We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, the ninth in the Main Range of audios. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio!
We open on a scene in the distant past. An alien being is conducting a survey on Earth when his ship—and partner—are called back to the fleet. It’s an automatic recall program, and can’t be overridden. The alien races back to the ship, but is attacked along the way, and forced to defend himself—and the ship leaves without him. Frustrated, and blaming his partner, he swears revenge.
Eighteen thousand years later, the TARDIS wheezes to a stop in the middle of a marsh. The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe emerge, arguing good-naturedly over why they are here—the Doctor insisting they were forced off course—before heading for the nearest buildings in the nearby valley. They determine they are in Cornwall, and their first contact with humans confirms they are in the late twentieth century—near Evelyn’s home time, in fact.
They meet a Mrs. Moynihan, out walking her dogs; she is the housekeeper for a local figure of minor note, Sir Archibald Flint. They also view a nearby fogou, a subterranean passage of Celtic origin, the like of which only exists in Cornwall. It sits near a tumulus, a stone age burial mound. Evelyn picks up a souvenir, a small stone of odd shape; then they are intercepted by Philip Ludgate, an archaeology student. He is using electrical equipment to take readings in the area; and the Doctor notices that the readings are oddly high. Ludgate takes them to his base of operations, the Lanyon Moor Archaeological Institute, which is located in Flint’s gameskeeper’s lodge. Evelyn finds the name familiar.
At the lodge, they meet the very traditional lead archaeologist, Professor Morgan, who is mildly antagonistic toward Ludgate, and more so toward the Doctor. They also meet Flint, who is the patron and benefactor of the enterprise, but not an archaeologist himself. One more guest is also apparent, and he comes as a welcome surprise to the Doctor; it is an old friend, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, formerly of UNIT, now retired.
Over Morgan’s objections, the Brigadier takes the Doctor on to assist him, and admits that he is doing a bit of clandestine contract work for UNIT; he is investigating a history of odd occurrences on Lanyon Moor, which infringe on UNIT’s work in the area. He also mentions his wife, Doris, whom the Doctor has not yet met, and who is on vacation with family in Devon. Mrs. Moynihan excuses herself and leaves, ostensibly for a long vacation in Greece; this was her departure date prior to meeting the Doctor. The Doctor and the Brigadier go out to examine the fogou again, sending Evelyn to conduct some historical research in Flint’s library.
Evelyn is warmly received, and quickly completes her overview. As she leaves, Flint and an unknown visitor conclude that she is too inquisitive, and must be dealt with. On the path back to the institute, Evelyn meets a hiker named Nikki; they begin to talk, but are cut short. A small creature leaps out of the fog, and attacks, killing Nikki. It flees when confronting Evelyn, however.
Ludgate finds Evelyn and gets her back to the instituted to rest. The Doctor and the Brigadier return as well, having discussed the local history of myths about imps and goblins, and the history of strange happenings. In the morning, the trio compare notes; the Doctor confirms that the imp on the path was unable to attack her due to the stone she carried, taken from the fogou. Morgan interferes, causing the Doctor to lash out at him; Evelyn agrees to rest, but only if the Doctor apologizes. He does so, and enlists Morgan’s help, and then leaves to get equipment from the TARDIS. The TARDIS, however, is gone.
Ludgate and Evelyn conspire to break back into the mansion and investigate, as Evelyn believes something strange is happening there. Inside, they find a hidden lab full of equipment…and Flint catches her there, and locks her up.
The Doctor improvises a piece of equipment to track the alien energy readings. He concludes that the creature is dormant, but still aware, and can jam the signal; to overcome this, the Doctor will have to link his mind to the signal, which could be dangerous. He has the Brigadier switch on the machine, and warns him to leave it on no matter how much pain the Doctor appears to be in.
Flint tells Evelyn a bit of his plan to locate and use the powers on the moor; then he sets up a machine to destroy her eyes, as her eyes led her here. Before he can do it, however, the Brigadier switches on the Doctor’s machine, causing an outburst of power; as that power is also linked to Flint’s machine, the resulting feedback destroys Flint’s machine. He locks her in a study instead. As power lashes the institute, the Brigadier is forced to disobey and shut off the machine. The Doctor recovers, and reveals that he felt a second psychic field…in Greece. It seems Mrs. Moynihan is in on the plot. As it turns out, she has gone to recover an alien artifact, traded off by the Celts long ago and now residing in a museum in Athens. The Doctor and the Brigadier head for a nearby UNIT facility to obtain help in stopping her.
