Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Shadow of Death

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Second Doctor’s contribution to the series: Shadow of Death, read by Frazer Hines and Evie Dawnay. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio!

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The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe find themselves on a planet orbiting a pulsar in the year 2724. We don’t get an exact date, but we get the year, as Jamie is debating with the Doctor about his—that is, Jamie’s—age; the Doctor is teasing him about being a thousand years old. Zoe has only recently joined the TARDIS crew, while Jamie estimates he has been traveling with the Doctor for two or three years; this places the story after the events of The Wheel in Space. He later gives Zoe an explanation of the Hostile Action Displacement System (HADS); this places the story prior to The Krotons, where the HADS is used. The pulsar’s gravitational pulses are strong enough to the drag the TARDIS out of its flight, leading it to be at least temporarily stuck on the planet.

Things are not as they seem. They find themselves inside an ancient and yet oddly functional city. A quick exploration takes the travelers onto the surface, where they find several human corpses…and oddly, they seem to have been aged to death where they stand. In fact, at first they’re mistaken for statues. The Doctor and his companions are quickly captured by more humans, who prove to be part of a galactic survey expedition. Although there is mutual suspicion at first, it quickly turns to an alliance of necessity when it becomes clear that they are not alone. A shadowy being—or possibly more than one—is also roaming the corridors of the empty city; and its touch is death, in the same manner as that of the corpses on the surface.

After much misdirection and danger—both from the shadow and from the gravitational pulses—the Doctor finds himself isolated, and attempts to get to the TARDIS and escape the city, then recover his friends. However, he is stopped by an odd visitation. The Eleventh Doctor, from far in his personal future, makes psychic contact with him; he sees the Eleventh Doctor’s image and that of his psychic paper, which spells out written instructions. He must not only save himself and the others, but must also save the survey team’s work; it will be vital in the future. Resigned, he forgoes the TARDIS and returns to the control room to save the data…and is captured by the shadows.

Hours later, the Doctor rejoins Jamie and the others. He explains that the shadows are the indigenous, intelligent species of this world; he refers to them as the Quiet Ones. He explains that their world was once a rogue planet, without a star; Jamie compares them and their situation to the Cybermen of Mondas, which was also a sort of rogue planet (as seen in The Moonbase and The Tenth Planet). He states that their world was captured by the pulsar; to protect themselves, they transformed themselves into a non-corporeal form which exists at a much higher rate of time than humans. The deaths were unintentional, caused by the colliding of different time zones; they were attempting to make contact, not kill. The problem, it seems, is the noise the humans make; the Quiet Ones are highly sensitive to sound, and need a quiet environment to live. All they really wanted, it seems, was to get the humans to “keep it down”. The Doctor has brokered a truce which will allow the research to continue.

Jamie, however, realizes something is amiss. He asks why the Doctor was not killed when touched; the Doctor attributes it to his relationship with time, which is different from that of the humans. Still, he has aged a bit; and under pressure, he reveals that while Jamie and Zoe only experienced a few hours on the planet, for him, it was a few years.

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This entry is the shortest in the Destiny of the Doctor series, at just under an hour. It’s also probably the least complex plot, at least among those I have listened to thus far; technically it doesn’t even have a villain. I didn’t feel that that was a weakness here, though. It’s pretty well-executed. Frazer Hines is a fantastic voice actor, with a wide range of accents available to him; and his portrayal of the Second Doctor is utterly convincing—several times, you could believe it is Patrick Troughton. Of course, credit should go to the writer, Simon Guerrier, for that as well; it’s up to him to capture the Doctor’s phrasing, just as it’s up to the reader to capture the voice. Evie Dawnay, who plays the survey team’s Dr. Sophie Topolovic, is a bit of a Russian caricature, but she plays it well and earnestly; she reminds me of the video game character Olga Gurlukovich from the Metal Gear Solid series. My only real regret was that Wendy Padbury didn’t reprise her role as Zoe; but that’s not surprising, as she has largely withdrawn from Doctor Who in her retirement.

The Eleventh Doctor’s appearance here is more involved and explicit than in the previous story, where he was only heard on the radio. It’s never really spelled out that he is the Eleventh Doctor—something I expect is true in every story in this series save the final one—but the description is unmistakable. There are several other references to television stories, in addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned; Jamie refers to his meeting the Doctor (The Highlanders); walking on the moon (The Moonbase); the Doctor references Jamie’s comment from The Faceless One about planes being “flying beasties”; and the Doctor makes a reference to former companion Steven Taylor. Overall this series is heavy on references; that’s no surprise, given that it was written to lead up to the Fiftieth Anniversary.

I did find it interesting—and this was also true of the previous story—that this story doesn’t give away anything that wasn’t already a part of the show’s lore at this point. There’s no mention of Gallifrey or the Time Lords, for example, even when it might be obvious to do so. It’s to be expected that future adventures won’t be mentioned; but even in circumstances where knowledge that the Doctor clearly possesses—but had not revealed on television yet—would come in handy, it’s not stated. To me, that’s both inconvenient and very cool. It’s respectful of the television series; and though it may cause a bit of difficulty here, occasionally, it also prevents holes in continuity later on.

Overall I enjoyed this story, even more than the previous one. Perhaps it’s just that the Second Doctor is always a delight. Nevertheless, it says something good about everyone involved—writers, readers, characters—when a story as plain as this one (from a plot standpoint) can still be highly entertaining and interesting. This one hit all the right notes. It makes me have high hopes for the series as a whole.

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Next time: We join the Seventh Doctor and Mel in the Main Range for The Fires of Vulcan; and continuing Destiny of the Doctor, the Third Doctor and UNIT combat the Vengeance of the Stones! See you there.

All audio dramas in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below.  This and other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Shadow of Death

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