My strategy is working: I’m not looking at the titles or the covers before putting them on so I had no idea what to expect with The Apocalypse Element and that’s a great thing. See, when the Lord President of Gallifrey mentions Romana, I think: oh, does this one tie in with the Gallifrey series? (For those who don’t know, that’s another Big Finish spin-off.) I don’t recall how soon into the monthly releases Gallifrey started, so it’s plausible. I had absolutely no recollection of Romana being in one of the early Big Finish episodes! This alone should have made this episode amazing. Add to that a story set on Gallifrey featuring all the time-travel capable races, Colin Baker, Maggie Stables and Daleks outside their cases? Oh, and there’s more: continuity. Well, that may be the saving grace for this one. I mean come on! This has to be the one!!!!
Or not. My biggest complaint was a “visual” one. Most of the episodes I can “see” in my minds eye. Even if I don’t know the town in England, the country dig, the school in the mountains, etc, I can still imagine them. Gallifrey is the planet of choice for me. No other planet in Science Fiction comes close. But it’s not easy to imagine some things. Half the time I felt like all Gallifrey was made up of hallways. The Daleks outside their shells in an antigravity… place? I had no way to envision that short of that they needed a ladder to get there. And I found myself listening to dialogue without any sense of where people were. Trinkett, played by Karen Henson, sounded a lot like Romana too, so that didn’t help. So a lot of the happenings in this story are lost and I have no mental image for them. And let’s be honest: Daleks are annoying. Their voices are grating in the extreme! So I blocked out a lot of that too. In short, I was left with an episode that was pretty blank to me.
But that’s not to say the episode is without some merit. We do find out that Romana returned from E-Space (classic series, Warriors’ Gate), Evelyn gets paralyzed by a Dalek ray (like Ian Chesterton, classic series, The Daleks), and Coordinator Vansell returns (last seen… um, heard… in The Sirens of Time). I like continuity, so that was nice. And for fans of the comics, Stockholm Syndrome is mistakenly called Stockbridge Syndrome by Evelyn. (This was likely an intentional shout-out to The Stockbridge Horror from many moons ago!) The Monan Host is honestly a great name for an alien race too and they seem to be powerful enough to make the Time Lords worry. That could make for some interesting storytelling too.
So on balance, it’s a bit even. Against it is Romana’s apparent sell-out that everyone starts to think might be for real. Give me a break. Did anyone listening actually think there was a chance of that? Had it been Vansell, sure, but Romana? We all knew she’d never switch sides. No contest. However, in favor of the episode, there is one thing that did something I want to do with Doctor Who myself…
Ok, so since the return of Doctor Who in 2005, we’ve had a gift left on our doorsteps that the creators of the series have utterly ignored. Courtesy of the Time War, we can go back and correct continuity errors like Time Lords ourselves. Sadly no one has actually capitalized on that… except maybe Big Finish. See, in the 1996 TV movie, the Eye of Harmony is opened using a human eye. This makes anti-sense and the half wit who wrote the script added that “the Doctor is half human!” This is as infuriating as saying George Washington was really a woman, or Jesus was an Eskimo. But Big Finish recognized this folly and came up with a plausible reason for it: the Daleks had invaded Gallifrey and were willing to pluck eyeballs out of fallen Gallifreyan’s to open doors to take over. So the Doctor coded all of Gallifrey’s systems to a human eye: that of Evelyn Smythe. Assuming this would all be changed back on Gallifrey, it leaves the Doctor’s TARDIS still to be reprogrammed… but as per his normal behavior, he never gets around to it and suddenly, presto-change-o, the TV movie actually makes sense! Holy cow… if they can keep this up, the universe of Doctor Who might finally have a sense of cohesion!
And then we shoot that idea down as Daleks kill Gallifreyans by the dozens and not a single one regenerates, because why would they do what we expect? Pluck an eye? Grow another! No. Continuity, shmontinuity! Well you get the idea….
Hey, it’s early days. This was from Feb of 2000. Maybe they’re not there yet, but they are getting closer! Maybe the next one will get it just right… ML