Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Trouble In Paradise

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 Sixth Doctor’s contribution to the series:  Trouble in Paradise, read by Nicola Bryant and Cameron Stewart, and written by Nev Fountain. Let’s get started!

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

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This episode differs from its predecessors right from the start. Rather than finding it incidentally and later, we get an appearance by the Eleventh Doctor right at the outset, as he uses the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits and viewscreen to contact the Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown. He makes it clear that he is a future incarnation of the Doctor (with Peri at first reflecting that he is what she would expect from the Doctor’s son, if he had one), and compliments his previous self; and then he makes a request. He wants the Sixth Doctor to obtain an omniparadox, a most dangerous item. After he leaves, the Sixth Doctor explains that an omniparadox is a sort of power cell, created by the conflict between two versions of time, much as nuclear power is created by smashing atoms together. The omniparadox, however, possesses energies that, if misapplied, can destroy the universe.

The Doctor constructs a device to track the signal of an omniparadox; it does so by mimicking the signal to create a resonance. Tracking, they land aboard a ship—not a spaceship, but a sailing ship—and find the paradox hovering above the TARDIS. However, they are quickly captured by a most unlikely man and his crew, and find that they are in the presence of the famed Christopher Columbus, aboard the Santa Maria; and he has just sighted land. He assumes they are natives of the island he has discovered, and that they have somehow come aboard to worship the invading Europeans. (The fact that he can converse with them without trouble seems to be lost on him.) The misunderstandings are interrupted, however, when it is revealed that a man on board is dying—and claims to have seen the devil.

Unfortunately, Peri has seen it too, albeit briefly. The Doctor gives her the TARDIS key to fetch a medical kit; and en route, she sees a demonic creature in the shadows for a moment. The Doctor determines that the man is dying of tuberculosis; he has the ability to cure him, but refuses to do so, as introducing modern medicine to the year 1492 could be disastrous. Enraged at him, Peri runs off through the hold where the TARDIS is parked, stopping only to throw the key at the Doctor.

Moments later, we find that Peri—intending to just stand at the prow and think—has fallen overboard. The Doctor panics, and tries to enter the TARDIS to save her, but cannot find the key. He is diverted, however, when he sees that the omniparadox is now gone; and shortly thereafter, the universe begins to unravel, violently. The Doctor realizes that something has caused the paradox to be removed, which means that the Eleventh Doctor’s mission in the future will fail, bringing about this destruction; but he stabilizes the situation briefly with his tracking unit, using its false signal to “trick” the universe into stability. It will not last, however, and he has about an hour before things fall apart. Columbus, having had his beliefs challenged repeatedly, now believes the Doctor is a wizard, and orders him to find the key and fix the situation; if he does not do so in twenty minutes, Columbus will cut off his hands, a punishment that history attests he used often on the native populations.

Peri, meanwhile, is not dead. She finds herself washed up on the shore—and is immediately captured by natives who are under the control of a monster. The monster is the devilish figure she saw; it confronts her, and reveals itself to be the Herd Leader of the Bovine race, a race of intelligent buffalo. Once they ruled the continent, and the primitive humans worshipped them; but then the herd leader was trapped in ice. Without its mind, the herd regressed into common buffalo, and were hunted to extinction. In the future, when the herd leader thawed out, he found he had no herd to lead. Adopting time travel technology which had since been developed by humans, he traveled back to conduct experiments which would save his people. He believes that Peri and the Doctor were sent to stop him.

The Doctor determines that a goat in the hold has eaten the key. However, he retains a psychic connection to it; and he is able to telepathically connect it to the TARDIS despite the goat (and much to the goat’s alarm) and get the door to unlock. With Columbus in tow, he determines that Peri is alive, and travels to her location; unknown to him, Columbus—now convinced the Doctor is a superior explorer—plans to kill him out of jealousy.

