Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions
Written By: Eddie Robson
Release Date: 31st January 2011
Reviewed by: Matthew Young for Doctor Who Online
Review Posted: 1st February 2011
Part of the on-going fourth series of Eighth Doctor stories, Prisoner of the Sun marks another great Paul McGann adventure which, although sagging in some sections, is filled with brilliant ideas and sets up a drama-rich dilemma for The Doctor to face...
While all Big Finish dramas help expand the scope of the Doctor Who world, Paul McGann’s recent adventures hold particular appeal to fans. Any story involving The Eighth Doctor allows us to speculate on what direction the ‘lost series’, abandoned following the 1996 TV movie, might have taken. Into its fourth series of Eighth Doctor stories, Big Finish has revealed McGann as a brilliant Doctor.
The story to Prisoner of the Sun immediately attracts your attention. We find the Doctor a prisoner; having been trapped inside a scientific station, located within a sun, for six years. Assisting a rebel group in their efforts against the sinister ‘Consensus’ – a collection of leaders who, having bought an end to wars in their system, themselves became tyrannical despots – The Doctor has been captured and forced to maintain the base. Having originally being intended as a method of using the sun’s energy as a weapon, the base now needs to be operated in order to stabilise the star and prevent a super-nova that would destroy the two billion lives on nearby planets.
This provides a brilliant twist to the ‘prisoner’ story line. The Doctor describes himself not as a prisoner of force, but one of responsibility. Perfectly fitting with The Doctor's character, he could escape at any time but instead remains until he can ensure the safety of the planets below. This cleverly shifts the story away from a simple ‘great escape’ focus to more dramatically rich territory. The Mercurials, a mercury-like species hired to guard the base, are a great idea but also are presented as fleshed out characters. The rebels who arrive on the base, however, provide the key drama. Through the majority of the story you are left unclear whether they want to save The Doctor, kill him, or use him for their own ends.
As The Doctor would be nothing without a companion, he has been provided with an android assistant whose character and appearance he can adapt to his will. In a brilliant scene, The Doctor dictates his preferred personality settings: “why don’t we start off with loyal, eager, earnest...sense of humour.” By doing this, The Doctor in effect ‘creates’ his perfect companion and, while this description could match most past companions, giving the android the voice of Lucie Miller demonstrates that The Doctor has become very attached to the character. Although his choice of voice becomes a story element later on, this is a very clever way to develop the relationship without Lucie being present in the story (having left The Doctor in the previous instalment). It also provides Sheridan Smith with an opportunity to play two very different characters: The Doctors current, sweet android Daphne and his previous, sinister android Sophie. Smith embraces the opportunity and provides some very humorous scenes to those in the know about the real Lucie’s relationship with The Doctor.
Throughout the story, The Doctor is forced to question the very reality of the situation he is in. The drama centres on whether the characters in the story are willing to risk the lives of billions to further their own ends. However, while fun at first, the discussion between The Doctor and Hagan the rebel – during which they each present different theories about nature of their scenario – goes on for too long. While McGann’s Doctor is, by nature, calm and reasoned in his discussion, this is complimented by the performance of Antony Costa which comes across slightly flat in these scenes and detracts from the potential drama.
Still, the story quickly picks up the pace and leads to a very satisfying conclusion. Of particular note is the sound effects used throughout. The use of different alarms in a number of scenes really adds to the tense atmosphere. There is an alarm for various dangerous scenarios and more sound as the situation grows more and more dire. It’s a very simple method, but also very effective. Add to all this a gripping final moment that will have you counting the days till the next release in the series, and this story comes highly recommended.