was.) A quick confrontation with a group of soldiers—led by a man calling himself Ares, after the Greek god of war—leaves the group in custody, and Ares dying from a gunshot wound. The Doctor prevents him from bleeding out, but can’t save his life; instead, the soldiers rush them back to a nearby palace complex. They are met by Zeus, the ruler of the planet, who is most definitely not a god; rather, he’s human, as are the others. As the Doctor and Lucie watch in horror, Zeus uses an archaic machine to transfer Ares’s mind into the body of one of the soldiers, thus wiping out the soldier’s mind. The new Ares then kills his previous body.
Challenged by the Doctor, Zeus explains the truth. The world is a human colony world, now lost to the rest of humanity. The “gods”—Zeus, his wife Hera, Ares, and others—are the survivors of the original colony ship’s crew, and the planet’s general population are—presumably anyway; it’s not specified—their descendants. They have ruled for a thousand years by cloning themselves, then transferring their minds into the younger clone bodies. However, this is not without price; the clones do not do well with forced aging, and therefore must be raised like normal children until old enough to receive transfer. Thus, the simple cloning procedure becomes murder. Further, Kalkin is the clone—and in a sense, heir—of Zeus, and thus his love affair and suicide attempt were a kind of rebellion.
The Doctor decries the process; although he doesn’t object to their survival, he objects to the murders and the deprivation of life to the clones. The situation is complicated when Zeus reveals a lust for Lucie, despite claiming faithfulness to Hera. He wishes to clone her and use her clones for his own entertainment. Then, upon discovering that the Doctor is from offworld, he reveals that the cloning and transfer equipment is beginning to wear out; he demands that the Doctor take him offworld to obtain parts to repair it, so that their rule can continue. When the Doctor refuses, he reveals that he has already obtained DNA from Lucie, and instead of consorting with clones, he will create them in infinite succession just to torture them to death, in essence killing Lucie over and over again. Reluctantly, the Doctor agrees to help him.
They are interrupted when Hera suffers a heart attack, the latest in a string of them. This one, however, is severe enough to kill; and suddenly the Doctor realizes that Sararti is Hera’s clone, just as Kalkin is Zeus’s . This adds a layer of poetry to their romance; but that is no consolation, as Sararti is dragged into the transfer chamber. However—possibly because Hera is too far gone, or possibly because of degradation in Sararti’s cloned DNA—the transfer is unsuccessful. Sararti, however, plays the part of Hera, and asks for a knife to finish off her old body, as is customary. As soon as she receives it, she turns on Zeus and stabs him, leaving him also mortally wounded and requiring transfer. Under threat from Ares, the Doctor appears to go along, and enacts the transfer to Kalkin—but under his influence, it too fails, allowing Zeus to die and Kalkin to retain his body. Kalkin too plays the role of Zeus—so well, in fact, that Lucie and Sararti flee.
They see only one way to end the madness now: They must prevent the Doctor from taking Zeus offworld. To that end, they run to the cliff and try to push the TARDIS over, intending to damage it beyond use. The Doctor and Kalkin arrive at the last minute, and stop them, and explain the truth. The Doctor then persuades them that they can take on the roles of Zeus and Hera—as no one knows the truth but them—and change the way things are done. With the problem resolved, the Doctor and Lucie return to the TARDIS and leave; however, the Doctor mentions with some foreboding that the couple are really just younger versions of the tyrants they have just deposed. The planet’s troubles may not yet be over.
It’s difficult to place this story in the chronology of history. If we can assume—and it’s a big assumption—that this planet was settled during Earth’s colonization period, then this story would take place between 3100 and 3500 (as Zeus states they have a thousand years of life behind them), or shortly after the Earth Empire period ends. However, if the colony was established anytime later—which is possible, given the level of technology—then all bets are off. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that we don’t know anything about the outside universe at this time; it’s a fairly self-contained story.
We don’t get a Headhunter cameo in this story, possibly indicating that the Doctor and Lucie have landed beyond the Headhunter’s range; but time will tell. Surely that character has not given up on chasing Lucie. In fact, this story adds the least so far to Lucie’s backstory; the Doctor and Lucie seem to have come to a bit of an accommodation, and they have mostly stopped talking about it. He even admits at one point that he needs her; we all know the Doctor doesn’t do well alone.
If I had any problem with this story, it was that it happened too quickly. There’s some decent effort put into building up the mystery of this odd society; and then suddenly the answer is there in front of us. It’s not revealed badly, just quickly. The entire running time is approximately one hour, but it felt considerably shorter.
We don’t get much in the way of references here. The Remote Synaptical Kinesis (RSK) device, which facilitates the mind transfer, is similar to a device used in Paradise Towers, but the difference is just enough to suggest that they are parallel technologies, not directly related. Also, the plot device of a mysterious, superior group of rulers using misunderstood technology to rule a more primitive population is essentially the same as State of Decay, though there are no direct references to that serial.
I found myself pitying Zeus and Hera more than hating them. I imagine that the life they lived would have become a sort of trap to them. They must have felt bound to continue on, even though—on some level at least—it must have felt like a burden. And of course, neither of them could imagine going on alone, as seen in Zeus’s insanity at the end. If anything is a theme of this story, it’s that idea: That loneliness is more to be feared than death or immortality. That’s a philosophy that I think even the Doctor would endorse.
Next time: On Monday we’ll be looking at Main Range #7, The Genocide Machine; and in one week we’ll be back to the Eighth Doctor Adventures with Phobos! See you there.
All audios reviewed in this series can be purchased here from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below. This and many other audio dramas are also available on Spotify and Google Play.