Two more Fifth Doctor plays, along with the second in the Bernice Summerfield series…
The Mutant Phase, by Nicholas Briggs
Where the previous two tales were “closed set” dramas, this one romps between the 22nd and 43rd centuries, taking in Thals, Daleks, the end of humanity, and massive energy-sucking insects that swarm through space destroying everything in their path. Not in the least bit ambitious, eh? I’ll have to admit to some degree of confusion as this story is marked “Part 3 of Dalek Empire” – I haven’t heard the first two, and I’ve no idea if any of the elements refer back to the previous two stories. Having said that, it certainly does stand on its own: the Doctor and Nyssa investigate a “bump” in the time vortex, finding themselves in Kansas with Robomen and a battered Dalek patrol, before escaping into the far future and quite possibly the last three humans left alive.
I shan’t spoil the rest of the plot, of course, but suffice to say that unlike the previous stories there is a definite edge of mortality here. Nyssa comes a hand’s breadth from death, and several other characters are introduced only to fall before the halfway point, if only to empasise how much danger the Doctor is actually in this time around. The story twists with satisfying speed, bringing the urgency of the dilemma to life. In this respect Peter Davison fails a little as he never sounds quite as angry as I think he should – the English reserve can’t quite be breached. But the story’s biggest failing is the ending. It stops, just like that.¹
Primeval, by Lance Parkin
This tale begins as suddenly as The Mutant Phase finished. The Doctor thumps and hammers at a door, demanding to be let in. Nyssa is seriously ill, and the Doctor has brought her back to Traken – but this is Traken 3000 years in Nyssa’s past, before the Age of the Keepers, and there is danger both outside and within the Union…
Linking back into existing continuity is always a surefire method of creating an audience for a story. The Keeper of Traken was always one of my favourite 4th Doctor stories, not least because of the Melkur/Master character, and so this feels like stepping back in time… quite literally. Plot-wise, you can sort of see where this is heading before it gets there, but that doesn’t upset the flow of the story. As with the Mutant Phase, there’s one character who exists solely to die a horrible death at the hands of the bad guys, thus reaffirming their ultimate badguyness, yet this time the person doing the killing isn’t actually all that evil – just fatally misled. And the characters themselves are all well-rounded, with enough left unstated to give them more depth. At only 1 hour 47 minutes, it’s also a compact story, with a minimal amount of flannel to pad it out. If I have one niggle at all, it’s that Kwundaar’s voice is so processed that it is difficult to make out exactly what he is saying. Granted, there aren’t too many different ways to sound alien in an audio recording, but it bugged me anyway.
Bonus Review – Bernice Summerfield: Beyond The Sun, by Matt Jones
Like most of the first batch of Bernice Summerfield plays, this one was adapted from one of the books that followed Virgin’s spin-off character. Unfortunately, it shows: the pace is uneven, there’s a heck of a lot of abridging, and even the presence of Sophie Aldred and Anneke Wills can’t save it. The real problem, beyond all of that, is the dialogue relies heavily on clunky, sarcastic humour. Some of the characters, like Tameka, are actively irritating, while Emile appears to have been recorded inside a tin can. And speaking of tin cans, that theme music is terrible. I hope nobody overhears me listening to it.
¹ Just like this review. See?