Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Phobos

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Phobos, episode four 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!

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We open with a couple of thrill-seekers, Chrissie and Scott, in a series of ice caves. Chrissie gets pulled through a river and deeper into the cave systems; and we find that this is an extreme sport on this world. Trying to get Scott’s help to get back to the surface, Chrissie hears him screaming over the radio as he is attacked by…something.

The Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller arrive on the surface, and the Doctor determines their location: It is the year 2589 (early in the Earth Empire period), and they are on Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. Lucie is immediately caught in a net, but its owners—who were trying to trap an animal—realize their mistake, and help the Doctor cut her down. The two young men, Drew and Hayd, admit that they were concerned about rumors of monsters in the area, and were attracted by the sound of the TARDIS landing. Only one man in the area—Lunar Park, as it’s called—has actually seen the monsters, but few people believe his stories. They then admit that they came here for a strange feature of the mountain on which they stand: it has a vertical shaft in the top, colloquially known as the Wormhole, in which no one has ever located the bottom. It’s used for bungie jumping—in fact, the entire moon is a haven for extreme sports of all types, attracting adrenaline junkies, or “Drennies”—and they intend to try it out.

Elsewhere, an odd couple disembarks at Lunar Park. Amy is a human; her husband, Farl, is a Githian, a larger and stronger humanoid race. Though it won’t be mentioned for some time, they’ve come here to hide; their relationship is not accepted by the Githians, who want to maintain the purity of their species, and so hunters have been dispatched to bring them back. They are met by a woman named Eris, who is the unofficial engineer of Lunar Park, as the colony is essentially left to itself with no oversight. They then meet an old man named Kai Tobias, who will turn out to be Eris’s partner of sorts. He tells them about the monsters that are alleged to come from the wormhole.

The Doctor and his group reach the wormhole, and he confirms that it isn’t natural. No one knows how deep it goes; the Drennies award great respect to those who go the deepest when bungie jumping. The rope that Hayd and Drew have brought will stretch to over 3,000 meters before snapping back; Hayd takes the first jump. While they wait for him to return, Lucie borrows a telescope from the Doctor, and spots a couple lying on the ground near a pool in the distance. The Doctor decides to check it out on the way back to the camp.

Amy and Farl discuss leaving due to the monster stories, but opt to stay. Eris rebukes Kai for spreading the rumors about the monsters, or Phobians, as he calls them. She sends him to check on Rosa, another visitor who was recently injured and has been unconscious; when he leaves, she apologizes for him, and assures them that the stories are not true.

Hayd and Drew identify the couple as Chrissie and Scott, and discover that Scott is dead, and Chrissie is in shock. With the Doctor and Lucie, they bring the duo in, and send Chrissie to the park’s med-cabin for treatment; she’s exhausted, but unharmed. Kai is convinced that the Phobians killed Scott, and the Doctor can’t counter the idea for now.

The next morning, Drew and Hayd have plans to go grav-boarding; despite the killing, they decide to go through with it anyway. The Doctor and Lucie discuss events thus far, and overhear a distressed conversation between Farl and Amy; Eris explains some of what she knows about them, and about the Githians in general. The Doctor leaves to talk with Kai. Amy and Farl argue about their plans, and split up briefly. Lucie goes to console Amy, and the two decide to put on spacesuits and take a walk on the surface outside the dome. Kai, meanwhile, talks to Farl, and unintentionally makes him angry by admitting that others have been talking about him. Eris and the Doctor arrive, ending the conversation, and Eris says that the Doctor has agreed to check on Rosa, who is still unconscious.

On the surface, Amy tells Lucie about her controversial marriage; and she admits that she is pregnant with Farl’s child, although she hasn’t told him. They are interrupted by screaming, which their suit communicators pick up; knowing it can’t be far away, they run to check it out. It’s Hayd and Drew; Hayd is the one being attacked, apparently by a Phobian. Lucie and Amy arrive to witness the end of the attack, which leaves Hayd injured; they call for the Doctor and Eris, who come running in a buggy. Lucie lures the monster away, and the Doctor sends her up onto a rock, where she helps him trap the creature away with the buggy. When it ceases to move, the Doctor examines it, and finds that it is actually a construction droid, left over from the construction of Lunar Park. He suggests that it couldn’t kill on its own, and was sent to do so—and he knows just who is probably responsible…

Farl gets into a fight with some Drennies, and hurts one of them. Kai interrupts and tells Farl that Amy has been outside, and is now in the med-cabin; anxious, Farl goes to find her, and rebukes her for leaving. Learning of his fight, Amy is upset, and runs off again. He then gets into a brief shouting match with the Doctor, startling Lucie. The Doctor storms off to confront Kai, and accuses him of controlling the construction droids. Kai admits it, and then shoots the Doctor and Lucie with a stun weapon. He summons one of the droids and causes it to carry them to the wormhole, where they will be thrown in. Eris sees this, and gathers Drew, Amy, and Farl to go and intervene.

At the wormhole, Kai awakens Lucie and the Doctor, having tied them up. He tells them he intends to throw them in—but he is intercepted by Drew with a net, and knocked unconscious. Drew unties them, but they are attacked by the robot, which is still obeying Kai’s last command. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to detach its leg, disabling it.

Strange sounds come from the wormhole. The Doctor awakens Kai. Kai explains that all his lies and attacks were genuinely intended to protect everyone from something far worse than the Phobians. The wormhole houses a “god” which came from another reality, one consumed by fear. As that universe collapsed, the creature somehow found access to our universe, and was trapped in the wormhole. It then manipulated the environment to create all the extreme attractions; thus it would attract people, who would provide it with fear, on which it feeds. However, Kai has learned there is a catch: The creature can’t use pure fear, but rather, must have some euphoria with it to make it palatable; hence all the thrill-seeking behavior. In fact, pure fear harms it. Kai further suggests that the Doctor is feeding the creature; he thrives on saving people, which is a form of thrill-seeking much stronger than that of the Drennies.

