A weary 7th Doctor finds his way to the down-at-heel city of Valhalla, where food and power reductions are the norm and the sub-city electrical grid struggles to keep up with the demand from above.
The beleaguered Mayor Laxton, superbly played by Philip Jackson of Inspector Japp fame (a la Hercule Poirot), finds his position under threat from Valhalla's latest residents...the termites...who have plans of their own for the city.
The Doctor teams up with a maintenance crew as the situation escalates, and despite the plot losing a bit of steam in the second half this is an excellent audio adventure. McCoy is brilliant in this, and the eerie electro soundscape gives the play real depth.
I adore the soundtrack in this. Immediately brings to mind that of Mega City One and all the best elements of 2000AD.
Even though you could probably have still done this adventure at any point in the Seventh Doctor’s timeline, I like how this one is clearly near the end of this incarnation. All the plotting, all the grand Machiavellian schemes, all the lives he’s had to manipulate for the greater good. That would clearly take a toll on anyone after a while.
Love this one... The world-building here is very good. The exhausted, depleted gas world (with the unfortunate title of a paradise in Norse mythology) comes across superbly and the cast are fantastic. Philip Jackson is excellent as the Mayor, desperate to have control over a dying world that no-one really cares about. The idea that the rulers are cockroaches is an excellent satire on politics - but even then I still think they would be better than the current crop of politicians at the moment.
The Seventh Doctor fits in well here. I place this at the end of his tenure - he's done all he needs to do and is exhausted/bored. The rejection of a potential companion is a signal that travelling with him is no longer that engaging (or appealing), indicating a change will come soon enough. Dark and atmospheric.
'Well now I know you're mad. I just wanted to make sure."
I really enjoyed everything in this except the story’s idea of how the Doctor would behave. He felt a little bit “off” to me: as an example, the business with applying for a job just made him come across as odd rather than weary or rundown. It also does this thing I don’t enjoy whereby it invents something for the TARDIS which has never been used before and won’t be used again, despite there being numerous situations where it would be very handy. The supporting cast are magnificent, though.
"There's a horror movie named Alien? That's really offensive. No wonder everybody keeps invading you."
Oh, wow. This story... incredible. Very possibly my favorite 7th Doctor story to date (sorry Hex arc fans). McCoy's performance is spectacular, demonstrating a lot of range and humor, and the story strikes the perfect balance between the dramatic and absurd.
In most contexts, giant evil talking space termites would be too much. Here? It works beautifully.
Okay, thinking on it a bit more, regardless of the overall quality of the story, I'm gonna risk a hot take and say that I think this is my favorite performance from Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor (to date). Definitely the #1 spot. Easily.
It's the ambiguity that gets me. We know the Doctor is alone--which means something happened and, for whatever reason, he's parted ways with Ace. Later stories will indicate that this was an amicable parting--hinting that the Doctor, prescient, of the impending time war, delivered Ace to Gallifrey, where she might contribute to the war effort. An explanation that... has issues, but regardless, companion partings are seldom mutually amicable. Yet we are given no hint as to the context of the Doctor's new solitude. Sometimes he seems lonely, or sad, and possibly these are his real feelings peeking through... yet other times he's jocular and friendly and optimistic. Which attitude is the act and which is the truth? McCoy's performance is such that I can't help but think that either everything is an act, a performance, a facade--or nothing is.
It's such that I even suspect, paradoxically, that both are true and both are false.
This, more than any other, is the unknowable Doctor.
And I love every moment of it.
And i definitely want to single-out the fascinating humor of the Doctor talking to himself--he's so much more engaging when he can just BE the Doctor, instead of shepherding a stable of companions around. I love Sophie Aldred, I do, but having the Doctor scream "Ace!" at the end of every other episode is a waste of McCoy's skill.
And look, okay, elephant in the room: a lot of this story's weight is shouldered by Michelle Gomez. She is, predictably, perfectly fantastic. (Or should that be fantastically perfect?) She has great chemistry with the Doctor and would have been, I've no doubt, an astonishingly excellent companion. What's more, I found her ultimate reasoning for refusing the Doctor's invitation to be very valid and relatable: she does, after all, have a point. We've all heard it, right? That the journey matters more than the destination. It's one of those rare, perfect metaphors that is equally applicable when taken literally.
And what is travel in the TARDIS like, if not skipping the journey entirely to cut straight to the destination? There is no romance in traveling when you never have to take a single step to get to where you're going.
Anyway, finally, I've gotta comment on the ending. The Doctor is all alone, post-Ace and very possibly en-route to an ignominious death in Los Angeles(?); he has tried to recruit a new companion, and failed. It is a somber, melancholy ending for our "retired" Doctor. But then, just as the TARDIS dematerializes, McCoy pipes up, giving the Doctor the very last word--and the closing line adds just the right amount of levity to the ending to make you think, well, maybe things will be okay. At least for now.
Or, that if they don't, the tragedy will be heightened.
And in either case, it's beautiful
EDIT: ...part 3 of 343. Im gonna need to compile all of these rants in one place sometime.
I've compiled all of my Big Finishes purchases into a single massive document, alongside those on my wishlist (bolded, right-justified). Check it out to see what I've already listened to (or soon will), or to recommend me something new to listen to!
Apologies in perpetuity for my many typos (FUAC) and poor memory.
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