The last season of Paul McGann’s main range of Doctor Who stories had him, C’Rizz and Charley escape the divergent universe. They find themselves in a dark corridor before walking out into… Daleks! Terror Firma seems to be one of those very popular Doctor Who audios. Admittedly, Terry Molloy as Davros is hard to criticize. I don’t mean that he’s a wholly original problem for the Doctor; in fact, this episode mines the past quite a bit but he’s still a great nemesis. His laughter alone is unnerving and wonderful. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for his creations. The Daleks are never easy on the ears. While the Doctor’s Mondasian enemies had voices that I couldn’t get enough of, Daleks grate on the ears terribly and a drive to or from work is never made easier by their monotone rantings. And they are rantings, make no mistake. Think of all the times they get in their repeat mode: “We are the masters of Earth. We are the masters of Earth. We are the masters of Earth. We are the masters of Earth…” Who are they trying to get to believe them? Sounds like they’re trying to convince themselves more than anyone else!
To compound matters, this story doubles down on a concept I really dislike: it gives still more off-screen adventures for the Doctor’s backstory. I hate the idea of it when he mentions that Agatha Christie traveled with him for a while because that stupid name-dropping has now jacked up the chronology of The Unicorn and the Wasp. What value did it bring? Do the writers of Doctor Who not realize how insanely idiotic it is to have him do those stupid name drops? On top of that we find out about 2 companions of the 8th Doctor that we had hitherto no knowledge of, Gemma and Samson. In fairness, this works with McGann’s Doctor better than any other Doctor (short of maybe The War Doctor) but that doesn’t make it a great idea. It beats the name drops at any rate. One day, when it’s in vogue, there’s bound to be a meeting of the Doctor with another name from history and they’ll act like it’s their first meeting, but some obscure reference will exist in the series where the Doctor claims they’d already met. I can’t wait for the first meeting of Jane Austin because I fully expect her to ask how Clara is and if they fail at that, it just illustrates the sophomoric writing that often goes into Doctor Who. (Which is painful for me to say as a lifelong fan!)
While off-screen history is hard to reconcile, references to the actual TV show is Easter Egg Heaven. Davros blames the Doctor for the destruction of Skaro which the Doctor points out “to be fair” Davros really did it to himself. This is all history from the 7th Doctor story, Remembrance of the Daleks when Davros used the Hand of Omega, which backfired on him. We have constant reminders of the amazing moment in Genesis of the Daleks when Davros speculates on breaking the capsule to raise himself up above the gods, yadda yadda. McGann gives a marvelous line about the scene basically reiterating the thoughts of practical listeners effectively saying “yeah, we know the quote.” There’s also a repeat that by the time of this release would have hit our television screens with Charley running to escape a Dalek but a door closing on her because she “should have run faster”. Dalek featured the same sequence with Rose, which was truly upsetting because I adored Rose. (Charley I still find too affectedly posh to really warm to.) To give some credit to Big Finish on this one, Doctor Who came back to our screens in March of 2005 and Dalek was the 6th episode. This was recorded between end of April and early May so it’s difficult to know if that scene had been seen by the creators of this story or not. The TV episode was written by Rob Shearman, this by Joseph Lidster. I leave that to the reader to form their own opinion.
In the list of great things about the story is the dialogue between Davros and the Doctor. Some of that is just wonderfully enjoyable; listening to two highly skilled actors playing their parts is worth the price of admission, especially since they are both playing well-loved characters. I admit that I did get chills when Davros asks the Doctor for help him: “we need you to find Davros!” Even if that makes little sense, I still loved that moment. Not that his mind being splintered doesn’t make sense; I fully grasp that, but that he was called Davros repeatedly up until then. If you don’t know who you are, do you respond to being called a name that may or may not be you?? And in the negative category, I utterly loathe when the Doctor mocks someone’s appearance saying Davros was never much of “a looker”. I want the Doctor to always be above these comments, always seeing beyond skin deep. Yes, Davros was a monster, but not because of his appearance, and the Doctor, of all people, should know that. How many of the races of Doctor Who are strange looking but peaceful? I think of the Hath or Alpha Centauri, as two prime examples! I bet they are great looking to their own kind!
I can understand why this is a popular episode and barring a handful of complaints, I think it really is a solid story. While I found all the partying a bit silly, I did laugh out loud a few times. Harriet is a top notch host of a good shindig, and that adds a bit of levity to the story. Charley continues to leave me feeling lukewarm but C’Rizz really aces this story at the end when we find out he carries the voices of all those he’s killed. He believes he’s saved them and will one day save the Doctor and Charley as well. That creepy quality to one of the companions is a spine chilling moment and one that really nailed the finale. (Although I admit, I’m reminded of Silence in the Library, and wonder if saving them is not the scary thing it’s implied to be at the end of this story.) Will we see anything come of it? ML