This one isn't bad, though I find it trends a touch toward the dry side.
I do like the central idea of the timeloop at a peace conference, though I do think it should have been one of the delagates responsible instead of Hossak, imagine if a rival power had an endless amount of tries to influence one of these conferences to influence an outcome completely favourable to their agenda.
World building wise this story goal is to further develop the various temporal powers and flesh out Narvin a bit. The story does this sucessfully enough, it lets Romana and Braxiatel take a bake seat for a majority of the story to give these other concepts and characters more time to breath.
The point of frustration I have with this story, is that while the characters, motives and events in the story all work and make sense, by relegating the story to the decoy conference, we sent off on a wild goose along side Leela and Narvin while all the important diplomacy happens off screen.
A good story, but I'd put this as a middle of the pack story as far as series 1 of Gallifrey goes.
Bit busy, bit sidetracked, finally got around to revisiting this one just now!
The cold open on this one is....not great, I don't think. This early in a series, doing a dramatic "oh no!" teaser before heading into the intro credits doesn't quite have the same impact as it would had the specifics of this range been a bit better established.
That world though - it's so cool even just a couple of minutes later. The idea that the temporal powers have constructed a planet to meet on is just an awe-inspiring demonstration of power, even in a world where time travel is commonplace. Likewise the concept of the Monan host world - amazing.
There are a few problems I have with this story though, mainly stemming from its inclusion of and treatment of sex workers. It's...quite a writing choice to have these high and mighty titans of the universe simply assuming that a high-level political conference will be attended by strippers and prostitutes, even more cringe that they decided to include the lecherous delegate who seems to be saying 'it can be voluntary or not, your choice' (aka rape), and really truly gross that this was the way they decided to include Leela in the story.
Circling back, I think a lot of this story is held up by its high concepts. The artificial world, a conference of temporal powers, Romana's prerecorded messages designed specifically to guide dialogue in certain directions, the whole servitor thing, and the final resolution itself. It's all quite clever.
Interestingly I remember liking this story more the first time I listened to it than I did upon this recent relisten. I think knowing what's going on with the time loop (and thus not having a mystery to focus on) helps to highlight some of the other issues with the script.
First and foremost of which is the fact that every character in this story is an unlikeable ass. Well, I say every, but Leela is the one exception. Kind of. She's very much on the back-foot most of the time here, reacting to various circumstances, so it's hard to really root for her, either. Romana, meanwhile, is busy keeping secrets and not talking to other characters... Narvin is Narvin, Brax is absent, and goddamn is Hossak a jackass.
Nevermind the creepy ambassadors. Yeesh.
It also feels almost like filler. We're told that this story is about a big diplomatic conference, which would presumably have major consequences for all of the temporal powers, Gallifrey included, which imbues all of the people and events with an air of importance... but then we get the reveal: it was all a charade, so none of this mattered. We get a teensy-weensy bit of development on Gallifrey's relationship with the Monan Host, which is pretty good stuff, but ultimately nothing that occurred here was of any lasting consequence (and I don't think any of it will ever be mentioned or even indirectly referenced in future stories). It was all just a puzzle box to unravel, the result of one random Time Lord throwing a bit of a tantrum.
Which I suppose does help further the building "arc" -- such as it is -- of the Time Lords generally not possessing the temperaments you'd expect or desire for a people wielding such enormous power. But it's not quite enough.
But, yeah, I agree with everything you said, Digi. It's also worth pointing out (something I think I've griped about before) how weird it is to make Leela being "young and hot" a plot point. Big Finish had a choice: they could age the characters up. Make them reflect, you know, the actors portraying them. They chose not to because it was evidently very important for them to be able to portray Leela as a dancer/stripper/prostitute. It's kinda gross, and while I won't go so far as to say I think this was deliberate, it definitely feels like that almost-ubiquitous attitude in the entertainment industry that women only have value so long as they are "fuckable." Something which, I would think, has no place in in audio dramas. But such is the world.
But, yeah. The high concept is solid and a good mystery to wade through on a first listen, but on subsequent listens I don't think it's quite sufficient to buoy this one. I'd give it a 4/5 the first time through a 3/5 the second.
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