Wednesday, July 23, 2014
In this story we are reunited with the 5th Doctor and his fairly new and engaging TARDIS team of Erimem and Peri. One of the highlights of this pairing is the sisterly relationship between them. Peri is in the role of big sister, while Erimem is actually the one who can more properly take of herself. It's a fun dynamic. So, of course, they spend nearly the whole episode away from each other. Sigh...
The story boils down to three groups trying to protect or get a hold of an extremely powerful relic, that is a great source of power. The group protecting it are a band of necromancy practicing witches. The leader of this coven Jal Dor Kal is a completely over the top parody of the wicked witch in the west. Within a couple of minutes of her first few lines of dialog, you'll have to resign yourself to the fact that this one note performance is going to grate on you for the remainder of the story. One group seeking the relic is a group of indentured mercenaries working for an evil corporation with a fairly stereotypical evil CEO. Also trying to get a hold of the relic is an unethical archaeologist. None of these players come off as good guys, so it's fairly obvious early on that they will all lose. The mercenaries start off as the only somewhat likeable characters, but that is certainly taken care of later in the story.
The TARDIS team starts out at the Garazone bazaar in an overly long intro that takes way too long to get the team on their way to the action. It just seems odd that after hearing a dodgy prophecy from a dubious begging soothsayer that naive Erimem insists they go to Nekromanteia to follow up on it - and the Doctor agrees! This overly long intro sets the pace for the story as it just feels overly long throughout.
Once they arrive, the team is quickly split up with Peri on her own and the Doctor and Erimem captured by the mercenaries. There is a fairly shocking sequence of events later where the mercenary leader Harlon, who up to this point has been portrayed as a fairly sympathetic character due to his family being used as hostages to ensure he fulfills his mission, attacks Erimem violently. In fact, for a while it is highly implied that he actually raped her until later it is made clear that the beaten Erimem managed to fight him off. I get the need for gray characters, but this seems a little over the top even for the more adult brand of Doctor Who that Big Finish provides. It also is a completely pointless aspect of the story. Erimem suffers no long term trauma from the attack, and it is dropped and never mentioned again almost immediately.
There is one truly remarkable aspect of this story: it has one of the most memorable cliffhangers in Doctor Who history. It's shocking, extremely violent (much more so than anything they would even think about doing on the TV show), and is one of those endings where you think, "In the next episode, it will be made clear that what we thought we heard happen didn't happen." Well, it did really happen. Granted, the resolution for this seemingly irrevocable cliff hanger is a confusing, uninteresting mess, but it's quite a stunner when it happens!
Generally, while this story isn't awful, I had fonder memories of it from my first listen a decade ago. This time, I found it a mostly inoffensive, but drab, unsatisfying story. The silly ending which (thankfully) writes out Erimem's cat doesn't help. While I think this is entertaining enough to avoid my lowest rating, there would be a lot of better stuff to come for this TARDIS team in future stories.