It is too late. She recovers the artifact and hops a plane to return home, bypassing the larger—and more secure—airports for a smaller one. The Doctor, meanwhile, has deduced the alien’s identity; it is a Tregannon, a very long-lived and hostile species which has the ability to use mental energy for many purposes. It even has the ability to discorporate into energy—its dormant form—and return, assuming it has a technological focus. The device that Mrs. Moynihan has retrieved will give it that focus, allowing it to return in the flesh.
Evelyn breaks out by smashing—to her chagrin—a priceless old stained-glass window. However, she is intercepted by Ludgate, who forces her back to the manor. Flint locks her in the cellar this time, and reveals that Ludgate has been working with him. Mrs. Moynihan arrives, causing the death of a soldier en route. She has fallen in with the Tregannon, Sancreda, as a means of restoring her honor and getting respect after her husband left her, and is quite blinded to anything else that may come of it. She places the device on the tumulus…and Sancreda is restored to life.
Sancreda examines the device, and determines that a component—the induction loop—is missing from it; Mrs. Moynihan identifies it as the stone that Evelyn is carrying. She goes to get it. The Doctor has recognized it as well, and realized the connection, and determines to use it as a bargaining tool Meanwhile, UNIT has detected Sancreda’s Tregannon ship entering the solar system. The ship blinds UNIT’s satellite surveillance in the area.
Moynihan intercepts the Doctor and returns him to the institute, where the Brigadier waits; Morgan has gone to find Evelyn. Meanwhile, Sancreda arrives at the manor and kills Ludgate. Flint confronts him, thinking he can control him, but Sancreda kills him as well, and destroys the laboratory. Morgan arrives thereafter and frees Evelyn and takes her back to the institute to get the induction loop. A confrontation ensues, and Morgan is revealed to be Sancreda; the real Morgan was killed immediately after Sancreda arose from the tumulus. Sancreda causes Moynihan’s dogs to kill her, leaving only the Brigadier, the Doctor, Evelyn, and himself. He takes the three of them, with the induction loop, to meet his ship on the moor, and reveals he plans to punish his old partner—his brother Scryfan–for leaving him behind.
Sancreda finds that the ship is empty. The Doctor reveals the truth: Scryfan had long ago come out of the ship to help Sancreda, and was killed by Sancreda’s errant firing of his weapon. He has been dead for eighteen thousand years. Sancreda decides to use the ship’s psychic weapons to take revenge on Earth instead, and forces the trio out. However, as the ship rises into the sky, it explodes. The Brigadier reveals that while Sancreda was enraged—and distracted—he switched the focusing device for a roll of wire from the Doctor’s pocket. This caused the ship’s weapon to discharge inside the hull rather than outside, destroying the ship.
With the threat neutralized, the TARDIS rematerializes—it had vanished at the prompt of one of its security systems. The Doctor, the Brigadier, and Evelyn take this opportunity for a well-deserved break, a meal at a pub, and talk of old times.
I was excited to get to this audio (if a bit delayed over the weekend). I’m unashamedly a big ol’ fanboy of the Brigadier, and I couldn’t wait to see his first outing in the main range. Nicholas Courtney is fantastic as always, and hadn’t lost anything over the years. With that said, however, there is a bit of difficulty with placement in the timeline here. The TARDIS wiki places this story in the year 2000, but I suspect that that is an error (the release date is also in that year). From clues within the audio, it seems that the story must predate Battlefield, if not by much, which would place it in the mid-1990s (Battlefield was set in 1997). The Brigadier seems to be a bit less retired now than in that story; he openly admits to doing occasional undercover work for UNIT, where in Battlefield he was quite going against his wife’s wishes in returning to duty, implying that it was no longer customary for him. He also has not introduced the Doctor to Doris, as he does in Battlefield; he mentions her for the first time (although this creates a bit of a contradiction, as that episode implies that the Seventh Doctor is unaware of her. We could handwave it a bit by saying that the Brigadier is unaware of the order of the Doctor’s regenerations, so he does not know at that point if the Seventh Doctor would remember this meeting or not). He has not met the Sixth Doctor before, but recognizes him by his fashion sense and manner of arrival, as well as the Doctor’s knowledge of him. (Full disclosure: the novel Business Unusual contains an earlier meeting between the Brig and Six, which would be earlier from the Brig’s point of view, but later from the Doctor’s; but it seems to be ignored here.)
