Cavan Scott and Mark Wright are back with the next chapter in the Forge trilogy and they are back in style. (Actually, I wrote “trilogy” before knowing there is a third part because on my first run-through, I had stopped buying the audio stories at issue 75.) Project: Lazarus differs from Project: Twilight for a key reason: this one plays as two separate but connected stories, while the original is a self-contained one. Mind you, I did not know that going into it. Like always, I put the CDs in the drive without looking at them, so I was not to know what I was getting into. Yet again, Big Finish amazes me with the comfort they show while experimenting with an idea. And once again, they do a great job.
Maybe it’s that every now and then, we need something “new”. The straightforward storytelling is all well and good, but that makes up the way we listen to and watch most stories. Big Finish is willing to try unexpected things. For instance, the moment this one started with Colin Baker’s theme music, I knew who the Doctor was. What I didn’t expect was for the story to end in part two. Were we in for another story to be presented out of sequence, like last week’s Creatures of Beauty? I listened to parts one and two on the same day, one on the way to work and one on the way home. By the next morning, it didn’t hit me right away that part three opens with Sylvester McCoy’s theme. It finally hit me when McCoy started speaking. What follows is another two part story with a twist.
It started with Baker’s two part-er. Nimrod is back and he’s been working with Cassie, who has been brainwashed into forgetting she has a child. For those who may have forgotten, Cassie was our “good vampire” from Project: Twilight. I bring her up because it’s through Cassie that we notice how surprisingly violent this story really is. Cassie brutally kills a man using slime that she forces down his throat. The Doctor is tortured as Nimrod tries to induce regeneration so he can understand it (leading ultimately to Project: Lazarus). The 6th Doctor even loses an arm… well, more on that in a moment. And if all of that is not bad enough, Cassie is killed by Nimrod in using that exploding grappling hook thing of his. The sound is horrible. But what’s worse is the effect it has on the Doctor, Evelyn, and the audience. The first half leaves us on that note. When McCoy comes in for part 3, several centuries have passed for him, while in Nimrod’s time, only 4 years have gone by.
When McCoy arrives and meets his former self, he has no memory of ever working for the Forge, but that’s what the Sixth Doctor is doing. The immediate question is: why? Knowing what happened to Cassie, we can’t imagine the Doctor ever offering his services to Nimrod. Whether it was a memory of my first time with this story, or the fact that the idea was predictable, the clues are there from the start of part three that we are not actually dealing with a multi-Doctor story. The Sixth Doctor working for the Forge is a clone, harvested during Nimrod’s brutal torture of the Doctor.
Overall, the story is full of twists and turns that leave us wondering about how Nimrod will strike next. He and the Forge are great villains. We’re also left wondering what’s wrong with Evelyn, as Cassie lets on. And what does McCoy’s Doctor remember about her? And when will we find out about that?
In some ways, I was reminded of Dalek when listening to this. The Forge might have been Henry van Statten’s own museum. I found some fun in Colin’s exclamation that fans typically just want a signed photo. And I liked the mention of the Doctor’s coat, because he’s wearing the far less common blue one. (The inside cover of the CD shows the coat in question, but I discovered while getting my notes together for this write-up; there were three covers. I have the one with McCoy on the front!)
I also have to compliment the attention to continuity. We hear about bowships and Rassilon’s mandate to hunt down and destroy all Vampires. There are also references to McCoy’s era as the Doctor from Battlefield and Remembrance of the Daleks.
Big Finish really does live their motto: they love stories. And they share them with us in new and unique ways. I can’t wait to see where they go next. But even more than that, I can’t wait to find out what happens next with The Forge. (I have a bit of a wait ahead of me!) ML