We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week we’re listening to Winter for the Adept, the tenth in the Main Range of audios, which features the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, and serves as a sequel of sorts to the recent Land of the Dead. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!
We open on December 1963, with a diary entry by a girl named Alison Speers. She and her roommate Peril Bellamy are students at an isolated finishing school in the Swiss Alps, and they are snowed in for the holidays, having missed their chance to go home. They are accompanied by the headmistress, an odd character named Miss Tremayne, and also by her assistant, Mademoiselle Maupassant. And Peril is planning an escape—literally, by climbing down the roof to meet her lover, one Lieutenant Peter Sandoz of the mountain patrol, and elope with him.
Sandoz has already been sent by his superiors to check on the school and the girls, but en route, he meets someone: Nyssa of Traken, who has just found herself teleported from the warm TARDIS to the cold mountainside. He takes her along to the school. Arriving, they find bigger problems: Ghostly happenings are occurring, and Peril and Alison are out in the storm. Sandoz leaves to find them. As strange occurrences begin to happen, he brings them back, and announces his plans to elope with Peril; this sends Miss Tremayne into a fury of somewhat-religious rage. However, more happenings—involving moving furniture and a smashed mirror—force them to retreat to the attic…where the TARDIS appears. The shock makes Miss Tremayne faint.
The Doctor regroups with everyone, and apologizes to Nyssa; her unexpected teleportation was a side effect of an experiment in, as he calls it, “Spillage detection”. However, her story catches his attention, and he reveals—to her chagrin—that the school appears to be genuinely haunted.
While preparing to investigate, the Doctor works with the rather surly Sandoz to repair the school’s broken radio, allowing help to be summoned. As soon as he leaves the room, however, someone smashes the radio to bits. The Doctor then gathers his spillage-detection equipment from the TARDIS, though he keeps his plan mostly to himself. He begins to run experiments in the chapel; while there, he notes a picture on the wall of one Harding Wellman, a mountaineer who died in an avalanche; the picture is not the source of the psychic residue. He gives Peril some special tea to brew; and suddenly there is another psychic attack.
Nyssa is nearly killed, but the Doctor saves her. He finds no psychic residue in the area, however. He explains that he suspects an extradimensional race called the Spillagers—not their name for themselves, but that by which the rest of the galaxy knows them—who may be trying to invade. He withholds any other details about them. He notices, though, that every manifestation is accompanied by certain out-of-place scents. He gives Peril and Alison some of the tea to calm them, and they fall into a trance; the Doctor reveals that it contained a sedative. While they are entranced, he implants a hypnotic suggestion that will make them fall asleep at his command, so that he need not use the tea again. Peril, under hypnosis, admits that she is an Adept, as her grandmother called it; the female line of her family has often manifested psychic abilities, sometimes being mistaken for witches. She has this power as well, in the form of telekinesis. However, she is not solely to blame; the Doctor realizes that Alison is also an Adept of sorts, possessing telepathy rather than telekinesis. Both are involved in the disturbances, with Alison triggering Peril—but what is triggering Alison, who is also unaware of her role?
Unfortunately, Miss Tremayne has overheard, and in her religious frenzy, she determines to kill Peril and Alison as witches. She confronts them in the kitchen, but is shot and killed by Sandoz as she tries to attack. The disturbances continue, and the Doctor opts to get to the bottom of it the old-fashioned way: with a séance.
Sandoz and Maupassant both decline to participate, for various reasons. The Doctor, Nyssa, Alison, and Peril conduct the séance, and to their surprise, they summon the spirit of Harding Wellman. The Doctor suggests that it isn’t actually him; it may be an energy being that has absorbed his memories and identity, making the idea a bit more palatable to Nyssa. Wellman discusses his death, and events thereafter; he also reveals that he had epilepsy. The Doctor puts it all together: It is a feedback loop, in which Wellman’s presence produces a scent of flowers, which triggers migraines in Alison; her powers then trigger Peril’s telekinesis, which activates Wellman’s epilepsy, which then produces outbursts of telekinetic power. Without all three of them, there are no disturbances, as the Doctor demonstrates by putting the girls to sleep.
Still, this is not all that is happening. The Doctor and Nyssa return to the TARDIS for better equipment. He tells her that there are still the Spillagers to deal with. His equipment, he theorizes, had homed in on Spillager activity here; the teleportation sent Nyssa there, forcing the Doctor to follow, and therefore deal with it. The Spillagers are a hostile race that want to invade from another dimension; they were attracted here by the psychic activity, and now want to use the feedback loop to open a gateway through which they can bring their fleet. In fact, they have an advance scout in the school already, to open the gate.