This is Evelyn Smythe’s second appearance. We have skipped a few offscreen adventures with her; she refers to having seen alien worlds. However, it hasn’t been long since her first appearance in The Marian Conspiracy, as the Doctor is just getting over a cold he contracted in that story. She’s quite at ease with the Doctor, despite not having known him long as yet. She remains as snarky as ever, and continues to be a good match for the Doctor’s wit—better than Peri ever was, in my opinion, though not for lack of trying on Peri’s part.
The story references several others in various media. The Brigadier states that the TARDIS previously became invisible, which occurred during The Invasion with the Second Doctor. In discussing the archaeological efforts, there is a reference to Leamington-Smith from The Stones of Blood (Fourth Doctor) and Sir Percival Flint from the backstory of The Daemons, who proves to be an ancestor of Sir Archibald Flint in this story. It’s a shame it worked out so badly for all of them. The Doctor uses a Shlangiian power cell; the Shlangiian first received mention in the VNA novel Original Sin, featuring the Seventh Doctor, Bernice Summerfield, Chris Cwej, and Roz Forrester (in fact, it was the first appearance of the latter two). Though it’s not an actual reference, it’s worth noting that there’s yet another occasion in which the Brigadier first tells the Doctor of his marriage (bringing the total to three), in the novel The King of Terror. Finally, the Doctor is revived by the power of tea; though I am sure this was not in any way intended to be a connection, we’ll see this again post-regeneration in The Christmas Invasion, where the fumes from spilled tea give renewed focus to the Tenth Doctor’s recent regeneration.
The acting is top-notch in this serial. Given that it’s a darker, more gothic mood—very reminiscent of The Daemons–the voice acting does much to set the tone, and I consider it a success. In my experience, Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier excels at this type of story; he’s droll but not over the top. He gives an air of solidity that a story like this needs. The Brigadier is very much the kind of man who faces the mysterious, sighs, shrugs, and sets his shoulders to plow through it. He’s long past the point where he would fail to believe the Doctor’s wild stories—he fully accepts them now—but his approach is the same: “What needs to happen? Very well, let’s get to it.” And in the end, he’s the one who saves the world, by pulling the device from the ship. Maggie Stables, as well, continues to thrive as Evelyn; she may not be young, but she’s no kindly grandmother. She can be sharp and cutting when she needs to be, and diplomatic when the situation calls for that. (Sometimes I wonder if I’m talking about the character or the actor here…) And of course, Colin Baker is long since at home in the role, even if his part here is a bit reduced compared to his co-stars.
On the down side, I was disappointed to see yet another mad-scientist type for the villain. There’s a bit of bait-and-switch; you expect Morgan to be trouble, but in the end it’s genial Flint who is the real problem. Still, it’s not enough, and I at least saw it coming. Like so many other Doctor Who villains of this type, he wants to use the arcane and yet newfound technology—in this case, Sancreda’s power—to gain power of his own, and it’s just tiresome. He’s one-dimensional enough that it comes as a bit of a relief when Sancreda kills him. I was, however, caught off guard by both Ludgate and Moynihan; I didn’t expect either of them to be in collusion with Flint or Sancreda, and I was even more surprised to see that Moynihan fell in with Sancreda apparently without Flint’s involvement. Sancreda himself is a bit stereotypical; he kills from a sense of vengeance, and without discretion. It can be perhaps forgiven in that he had ten thousand years of discorporation in which to go mad, and also in that his race is known to be violent and hostile anyway; but again, none of this is new to Doctor Who, and ancient threats are a dime a dozen. One almost expects to hear that Sancreda is the last of his kind.
Overall, it’s a good story, riding on the strength of its protagonists. The Sixth Doctor’s main range entries continue to get better with each installment, and this is no exception. It’s a great addition, as well, to Evelyn’s time as a companion, and anything involving the Brigadier is always welcome. Check it out if you haven’t—you won’t be disappointed.
Next time: We finish season one of the Eighth Doctor Adventures with Human Resources, and we return to the Main Range with #10, Winter for the Adept, with the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa! See you there.
All audios in this series are available for purchase at Big Finish; this and many others can be found on Spotify and Google Play.