Arriving at the Herd Leader’s time machine, they learn its plan. It was the herd leader that led Columbus to the new world—Columbus being an incompetent navigator on his own—in hopes that the Europeans will exterminate the native Americans, thus preventing them from exterminating the Bovine herd. In that way he can return to the future and resume his place as herd leader. They are shocked to see another Herd Leader appear and interrupt, however; or rather, the same one, but older. The second leader says he is from the future, and has come to stop the experiment, because it will be a failure—the Europeans, too, will hunt and control the Bovine. The Doctor uses this opportunity to surreptitiously remove the time element from the machine. Warned by Peri, he dodges out of the way as Columbus tries to kill him with a sword; Columbus misses and destroys the time element by accident. The second herd leader vanishes, being unable to have time-traveled without the machine; the first is forced to flee. After removing the time machine, the Doctor, Peri, and Columbus return to the ship.

Columbus is forced to acknowledge that the Doctor and Peri are not natives after all; this does not change his plans, but he debates recording these events. He sends his men ashore to hunt down and kill the herd leader, convincing them it is not a devil, but an animal. The Doctor sees that the omniparadox has returned, and collects it; he theorizes that it disappeared because of the likelihood of Peri’s death. Without her to warn him of Columbus’s strike, the timeline would have been vastly different; and it was the collision of the timelines of the two herd leaders that created the paradox in the first place. Having a final change of heart, he cures the man with tuberculosis, and then they depart.

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Dating this story is easy; the date is clearly given as October 12, 1492. Dating the point of origin of the herd leader is a little harder; however, as he states he gets his time travel technology from the humans of the future, it is likely at least the 50th century. In fact, I would place it definitively in that century, as time travel exists, but not in the more compact and refined form of a vortex manipulator, which is known to exist by the 51st century; the machine here is apparently bulkier, and involves a time element large enough to be struck with a sword. From the Doctor and Peri’s point of view, this episode must occur prior to the past-time events seen Trial of a Time Lord, part two, Mindwarp, as that episode involves Peri’s death (later overturned, I know, but their travels here are clearly prior to that occasion). I would further suggest that it is at about the midpoint of their time together; Peri is not the frightened child she was for most of their early adventures, but neither is she fully her calm, collected self. Still, it’s hard to be precise.

Continuing the tradition started by Carole Ann Ford in Hunters of Earth, Nicola Bryant proves to be a versatile voice actor, doing an excellent job of catching the Sixth Doctor’s mannerisms and speech habits. Her take on the Eleventh Doctor is not as convincing, though still effective. I had never heard her speak without the affected American accent she uses for Peri; and now, hearing the contrast between her reading voice and Peri’s voice, I realize she’s incredibly skilled at this type of work. It would be very easy to assume that two different voice actors were involved. Cameron Stewart displays similar skill; he voices Columbus and the herd leader, two very different voices.

This story departs from the established structure significantly. In the previous stories, the Eleventh Doctor took advantage of adventures that were already under way for his past incarnations, using those situations to obtain what he needs. Here, he is the reason for this mission in the first place; but given the seriousness of an omniparadox—as an object the Doctor would not ordinarily seek out—I think that’s a fair strategy. We get a bit of the occasionally-recurring theme of whether it’s okay to change history here; Peri is in favor, the Doctor is not, but in the end she gets her way. As it turns out, however, the change they make is minor; he cures the sailor with tuberculosis, but doesn’t leave any indication of how it was done.

This has been my least favorite story in this series so far. Although I like the Sixth Doctor, and his audios are usually very good, I’ve always felt that Peri is the weakest of his companions. Rather, I should say, it isn’t that Peri is weak; it’s that I think she is not a good match with Six. Had she been able to stay with Five, they would have done much better together. Still, none of that is to say that this is a bad story; I think it’s weakened in part by Peri’s presence, and also by having its focus primarily on the larger story arc rather than the local story, but I think neither of those things ruin it completely. As part of this series, it’s still vital, and still worth a listen.

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Next time: We join the Seventh Doctor and Ace on Tarsus Six in Shockwave! See you there.

