We’re up to number 37 of the main range of Big Finish’s Doctor Who stories and this one features the magnificent Colin Baker with Maggie Stables as Evelyn. Last week, during The Rapture, Caitriona referred to the Doctor as “the sandman” for no readily apparent reason and it would be a full month back then before we’d have an unsatisfactory payoff. It’s unsatisfactory because it has absolutely nothing to do with the events of The Rapture and as a moniker, it’s senseless. The “sandman”? Why? He doesn’t throw sand about, nor does he inhabit dreams, though he uses that to scare the main villains of the episode. But the whole story hinges on a conceit that simply doesn’t hold any water: we don’t know the Doctor as well as we think we do!
Yeah, um, BF team, here’s the thing… we’ve been “traveling” with the Doctor for a long time now. We’ve come to know him pretty well. Even the Doctor’s episode one ending doesn’t ring true, because we know there has to be more to it. As an episode ending, it’s not bad, but I didn’t buy it for a second. “I am every bit the monster they believe me to be…” Well, this would have been a novel approach: have the flashbacks to the Doctor be a 1st Doctor story and sure, we might have questioned what he did to deserve to be thought of so poorly but that wouldn’t work. It has to be the 6th Doctor because it’s ultimately his COAT that the monsters are afraid of. (Rightfully so, I admit, but that’s hardly the point!) So the story depicts the Doctor as a monster to a group of aliens mostly because he wears a coat that gives them a headache. Um… does this strike anyone else as being a poor idea for an audio story?!
Right from the start, entering the Clutch is a visual treat that we can never actually see. Colorful, huge, and a collection of ships… it sounds like a SF-lovers treat. But it’s an audio story so I felt like I had synesthesia listening to it; I was hearing colors and seeing sounds. What the story has going for it is that Anneke Wills (Polly from Troughton’s era) makes an appearance, but as a character called Nrosha, and I didn’t even realize it was here until after finishing the audio when I looked at the CD case. The best guest star was actually Mordecan, played with piratical joy by Robin Bowerman.
And this story yet again does something I utterly hate: no, not giving the Doctor a gun, because, as out of character as that is, I can accept that sometimes, rarely, need may arise to use one, but what I find abominable is this… The companion NEVER knows what the Doctor is up to. EVER. If the Doctor is ever trying to bluff, the companion proves to have an IQ of 3, saying or asking something to give it away. Thankfully, Big Finish writes all nearby characters as needing hearing aids and glasses and no one EVER sees or hears what’s going on. “Oh, I’ve misplaced my tickets to the grand ball,” says the Doctor. “Doctor, what are you doing? We don’t have tickets to the grand ball,” says the brain dead companion. Just once, I want a Big Finish audio to address this! “What’s this, your ignoramus companion has just said? They have spoiled your deception. You should travel with a better class of companion! You don’t have tickets to the grand ball!? To hell with you!” (Cue end theme!)
Look, I won’t knock Robin A. Forward for giving an idea a try. It’s not a terrible story, but it just didn’t work by the time of the 6th Doctor. I would have preferred learning that the first Doctor wore that coat once upon a time and the 6th Doctor found it after his regeneration and put it back on. Besides, where did that coat come from anyway?! And another thing, when does the Doctor go on all these side trips? I was a huge fan of the Missing Adventures range of books and I love these Big Finish stories too, but really, there’s almost no time for some of them to have taken place. “Oh, Evelyn, why don’t you take a nap, I’m going to go out and record an adventure that will resurface later, after you’ve woken up. There’s a good girl!” I just can’t accept; I guess ultimately, I want things to make sense. And maybe I’d have been more forgiving if the CD case itself redeemed something, like having good artwork, in or out, but it’s a dusty old image and the inside is supposed to be one of the (awesomely named) Galyari… but that was far too little and far too late.
I’ve said it before, kudos for being open to trying new things. Shame on the powers that be for not realizing this was too visual an episode to work in audio. ML