Big Finish: The Apocalypse Element, The Fires of Vulcan, The Shadow of the Scourge, The Mutant Phase

(Apologies if this appears twice; problems posting)

There’s nothing like watching or listening to a good Dalek story to make you realise how bad a bad Dalek story can be. But more of that after this evening’s episode has been broadcast. Thanks to my new commitment to Being Fit, I have been listening to more of the Big Finish audio plays than I usually manage. I’ve gone slightly out of order, in that I skipped straight from The Shadow of the Scourge to The Mutant Phase without listening to the two Frobisher stories in between, but since they aren’t really sequential it doesn’t really matter.

The Apocalypse Element brings the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn – clearly one of the great pairings of Doctor Who – to the back-story of the Gallifrey audios that I listened to a couple of weeks ago (and a sequel of sorts to The Genocide Machine). Negotiations on a Time Treaty between Gallifrey and the other time-travelling powers are at a climax, Romana as President has been missing for twenty years, and of course it turns out that the Daleks are behind it all. OK, poor old Gallifrey has been under siege so many times now that it is surprising the place is still standing, but I really enjoyed this one – everyone seems to be on top form, and I begin to believe those who say that Colin Baker’s performance in the audios shows what a great Doctor he could have been on TV, if he had given better material to work with. I see it has been much maligned by fan commentary in general; wonder what its critics think of it in comparison to Daleks in Manhattan?

The Fires of Vulcan brings the Seventh Doctor and Mel to Pompeii the day before the eruption of AD 79. I have managed to miss Bonnie Langford’s presence on TV completely, so this was actually the first story of hers I have experienced. McCoy is utterly splendid as bleak!Doctor, convinced that he has brought himself and his companion to their doom. Langford is not especially remarkable, doing standard female companion role, but not especially annoying either. Unfortunately much of the plot makes very little sense (too much running around in order to get stuck in dramatically dangerous situations), and my reaction to the Doctor’s eventual escape was D’oh, why didn’t he think of that in the first place???

The Shadow of the Scourge At one point in this story I thought, Hmm, the characters are all trapped in a building in which religious rituals have been taking place and are under siege by creatures from another dimension. I wonder who wrote this? And I was right. Actually it was striking to listen to two consecutive stories featuring dark!Seven taken from opposite ends of his timeline. I enjoyed this one rather more; the story is rather better constructed, the characterisation of the hotel guests caught up in the horrors of alien invasion rather well done. Slightly annoyed by the Doctor trying to appear villainous and conniving – although Ace calls him on it, she is right to point out that this is getting old by now. For once, I found Sophie Aldred not too annoying, and very much liked Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield. And Paul Cornell has a “cross-stitch convention” taking place in the hotel, a nice and recognisable spoof of sf conventions.

The Mutant Phase was another good Dalek story (ie a good story about Daleks, rather than a story about a good Dalek). I have to say that Sarah Sutton as Nyssa particularly impressed me this time round, unlike the previous two audios I heard her in, and . Lots of time travel action, two very bleak and convincing pictures of Earth at different tragic stages in its future, lots of continuity references to, of all stories, The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It got a little tangled up in time paradoxes and who the Dalek Emperor was actually being at the time towards the end, but very much kept my attention.

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