After the last two stories, I’d learned a lesson. Both of the last 2 releases had the villain on the cover so I decided I wouldn’t look at the cover when I took this next one off my bookshelf. I also didn’t listen to the preview at the end of the last story because I didn’t want the villain spoiled. Yeah, I listened to these when they first came out back in 1999/2000, but who remembers that? I reached up, took down the ninth release and carefully brought it to my car. Even then, still careful to avoid looking at the case, I opened it and put the discs in the player. I closed the jewel case and put it in the center compartment to retrieve later. Lesson learned: I can at least be surprised with each episode from now on!
This will be my strategy going forward because when one of the characters asked if the Brigadier had been around the dig, I didn’t even think it would be Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier. (Look, a lot has happened in the 20 years since I last listened to this!) When Courtney showed up, I was delighted. But Big Finish does have him on the cover of the release, which is unfortunate because it was such a nice surprise, like when an old friend rings your doorbell to say hello! I think it has to be down to not having confidence in the sales of these items but time will tell.
The story starts in prehistory with a character that can rival Jim Carey for the most annoying noise in the world. Toby Longworth voices Sancreda, a little troll-like monster whose voice grates on my nerves like a waitress telling you that sharing your kids salad bar is against the restaurant rules! Barring Sancreda, the rest of the cast sounds great. Susan Jameson is Mrs. Moynihan, evoking strong memories of Mrs. Hawthorne from The Daemons. (Although she get a little rotten later in the story and the happy memory shatters.) Professor Morgan has a great voice and I’m pretty sure he’s Welsh, aren’t I? And Sir Archibald, played by James Bolam, reminds me of the Duke of Forgill (Forgyl?) from Terror of the Zygons. Then there’s Evelyn and the Doctor, both of whom are on point as ever. And need I even say how great it was hearing Lethbridge-Stewart? It’s also the first time that the Sixth Doctor has a story with the Brigadier; an encounter which has the Brigadier recognize the Doctor on sight. (It’s one of those wonderful scenes that the fans delight over!)
There are a lot of bright spots in this story. I love when the Brigadier comes to the Doctor’s defense, for instance. On the flip side, I hate how often companions talk to themselves; it screams “hey I’m doing an audio and couldn’t find a better way to convey this information…”. From a continuity perspective, the Brigadier mentions Doris, his wife, who we met on television in the Doctor Who episode Battlefield with Sylvester McCoy. He also recalls that the TARDIS once became invisible (The Invasion). From a story perspective, Big Finish has been ramping up the stories as I was able to see this entire story in my minds eye. Some of that is good, like “seeing” the Brigadier comment on the Doctor’s choice of clothing. Some, not so good, like the introduction and untimely death of Nikki or a rather gruesome death by hungry dogs. Of the great moments, there’s the Doctor’s perfect attack on ignorance in episode 2. I loved what he had to say. But after the Doctor verbally berates Prof. Morgan, Evelyn chastises our favorite Time Lord, suggesting he be more understanding. But later, when she is held captive by Sir Archibald, she’s quick to call him a nutter without considering his side of things. She doesn’t even think to humor him even though her own advice to the Doctor was to consider the others perspective. She claims Professor Morgan is a learned man, but ignores that Sir Archibald may also be worthy of respect because she disagrees with him. If they hadn’t made such a fuss over her reprimanding the Doctor, I would not have taken issue with this, but as it stood, it seemed short-sighted. Did the writer forget this scene in just one episode?
Then there’s the timing of things. Forget the “18,000 years” thing, that Sancreda has to repeat over and over (like 18000 times!). I’m talking about everything else. While spaceships may be able to move at the speed of thought, the same can’t be said on earth. Everything happens for the Doctor and company at the dig over what feels like a very brief period of time. During this, Mrs. Moynihan leaves the dig and heads to Greece. Once she has the focusing stone, she has to get back to England. We are told that its been 5 hours since the break-in at the museum; “more than enough time” for her to get back. Now, I don’t know a whole lot about world travel, but I know getting to an airport takes time. Then, getting a flight takes time. I’m told an international flight requires being at the airport 2 hours before the flight. There’s the flight time itself. There’s a lot to be considered. Not to mention getting from Athens to England and then to the dig in the middle of the country which isn’t that close to Heathrow. (Oh, and to the kennel to pick up her dogs!) So for fun, I went on Expedia and typed in Greece to Cornwall, and the fastest flight was 15 hours, and I did not do that for the day I was looking it up. Are we to expect that the tea lady had a private jet waiting for her? On top of that, even though UNIT is on the lookout for an old woman, when a UNIT soldier finds her, he has no issue just chatting with her until she kills him. Come on!
Complaints aside, this story was very “visual”; I was transfixed. Unlike the previous story, this one had 30+ minute episodes. Like the previous story, I was captivated the whole time, but I could “see” where this took place, whereas I just had a vague sense of what the previous one looked like. Also of note is that in the opening of this tale, the writers remembered the original purpose of the series, offering the listener some real life historical information.
Thankfully we only have to listen to Sancreda for a little while. This story was a mix of The Daemons, Image of the Fendahl, Terror of the Zygons and a few others thrown together for good measure. It felt every bit the classic, complete with nonsensical technobabble and deus ex machina resolutions. And it was worth every minute! ML