All stories featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this story’s purchase page is below.  This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Trouble In Paradise

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Red Dawn

I don’t usually post reviews twice in one day, but my new series review was delayed from last Friday. This is my usual Monday post, and I promise it is much shorter than the new series review. Enjoy!

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Red Dawn, the eighth in the Main Range of audios. Let’s get started!

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

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Ordinarily I begin with a lengthy summary of the plot of the audio. That won’t be necessary here, though I will summarize briefly. The story here is uncomplex at best, and minimal at worst. It is the story of America’s first manned mission to Mars (Britain’s early expeditions having been documented elsewhere), aboard the Ares One spacecraft and the Argosy lander. It’s a NASA mission, but with heavily corporate financial backing; and of course, there’s an agenda going on behind the scenes. The ship lands near a large artificial structure; and as the occupants begin to explore, the Fifth Doctor and Peri Brown arrive in the TARDIS, landing inside the building. The interior atmosphere is breathable, but only just; outside, the world is the wasteland we know it to be in real life.

The building is revealed to be the tomb and memorial of the dead Ice Warrior Izdaal However, his guards, led by Lord Zzaal, are still alive in suspended animation, and are inadvertently revived by the humans. Misunderstanding ensues as an astronaut overreacts in fear, and is subsequently killed by the Ice Warriors; then, one of the expedition’s leaders, Paul Webster, forces a hostile standoff, and makes plans to escape back to Earth with a captive Ice Warrior and Martian technology for use in weapon development. In the midst of the conflict, the Doctor and Peri try to mediate, but it is complicated when it is revealed that one of the humans, Tanya, is an Ice Warrior hybrid of sorts, created years ago using DNA brought back by an unmanned probe.

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Displaying a refined sense of honor and nobility, Zzaal and his warriors work with the humans and the Doctor to stop Paul, who seems at first to have outwitted them at every turn. In the end, Zzaal agrees to help Paul escape in exchange for the lives of the others, and further agrees to be a captive; his warriors will not fire on Paul as long as Zzaal lives. However, Zzaal turns the tables by sacrificing his own life; he faces the “Red Dawn”, the Martian sunrise, which due to the thin atmosphere contains lethal levels of ultraviolet radiation. (In dying this way, he follows the example of Izdaal, who died in the Red Dawn centuries earlier to convince his people to abandon the planet for the sake of their lives.) This frees the warriors to open fire on Paul, eliminating him and bringing the crisis to an end. In the end, the Ice Warriors choose to pursue peace with the humans, with Tanya as humanity’s first ambassador to Mars.

While the story is very straightforward, it’s not without impact. I really enjoyed this story, chiefly because of its handling of the Ice Warriors. They have long been a favorite Doctor Who villain for me, even though I was mostly unaware of them until Series Seven’s Cold War (I have since watched their past appearances in the classic series, and also read the Eleventh Doctor novel The Silent Stars Go By, which features the Ice Warriors). Doctor Who, like so many other series, gets accused occasionally of indulging in one-dimensional characters, especially villains; and certainly there’s some truth to it, which is why we repeatedly have conversations about why the Daleks aren’t scary anymore. There’s only so much you can do with a one-note villain. With the Ice Warriors, you get none of that. They are as complex as any villain has been, chiefly because they aren’t a villain in the traditional sense.

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In this story, in fact, the Ice Warriors are the true heroes. Certainly the Doctor does his part, as does Peri; but they are little more than bystanders. The Discontinuity Guide comments that “this story is less of a Doctor adventure than a Martian one, with us as well as a certain Time Lord as its audience”. It’s said disparagingly, but I didn’t find it to be a flaw; this story needs to be told for the sake of the Ice Warriors, and it’s not a problem that it’s more about them.

