We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to No More Lies, episode five 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 action begins in media res here, both locally (with regard to this story) and in regard to surrounding events. The Doctor and Lucie have for some time been in pursuit of a scientist named Nick Zimmerman. We don’t get much background on him, and he appears not to have been present in any preceding stories; he is, as far as we can tell, a human originating on Earth, but from some point in the future such that he is aware of time travel, space travel, and other non-terrestrial species. (There are some contrary possibilities, however, and I don’t want to be dogmatic about his origins.) He is trying to steal a time-travel-capable ship from a race called the Meg-Bania, and the Doctor and Lucie are trying to stop him. They materialize on the ship, and seek to trap him, but are interrupted by the intrusion of a menacing race called the Tar-Modowk. The Tar-Modowk live in the time vortex, and feed on temporal energy as stolen from living beings; they also ride on pterodactyl-like creatures of the vortex called Vortisaurs. With that distraction, Zimmerman escapes, funneling the ship’s time-travel technology into a small escape capsule, and letting the Tar-Modowk destroy all evidence of the ship. The Doctor and Lucie follow him in the TARDIS.
En route, they find the Tar-Modowk trying to escape the vortex at a certain point. Evading them, they land at that point, and find themselves on 2006 Earth—the place Lucie has been trying to return to all along—and, inexplicably, inside a time loop. On investigation, they find that the loop may have been running for hundreds or thousands of cycles—it’s hard to tell.
They locate Nick Zimmerman, but get a shock: He has been here for thirty years, and is now much older. Further, he has settled down, having married a woman named Rachel Davidson, who is now elderly and not well. Rachel, Nick, and Rachel’s brother Gordon are throwing a party on the grounds of their mansion, and the Doctor and Lucie are forced to crash it. They meet Gordon, who suspects them of trouble, but manage to talk their way out of it; Gordon’s momentary disorientation gives them their first clue as to the nature of the time loop. They split up; the Doctor goes to confront Zimmerman, and Lucie goes in search of some record of Zimmerman’s activities, but finds herself instead confronting Rachel in the main house.
Rachel reveals that she knows who Lucie is; Nick has long since told her about the Doctor and Lucie, in anticipation that they would one day arrive. She reveals that she knows his origin, as well, and asserts that it does not stop her from loving him; his guilt, she says, is stronger than any other emotion, and makes an honest man of him.
The Doctor locates Zimmerman, who sits down with him in a summer house on the property to talk. He too asserts that time has changed him, and he treats the Doctor like an old friend, previous grievances notwithstanding. With more discussion, the Doctor becomes aware that the time loop was not imposed from outside, but rather, was established by Zimmerman—and now it has attracted the Tar-Modowk, who will kill everyone there to get what they want. The Doctor asserts that he must break the loop. Zimmerman then changes his demeanor as he remembers more of the past, and threatens to kill the Doctor and Lucie to maintain the loop. He leaves the Doctor in the custody of Gordon, and goes to find Lucie; and he takes the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, which is tracking the Tar-Modowk.
The Tar-Modowk successfully break into the loop and land in the garden. He tracks an elusive signal to a memorial in the garden, and breaks into it. Meanwhile, vortisaurs break into the house where Gordon and the Doctor are waiting; they narrowly escape, and manage to capture a vortisaur from its Tar-Modowk rider, and use it to reach the main house. Zimmerman is already there, but is separated from Lucie and Rachel by the Tar-Modowk. Rachel and Lucie are intercepted…and the Tar-Modowk leader reveals that it is not there primarily for them, but for what was taken from the ship: the heart of the time vessel, now incorporated into Zimmerman’s crashed pod. As the Doctor, Gordon, and Zimmerman all arrive, the creature explains.
Once the Tar-Modowk were not as they are now, but were the relatively peaceful Meg-Bania, the creators and owners of the ship that Zimmerman stole and gutted. Having lived in the vortex for ages, they now spend their time searching for remnants of their previous existence in the real world. Meanwhile, Zimmerman has used the time systems to create the loop, because his beloved Rachel was dying. In this manner, he has kept her alive far longer than she would have otherwise lived, but at the cost of her memories and those of everyone else trapped in the loop—they were all unaware of the repetition. The Doctor and Gordon manage to wrestle the sonic screwdriver back from him, and the Doctor uses it to shut down the machinery, ending the loop, and causing the Tar-Modowk and the vortisaurs to fade back into the vortex. However, the price to be paid is that Rachel will die, as the loop will no longer repeat. Zimmerman must now accept her impending death and make his goodbyes.
Lucie walks back to the TARDIS, but is intercepted and captured by the Headhunter, who has finally caught up with her. A TARDIS dematerializing can be heard; presumably it belongs to the Headhunter. Later, the Doctor returns to his TARDIS, and is momentarily irritated at Lucie for keeping him waiting—until the cloister bell starts to sound. The truth begins to dawn on him…Lucie is gone.
I wasn’t thrilled with the opening of this story; while in media res is an acceptable way to begin a story, it usually requires that some explanation be made later. We get very little explanation of the history already established among the Doctor, Lucie, and Zimmerman. I feel that there would be an interesting story there. Zimmerman’s name may be a reference to the Sixth Doctor novel Mission: Impractical, according to the Reference Guide; that novel involved an unseen character named Zimmerman who seems to fit the description. However, that character was secretly implied to be the Valeyard; it is possible that the Valeyard took this Zimmerman’s identity at some point. The Vortisaurs first appeared in the Main Range Eighth Doctor story Storm Warning, which was also the first Eighth Doctor audio drama; the Doctor there kept one as a pet. However, the Tar-Modowk are new to this story, and don’t seem to have been referenced again. Lucie also refers to her Auntie Pat, previously encountered in Horror of Glam Rock. Little is made of the fact that we have returned to Lucie’s home country and year, despite previous attempts failing. We don’t know what has become of the Time Lords’ shield on that time and place in the vortex. However, this story leads directly into the next, which will resolve the Headhunter arc; and I find it interesting as well that the Headhunter seems to be using a TARDIS. Perhaps different factions of the Time Lords are at odds here? That wouldn’t be unheard of. At any rate, we’ll find out next week.
Lucie seems to be following a character arc that will be very familiar to fans of the revived television series. She began as a young, somewhat awkward female companion, who was far out of her comfort zone. By now, however, she has grown in confidence and knowledge enough to take the lead in some of the Doctor’s endeavors—never mind that it gets her in trouble, and him as well. Sheridan Smith’s voice acting is still superb, as is Paul McGann’s. In fact, from a production standpoint, this story is excellent.
With regard to plot, it doesn’t hold up as well. The opening scenes are awkward and jarring, and don’t do much to introduce the characters well. Although we get explanations later, they still aren’t very thorough; I’d never suggest that plot should be subservient to backstory, but there is a certain minimum amount of backstory necessary to make a story coherent and believable. We seem to have missed that mark. It’s a pity, because otherwise, this story is a lot of fun.
My impression overall of the season—and I know, the finale lies ahead—is that it could have been longer. This is a season where a lot happens in a short time, or so it seems. We spend quite a lot of time racing through events, and it never seems to have time to set in. The effect was negligible in previous stories, but here it is very obvious. I’m hoping for a good resolution in the next story, especially given that it consists of two parts; I’m enjoying the Eighth Doctor Adventures, but I feel conflicted about them as well, and I don’t want to end the season on that note.
Next time: We resolve the Headhunter arc in Human Resources! Also, Main Range #9, The Spectre of Lanyon Moore! 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.