27 March 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matthew J. Elliott

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2017

Reviewed by: Steve Bartle for Doctor Who Online


"In the Vortex, the TARDIS comes under a form of psychic attack – resulting in the abductions of first Adric, then Tegan. Following their trail, the Doctor and Nyssa arrive under the lurid skies of the planet Zaltys, whose entire population has vanished in strange circumstances. Soon, they discover that Zaltys is now the target of treasure seekers, come to scavenge this so-called Planet of the Dead…

Meanwhile, deep below the planet’s surface, Adric learns the earth-shattering reason why the people of Zaltys disappeared... and why they were wise to do so. And Tegan is, quite literally, in the dark – enduring interrogation by the mysterious Clarimonde. Any friend of the Doctor’s is Clarimonde’s enemy... because theirs is a blood feud!"

It wasn’t until reading Peter Davison's recently released autobiography that I realised he has now been doing Big Finish for over fifteen years. It puts into perspective the challenges faced by the writers of Big Finish to continually come up with new ideas while also staying true to the time the stories are set within the series original run.

Although Davison's tenure with Big Finish is lengthy it wasn’t until 2014 when the original ‘Crowded Tardis’ team of the Doctor, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa were reunited once more. In 2017 they are now well into their stride and Zaltys writer Matthew J. Elliott has managed to recapture the sense of relationships that instantly transports you right back to that weekday tea time slot from the early eighties.

All the tropes of that particular era are here and affectionately conveyed. The story opens with a protracted Tardis scene with our four protagonists. Big sister Tegan and little brother Adric are bickering away just as they always did. Tegan is still incessantly going on about getting back to Heathrow and actually goads Adric into showing off his so called superior maths skills and putting them into practice when programming a flight course to her desired destination. The chance to impress naturally appeals to Adrics constant desire to prove his worth to The Doctor, but needles s to say  this goes disastrously wrong leading to the TARDIS crew disappearing one by one. And with that we are off into the heart of the story!

This might be one of the most jam-packed stories Big Finish has ever produced, with so many disparate elements. We have fish people, a wolfman with psychic abilities, and grave robbers - to name a few. And all the while our TARDIS team are encountering these colourful characters, there's the threat of a huge space meteorite heading towards Zaltys that will mean the ultimate destruction of everyone.

Of course Elliot’s real challenge is to serve all the main characters well, a feat the TV series failed at with regularity during this period. As well as getting all their characteristics spot on, Elliott manages to give them all a decent narrative strand too. Nyssa is paired with The Doctor as she frequently was in the original run; Adric forms an uneasy alliance with the custodians of Zaltys in a very similar vein to his questionable allegiances in Four To Doomsday and State Of Decay. Additionally Tegan gets plenty of time in a ventilation shaft. What could be more appropriate than that!!

Special mention should go to Rebecca Roots' portrayal of Sable who brings a deadpan style of delivery that makes you really warm to the character and want to see her on more adventures. Phillip Franks and Niamh Cusack are also effective as the questionable villains of the story.

Elliott also writes Davison's Fifth incarnation extremely well too. I always enjoy the breathless energy that he injects into every story but here we also get the acerbic wit that we know his portrayal was capable of but never truly had the opportunity to show consistently on TV. Perhaps only in Time Crash, so many years later, did we see what his potential for humour truly was.

At certain points in the story you wonder how Elliott is going to tie all these storylines together, as it seems all the strands are running parallel and yet so separate, but manage it he does, and with aplomb. It is almost a shame we don’t get to spend more time with all the fascinating characters that he has created for our enjoyment.

However the real gem of this story for me is some of the interaction between the regulars. There are a couple of standout scenes for me; at one point Tegan questions whether Adric was happier when it was just The Doctor and him onboard the TARDIS and when one thinks back to the opening scenes of The Keeper Of Traken and Logopolis it would be hard to argue that wasn’t the case. Additionally a scene towards the end between The Doctor and Adric which, knowing Adrics ultimate fate, is extremely emotive.

Overall a great showcase for one of my favourite TARDIS teams; once again and a very ambitious story that revels in seemingly pulling together various storyline strands into a satisfying conclusion.



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