It was established long, long ago—in fact, all the way back to their first appearance in Season Five’s The Ice Warriors, with the Second Doctor—that the Ice Warriors are an honorable race. They don’t want to hurt anyone by default; they just want to live, and have possession of their world. They do sometimes get a bit misguided in that regard; the inhospitability of Mars has led them to try to colonize other worlds, sometimes violently, but no more so than some human colonization efforts. Most often, it’s that sense of honor that gets them in trouble, as they must save face when attacked—essentially they’re the Klingons of the Whoniverse. That very nearly happens again here—but wait! Something is different this time. With a little nudging from the Doctor, we see that Martian honor is not one-dimensional, either. Zzaal admits—and even endorses—that there is great honor to be had in mercy, and great dignity as well. It’s true that his first instinct when attacked is to retaliate; but he puts that aside and chooses to show mercy, even as the provocations continue. In fact, he goes beyond mere mercy, and tries to help the humans with their goals, even though it will clearly mean a much greater involvement for his people down the road. His final gesture is over the top, as is characteristic of the Ice Warriors—for reference, see Grand Marshal Skaldak’s attempted nuclear provocation in Cold War—but it is also effective, and does more to put both races on the path to peace than anything else. It’s a fitting end, and neither Ice Warriors nor humans will forget it.

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The humans don’t fare too badly in this story, either, and I find that remarkable. Fiction in general—and Doctor Who is no exception—tends toward extremes. That’s normal, of course, because we want our messages—whatever they may be—to be clear. In a story like this, it would be almost customary for the humans to be fully committed to their admittedly evil plan, but that’s not the case here. Oh, definitely, Paul Webster is committed, and being the actual villain, he dies for his trouble; but the other humans come across as fair and even-handed, just as do the Ice Warriors. They are neither overwhelmed nor corrupted by the situation they find themselves in; for once, they do the right thing, and pursue peaceful relations with the Martians. It’s a very hopeful ending, and I look for good things to come as a result.

Some continuity items: This story is set in approximately 2000-2001, as it makes reference to a “Mars probe fiasco” approximately thirty years prior; while it’s not specified what story this refers to, it seems likely to be the events of The Ambassadors of Death, with the Third Doctor. (An interesting side note: That story is followed up in the VNA novel The Dying Days, the only appearance of the Eighth Doctor in the VNAs; however, it is completely unclear whether that novel, which describes a 1997 British manned mission to Mars, is accepted as fact in this story. One would think the probe fiasco mentioned would be an American incident, as Red Dawn describes an American mission, but I could find nothing to concur with that; only The Ambassadors of Death seems to fit, and it’s unclear to me why that would be referred to as a probe fiasco, when it actually involved a manned mission. As well, all of this is contradicted by a mention in The Christmas Invasion of the UK’s first unmanned mission to Mars.) The Ice Warriors here probably come from a later time than those seen in The Ice Warriors, as that group was frozen in ice on Earth for millennia. The re-entry of the Ice Warriors into the galactic scene gets some reference in The Bride of Peladon, set in the 41st century. Izdaal will be referenced again in the audio The Judgment of Isskar. The outcome of Izdaal’s sacrifice is described in the audio Deimos, where it is revealed that the Ice Warriors evacuated to Deimos and placed themselves in hibernation.

This story is unique in that it features the Fifth Doctor with only Peri, placing it in the rather short gap between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani. Many other audios have also been inserted into that gap, but all of them also include the Big Finish-original companion Erimem (or at least, that was the case at last revision of the TARDIS wiki; I haven’t verified independently as yet). As such, this is a very positive and bright version of Peri, with none of the strain and difficulty that would later plague her under the Sixth Doctor. If anything, she’s more capable than her age and experience would allow.

In final assessment, while this is a weak story, it’s strong on characterization, and sets the stage for many later Ice Warrior stories. In that regard, it’s worth a listen.

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Next time: No More Lies, the next in the Eighth Doctor Adventures, followed by The Spectre of Lanyon Moore, in which the Sixth Doctor is joined by another old friend: The Brigadier! 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.

Red Dawn

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Whispers of Terror

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Whispers of Terror, the third in the Main Range of audios. Let’s get started!