The creature takes over Eris, and speaks through her, confirming what Kai says. It thanks the Doctor for freeing it. The creature is maximizing its efforts by speaking through Eris, whom Kai loves, thus increasing Kai’s fear; it will do the same to Farl through Amy, and Drew through Hayd (Drew denies being in love with Hayd, but is forced to admit it’s true). In so doing, it will take the living of this universe and craft a new body for itself, allowing itself freedom. Thus far, though, all it can do is talk; and the Doctor engages it. He uses the bungie equipment to leap into the wormhole with Eris, thus feeding the creature his true fears—not his euphoric thrill-seeking, but what he really fears. He shows it fear in the past, and in the future…and worst of all, in himself, fear of what he may become. It is too much for the creature, and it dies, screaming.

Eris does not survive the experience. Back at the park, the Doctor and Lucie watch as things are patched up between Farl and Amy, with Amy telling Farl about her pregnancy. Hayd and Drew also recover. The group then sets a funeral pyre for Eris, with Lucie lighting the pyre. The Doctor lets Kai go, knowing the truth about why he did what he did; and now, in Eris’s memory, he will try to make Phobos a better place. The Doctor and Lucie return to the TARDIS, and Lucie inquires about what the Doctor showed the creature; but she decides she doesn’t want to know. In a world of monsters, the Doctor may be more frightening still.

As Hayd and Drew begin to discuss Drew’s feelings, they are interrupted by Rosa, who finally awakens. She asks about Lucie Miller, and is advised that she just missed her; furious, she wants to go after her. She is revealed to be the Headhunter.

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In general, I’m finding that the Eighth Doctor Adventures move very quickly, making them difficult to follow if there are any distractions at all. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a refreshing change from the classic-format Main Range audios. This one, however, felt like it was over nearly before it had begun. If translated into real time, the entire story would take place over just a few hours. With all that said, I enjoyed it; it’s a decent addition to the season.

I admit that I expected it to be an Ice Warrior story, with the proximity to Mars. As it turns out, the short story Crimson Dawn (published in Decalog 2: Lost Properties, 1995) establishes that Phobos is artificial, a failed generation ship of Ice Warrior origin, and at that time contained a large population of Ice Warriors in hibernation. However, that story—involving the Fourth Doctor—is not referenced here, and the Eighth Doctor doesn’t seem to be aware of that origin for Phobos; but neither is it directly contradicted.

It was good to see the Headhunter make an appearance after her conspicuous absence in Immortal Beloved. While her storyline isn’t exactly picking up speed as yet, she’s becoming more intense; and we should start seeing more action soon. It will be interesting to see how she’s tracking Lucie through time and space; is she somehow detecting Lucie, or is it the TARDIS she’s following?

Lucie seems to be warming up to the Doctor, but that is possibly undermined at the end when she realizes that he may be a person to be feared. It’s a good lesson; we’ve had hints before of what the Doctor is capable of (for example, the Leader in Inferno is suggested to be an alternate version of the Doctor, and of course the Valeyard is a possible future—and evil—Doctor in Trial of a Time Lord and Trial of the Valeyard), and we will again with the Tenth Doctor’s “Time Lord Victorious” in The Waters of Mars. Lucie seems to have calmed down a bit from her initial appearances, and is now less concerned with getting home—she doesn’t really mention it here at all—and is taking an active role in the Doctor’s adventures. She’s less a passenger now, and more a genuine companion. Her attitude, however, remains unchanged.

It was interesting to see the Doctor lose his temper toward Farl. My experience with the Eighth Doctor is still limited, but I’ve found him to be extraordinarily patient most of the time (unlike, say, Six or Four). I can’t really account for the different reaction this time; I suppose even the Doctor has buttons that can be pushed. Still, it’s perhaps indicative of the rising strain throughout this incarnation’s lifetime, and especially after the beginning of the Time War (which still lies ahead). His dialogue during the argument, with its “Don’t ever threaten me” ultimatum, is more characteristic of the Eleventh Doctor, who was prone to such dogmatic and dramatic speeches.

References to other stories are debatable here, but present. The Doctor refers to “evil from the dawn of time”, which is the terminology used to describe Fenric in The Curse of Fenric, although it could easily apply to other stories both past and future. His statements about what he fears he may do are likely an allusion to the Valeyard, as I mentioned, though it’s not spelled out. His reference to solar systems vanishing in the twinkling of an eye probably refers to the events of Logopolis, where an influx of entropy destroyed a large swath of the universe, including the Traken system. “Entire species destroyed” may refer to his own genocide in Terror of the Vervoids, or possibly to other species with which he witnessed the death of their final members (Eldrad, Scaroth, and Meglos all come to mind). The fear-consuming nature of the creature has been seen before, especially in The Fearmonger, although that creature originated in this universe and existed on a smaller scale. I’m still a little annoyed over the absence of the Ice Warriors, however; they would have been a natural choice here.

Overall, not a bad story, but it feels a bit like an interlude in the season-long arc rather than a full story. That’s unfortunate, given the scope of its villain, but it can’t be helped.

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Next time: Ironically, we do get an Ice Warrior story in Main Range #8, Red Dawn; and we’ll continue the Eight Doctor Adventures with No More Lies! See you there.

All audios in this series are available for purchase at Big Finish; link to this story is below.  This and many others can be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Phobos

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