The Doctor thinks it is Miss Tremayne—but he scans her body, and finds he is wrong. Instead, it is Maupassant. She reveals herself, and states she chose the students for the purpose of creating the feedback loop. She attacks, but the Doctor forces the trio to create a psychic disturbance, which then crushes the Spillager to death.
With her dead, they can now strike back by closing the gateway. The Doctor, Sandoz, and Peril carry the body out into the snow; it will decompose quickly. However, Sandoz pulls a gun on the Doctor, and reveals that he is a second scout—and the gateway is already open. He has been siphoning off waste energy from the disturbances to slowly open it. He contacts the Spillagers and tells them to come through. Peril is furious—Sandoz, the real Sandoz, was her lover, after all—and prepares to start a disturbance to kill him; but he shoots her. His shot causes an avalance, however, and he is buried and killed.
The Doctor uses a special poultice from the TARDIS to save Peril, but she is too weak for the séance which will close the gate; so he makes Nyssa, with her own rudimentary psychic ability, stand in. The Spillager fleet, halfway through the gate, is crushed and destroyed by its closure.
With the crisis averted, the Doctor and Nyssa use the TARDIS to take Peril and Alison to their family homes, giving Alison a final diary entry.
This story comes across as a bit messy in its structure, but I overlooked that for the sake of its cleverness. Every time you think you have it figured out, there’s a new twist—nothing large, but enough to keep the interest going. There are plenty of clues along the way, but they’re fairly subtle; for instance, it’s clear that Sandoz must be the one who destroyed the radio—although the Doctor doesn’t directly accuse him, only suggesting it to deflect attention from himself—but this in no way gives away that he is a second Spillager. As well, it becomes apparent early on that Peril is linked to the phenomena, but it came as quite a surprise to learn that Alison was also involved—and I in no way saw the presence of Wellman coming. The Doctor is very vague as to Wellman’s true nature; that mannerism is not uncommon for the Fifth Doctor, who likes to rely more on distraction than information when dealing with those around him. Still, it’s a curious omission for us as the audience; we usually get some decent form of explanation, but not here. Wellman may very well be a ghost; the Doctor downplays his suggestion to Nyssa that it’s really an energy being. Wellman’s fate is not mentioned at the end, but presumably he continues to haunt the school.
There are next to no references here, and the handful we do get, all come from Nyssa. She mentions Traken, as she often does; it was last seen being destroyed by entropy in Logopolis. She ties us to both the television series and the audios; she mentions the Xeraphin from the television serial Time-Flight, and the Permians and Alaska from The Land of the Dead, indicating this story takes place not long after that one. As well, it must take place between the television stories Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity, and by extension in the gap between seasons nineteen and twenty; Tegan exits the TARDIS in Time-Flight and returns (some considerable time later, from her perspective) in Arc of Infinity, and this is the only period on record when Nyssa alone traveled with the Doctor.
Andrew Cartmel is the writer of this story, and to date it is his only contribution to the Main Range of audios. As he typically writes for the Seventh Doctor and Ace, this constitutes quite a change; however I think he captured them well, especially the Fifth Doctor’s characteristic air of embarrassment (which is used strategically, I might add) and deflection. I’m a fan of Cartmel’s other work for Doctor Who, and I think this is a welcome addition. He also gets a brilliant line at one point, with the Doctor advising Sandoz that “you’ll end up cutting our throats with Occam’s Razor”, in reference to Sandoz’s insistence on the simplest and most earthly explanation for the odd phenomena.
On the downside, the Spillagers are a bit boring as an enemy, although their advance agents performed admirably. I like the idea that we don’t get a proper name for them; that is just what you would expect for a bizarre and hideous alien race that universally destroys the populations it invades. After all, why would they waste time announcing themselves and opening a dialogue? Still, it’s a bit farfetched that they would be “all evil”, so to speak; villains with more nuance are usually more interesting. They do hint at other adventures, however; their empress knows the Doctor and considers him an old enemy, but we’ve never seen any previous encounters (or at least not at this point—there may be appearances I haven’t seen, but I didn’t find any as yet).
Next time: Having finished Season One of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, we’ll be launching into the Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor! Then, we’ll be returning to the Main Range with #11, The Apocalypse Element, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn! See you there.
All audio dramas in this series can be purchased from Big Finish; this and other selections may also be found on Spotify (search artist “Doctor Who”) and Google Play. Link for purchase is below.