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

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The date is unknown, but sometime in the relatively near future. The Sixth Doctor and Peri land inside a curious edifice: the Museum of Aural Antiquities. It’s a facility devoted to the preservation and curation of sound, including speeches and other voice clips; and it’s curated by the eccentric Gantman, who is supremely suited for a job involving sound, as he is blind. He and his assistant are assembling a recording of the final, unbroadcast speech from one Visteen Krane, and actor-turned-politician who committed suicide shortly before he would have announced a highly-anticipated bid for the presidency.

The Doctor and Peri arrive in the middle of this, and are quickly brought to Gantman. He explains that an associate of Krane, Beth Pernell, is coming to the museum to broadcast the speech, which will provide support for her own presidential bid. Almost immediately, however, something goes wrong: A strange collection of voices and other noises begins to haunt Peri and others in the museum…and a man is killed.

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It becomes apparent that the voices are more than just sounds: they are an intelligent creature, existing only in aural waves. The creature has the ability to travel in any sound, no matter how quiet; and it wants to escape the museum. It is guilty of the murder; and strangely, it is discovered to be a remnant of Visteen Krane!

Beth Pernell arrives on the scene at the worst possible time, intent on making her broadcast. However, the Doctor and Peri discover that her intentions are not what they seem. After capturing the creature, they at last piece together her plan: She is subtly altering the speech to make it appear to support her, when in fact it was delivered in direct opposition to her. The Doctor captures the sound creature; but it is tortured, and then unintentionally released, by Pernell. It allies itself with the Doctor to bring an end to her scheme by first preventing the broadcast, and then by allowing it to happen–but with changes that further make it clear that Beth is not to be trusted or elected. In addition, the edited broadcast makes it clear that Krane’s death was no suicide, but rather, a murder plotted by Beth and carried out by her accomplice, Hans Stengard. Pernell flees the museum, but dies when her vehicle explodes, a final gift from the sound creature. The creature–or rather, Krane’s echo–now restored to sanity by the Doctor, opts to remain in the museum, being supremely suited to helping Gantman with his curation duties. The Doctor and Peri then depart in the TARDIS, leaving the blind Gantman to remark, appropriately, “Well, now I’ve heard everything.”

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After a rocky start in The Sirens of Time, this is a good solo outing for the Sixth Doctor. Although by necessity this is still early in his lifetime (that is, given that Peri is the companion), he is far less abrasive than in his televised appearances, yet he retains his quick wit and a degree of arrogant self-possession. More striking is Peri’s performance here; I’ve often stated that for most of her televised run, she had the demeanor of a trauma victim or a sufferer of PTSD, but there is none of that here. Instead, she’s the sunny, confident, and somewhat snarky Peri that we first met alongside the Fifth Doctor, and perhap even more capable. It’s a good turn for her, and makes me wish that we had seen her this way on television.

The science behind the aural creature stretches credibility a bit; I kept thinking, “What if it just gets quiet? Won’t he die?” However, the idea of a non-corporeal creature that lives in a form of transmission is not new to Doctor Who, and would much later be explored onscreen in The Idiot’s Lantern and The Bells of St. John. The Krane creature is interesting to me; upon being tortured, it becomes the monster that it has already been believed to be, but is healed–completely inadvertently–by the very cancellation wave that is meant to destroy it.

I liked the pace of this serial. The episodes ran about twenty minutes each, a bit shorter than the television episodes of the comparable era; but there was no trouble following along as I experienced with The Sirens of Time. It felt like a quick story, but that was not a problem; it was coherent and well-done. The voice acting is excellent as well; although I suspected from the beginning that Beth Pernell was more than she seems, her true character stayed well hidden until it was time to reveal it. The same can be said for her accomplice, Stengard. Overall, this serial is excellent, and I recommend it.

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Next time: Land of the Dead, starring the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa! See you there.

 

All audios reviewed in this series can be purchased here from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below.  This and many other audio dramas are also available on Spotify and Google Play.

Whispers of Terror