Doctor Who is a wonderful show and Big Finish does a great job keeping it alive. It even adds some lore in the form of new companions that can smoothly fit in between stories and last for many episodes between the televised adventures. But sometimes, where it might do a great job in the audio format, it actually can take away something from the televised version. I’ll qualify that statement. First off, we know the televised character is never in any real jeopardy because that character has to live to see the television episodes that a given story fits between. But more than that, taking this episode as an example, there’s a moment when the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) is talking to Peri about the benefits of having three companions. He mentions Nyssa, Adric and Tegan. I love the fact that show remembers its history; it’s a complaint I have frequently when it gets ignored. But the thing is, Erimem is never mentioned in the televised episodes and while we fully understand why that is, I almost feel its a shame.
I think Russell T. Davies had a really great idea here. If we go back to Boom Town, there’s all this talk of other adventures that we never saw. It’s prime material for future pickings. All we’d need is a reference to some unknown adventurer and we could have our connected universe. I know, it’s a minor complaint, in the grand scheme but I have it as a complaint because of how amazingly likeable Caroline Morris is as Erimem. She’s hands-down one of the best companions we’ve met in the audio adventures and is up there with the greats even in the visual medium. (Mind you, I am talking about companions and ideas, not those horribly idiotic name-drops the Doctor does about all the historical people he’s met that will undoubtedly feature in a future episode with no reference to their “first” meeting thus making the name-drop meaningless.)
Speaking of the visual medium, and since I mentioned Tegan, I found the Doctor’s slightly less-than-charitable reminiscence of Tegan to be distasteful. It felt like a cheap shot for the fans who knew how annoying Tegan could be without remembering that the Doctor isn’t a fan. I never want him to dislike his companions. (Unless we consider Adam, perhaps!) The Doctor is our hero and should embody all that we want to live up to. I want to bring up my kids on a show that is wholesome with valid, positive messages about humanity not a show that says it’s ok to speak ill of someone when they are not present!
This story is a good one and ends up feeling like it could be a story of future Earth. It’s not the first time recently that I’ve watched something that seems prescient. This story features a race of humans who have grown up in isolation. Show me someone today, since the start of the Covid-19 fears and lockdown, that can’t relate to this feeling and I’ll ask what rock they’ve been living under because I’d like to join them! Human contact is all done on-screen (think Zoom calls!) and being in a room with more than 1 other person creates anxiety. As I try to get my friends out of their ruts to do things, I can almost see a time in the future where three truly is a crowd. In our real world, right now, that’s because of a virus. For the people in this story, it’s more to do with being a food source for a race of reptiles. I actually was a bit bummed with the prosaic alien menace here, because a story focusing on agoraphobia and extreme introversion seems so much more refreshing. The idea of social contact being a privilege is far more interesting right now than alien reptiles. And as a gamer, I also felt that there was prime opportunity for a little social commentary about those online gamers who just know one another as avatars. The point is, there was an opportunity for a much meatier story than harvesting humans as food. (And of all the weird cliffhangers we’ve ever had, “This is my larder” was probably the oddest choice of shock ending I’d ever heard!)
Oh, and back to that subject of aliens, I am sick of the good guys being grossed out by the many varied creatures in the Doctor’s travels. Isn’t the Doctor supposed to be teaching his companions that all life is special? I hate when the companions ask with revulsion, “what is that?” I want the Doctor to say something like, “hey, you’re no beauty to them either, you arrogant species-ist!” Just something to remind us that we are all aliens in this universe and you don’t have to look human to be one of the good guys. It does beg the question for me: where are the Doctor’s alien companions in the audio stories? You can’t tell me they simply couldn’t get someone into prosthetics each week like they say about the televised episodes. (Yeah, ok, we have C’rizz, so that’s something!)
Overall, I think this was another missed opportunity; there was a lot of material to create a really good, thinking story. Instead, we get a really good sci-fi action adventure, but that’s common Doctor Who territory and Big Finish in particular. I was looking for a piece that would stand out more, like The Natural History of Fear. The Doctor, Peri and Erimem are a great trio that I am happy to listen to, but how much better would that be if we had a real thinking story to go along with them? It’s still a good one and well worth the time, but it could have been so much more! ML