Big Finish #170 - February 2013 | Previous - Next | Index of Miscellany
Keep It Simple (But Not Too Simple)
Less challenging to keep track of than its immediate predecessor, only one Doctor and one Mel to keep track of here, it's also more cookie-cutter. There's a tried-and-true format that this one follows too slavishly: Doctor and companion arrive somewhere, get separated from TARDIS, solve local mystery while trying to get back to the TARDIS.
There are elements of the production that work well. The spaceport lends itself to airport satire anyone who's flown before will find themselves nodding along to. The communication channel the Doctor and Mel devise using ancient handheld computers from the duty-free shop is clever, though having to keep making the high score board would mean the games would have to get longer and longer, which doesn't really come across as a challenge they face, and so feels like a lazy gloss-over. Lazy gloss-overs are the sorts of detractors that sap the listeners engagement. If not counter-balanced by effort expended elsewhere, they can be fatal.
The atmosphere, voice talent, and just enough of a theme are there though to hold our interest and salvage this one. But it's a close call.
How Could It Have Been Better?
The story feels forced into a revisit of the well-trodden "The Savages" / "Face of Evil" mode of a divided and degenerated society. Had the Doctor and Mel arrive a couple months after the incident that kicked off the events leading the spaceport hunkering down due to an ongoing onslaught from without, instead of asking us to accept a 400-year-long barrage, where the kidnap victim the outside force is attempting to rescue is still a baby after all that time, it would have been easier for the listener to accept the resolution. Setting it at a point where the spaceport folks have gone early-stage Lord of the Flies, and Elder Bones was just settling in to his roles as faction leaders would have been enough. (Not to mention it would have been more plausible that the batteries in the handhelds still worked and the leaderboard was still out there to register their scores. Although, I suppose in the year 6000-some-odd, they must make'em with longer shelf lives.)
More focus on Elder Bones as a confidence man running a long game would have given that character more depth, and allowed for a more involved examination of the issues around trust and skepticism. What was there was solid as far as it went: Elder Bones extols and exploits mistrust, the Doctor counsels trust until you're given reason not. Nothing to complain about, except it's spelled out and Bob's your uncle.
How might a fan of the TV series best prioritize giving this story a listen?
[ ] Recommend visiting Big Finish to order yourself a copy
[x] See if a friend or your local library has a copy you could borrow
[ ] Skip and re-watch an episode of the show on the telly
How would this best be adapted, if at all?
[ ] A good candidate to remade as part of an animated series
[ ] Should be adapted for TV with current cast
[x] The audio is quite enough, best left as-is
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