Eight slash Q Panenka, a craggy comet with a 13km circumference, has an elliptical orbit that takes it between Earth and Jupiter. Which, in the year 2329, makes it a cheap means of space freight the second class postal service of the solar system.
But when the TARDIS lands on Panenka, the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa discover a community falling apart at the seams plagued by thefts, and mysterious disappearances among the 'piggybackers' who eke out a desperate existence on the comet.
While Tegan and Nyssa suit up for a dangerous excursion into the comet's Unstable Zone, the Doctor and Turlough find themselves pawns in a game that could lead to tragedy for both Earth and Jupiter alike...
Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Mark Strickson (Vislor Turlough), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Rebecca Front (Patricia Walton), John Cummins (Anton Falcao), Ellie Burrow (Chica St Jude), Zoe Lister (Violet Silvaner), Ben Porter (Major Nash), Simon Blake (Manny), Philip Pope (Jovians)
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An interesting and intricate script that makes good use of the regulars. The way the Doctor and his companions are split up here works really well and doesn't seem forced. There is a lot going on and, as others have pointed out, nothing is quite how it seems at first. This keeps the story engaging and suspensful throughout. A fine entry for this Tardis Team.
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A couple of spoilers here:
A good one, this. I\'d almost call it \"hard SF\", and I\'m reminded very much of stuff by Arthur C. Clarke and his disciples. A bunch of people live out a rather spare existence on a comet, and the Doctor and friends are thrown into the middle of a political/commercial conflict. Throw in the cloud-like Jovians, something which I\'m sure I\'ve seen before, either in a Clarke story or something very like it, and we have what turns out to be a very intriguing puzzle. In the interview extras the director talks about wanting to convey a sense of tension; of people living on the edge and on the point of \"doing something drastic\". This actually comes across rather well in the script and acting. Characters don\'t always behave quite in the way you\'d expect. They decide things rather abruptly and even recklessly. One of my favourite moments is when Chica is told of what\'s going on on the other side of the comet and just promptly grabs the public address mic and shouts out everything to the whole base staff. Wouldn\'t we all like to do that sort of thing if we found out about the dastardly schemes and manipulations underpinning our society?
I appreciate the subtlety of the script, too, which doesn\'t really beat us over the head with detail and over-explaining stuff but instead opts for a subtle approach. You have to stay on your toes a little bit to keep track of what\'s going on and especially to understand the characters\' motivations. Nobody here is quite what you\'d expect, except maybe for Major Nash, who seems like a bit of a caricature of a \"good ole\' army boy\" and is rather ridiculous. I really liked Anton and it was a real pity about what happened to him, as I found myself really hoping he\'d make it through the story. Patricia, on the other hand, is taken out and shot like a dog that\'s outlived its usefulness, and even though she was rather despicable, I was a little shocked at how quickly and mercilessly she was just done away with. Not that I\'m complaining!
The Jovians are pretty cool, but their buzzing electric storm voices were a little incomprehensible to me in the early episodes. Either I got used to it or things just improved later on in the story. They seem rather easily convinced of the duplicity of their allies, but on the other hand it\'s nice to see the Fifth Doctor\'s attempts at diplomacy actually working for a change.
The regulars are all well served here. The days of the crowded TARDIS team wandering uselessly around with members having nothing to do seem to be pretty much over. Turlough sells the trial scene like this is the sort of stuff he was meant to play. Nyssa really tugs on the heart strings with her attempts to save anyone and everyone, no matter how wrong or horrible they might be--it\'s almost as though it\'s become a compulsion for her by now. I like how at first the script plays on her apparent sexual naivetÃ© by having her not pick up what seems obvious to Tegan: that manny is Violet\'s boyfriend, but in the end she turns out to be completely correct! Tegan is at the centre of everything, investigating the secret base and coming up with the idea that saves everyone, only to apparently kill Nyssa in the process. This is well done and is an obviously deliberate call-back to Earthshock, except this time Tegan understands what the Doctor\'s perspective must have been in that story. It\'s interesting how Big Finish seems to seek to redress some of the obvious problems that plagued the Davison era. I must admit this line of adventures (with Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough) had me most skeptical in the beginning, but has turned out, after a shaky initial trilogy, to be very worthy indeed. It\'s also great to have Mark Strickson back. he really is a superb actor, and I think I missed him more than I initially realised!
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The Doctor has often materialised somewhere and been wrongly accused of something unpleasant that he has happened upon purely by chance (or the TARDIS' willingness to take him to situationso of peril). Pretty much everytime, the Doctor has shaken off the false accusations and busied himself with saving the universe or somesuch. Here, he and Turlough only succeed in getting themselves deeper and deeper into trouble ... rather like 'Caves of Androzani' in that respect. However, unlike Androzani, we also have Nyssa and Tegan who have their own story to tell ...
Deliberately unspectacular, this is simply a really good story providing many good moments for the regulars and supporting cast. Add to that some wonderful sound design and a typically magnificent score and you have a good slab of Robson brilliance. I have to say, as is sometimes the case with his stories, such a good time is had listening to the story, that the finale threatens to get a little 'messy', but nevertheless, this is the third particularly good release in a row. I'd forgotten how much I like the writings of Eddie Robson.
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I have to say, I approached this one with a bit of trepidation. Whilst the podcast made it sound like it might be quaintly 'classic Who' in its comet-people setting, nothing about this release really marketed itself as being very exciting. (And I confess to rather superficially being put off by the cover, which I'm not a fan of - particularly that pasty white face.) And I think it's fair to say it's not anything revolutionary. It is really rather amiably entertaining though, quietly smart, and smacking of the feel of some of the best Classic Who serials.
The idea of the comet-community is really quite inspired. It treads a great line between sci-fi, fantasy, and fantastical nonsense, and it has a flavour of Jules Verne about it. It's certainly the kind of notion that would have felt utterly at home on TV back in the 80s. Eddie Robson always puts a bit of extra thought into his concepts, and the comet culture feels solid and their concerns real. I found it very easy to picture the 'sets' of this setting.
It's the quality of the ideas that really picks this story up and makes it more than the bog standard (as is often the case with Robson). Not just the comet, but everything happening here is well thought out, consistent, coherent, and original. The motivations of the characters, the social climate against which the tale is set, and particularly the nature of the antagonists (a very intriguing and worthy addition to Who's rogues' gallery). Characters who seem to be rather blunt and one-note unfold throughout the story, and I don't think you could say, by the end, that any of the characters were two dimensional, or even definitively 'villains' or 'heroes'.
That unfolding nature is the other strength of the story. As others have noticed, it's really a consummately paced and plotted piece of fiction. The early episodes suggest quite a leisurely sort of 'social drama' style of story, something akin to Hexagora. As these narrative threads are pursued, however, they lead to a wider stage, characters deepen, settings expand, and the nature of the plot shifts to something a bit more in the vein of traditional sci-fi adventure. This in turn gives way, as the last flourishes of the story fall away, into a high-drama, tense action finale. It's very hard to become bored when the story provides such a well timed drip feed of new revelations and elaborations.
Again, the combination of well considered worldbuilding and an ever-expanding understanding of what is taking place lead to well-rounded, realistic characters. This might not be the most memorably distinct and idiosyncratic bunch (and I found a couple of the female roles a little similar in tone), but they're believable and sympathetically real people. All the actors are up to Big Finish's high standard, and I particularly enjoyed Ben Porter as the surprisingly likable, understandable Major Nash.
The regulars are very well catered for here - it does seem in general that this TARDIS crew seem to attract writers who know their voices well (and of course the actors help too!). I continue to be a big fan of Janet Fielding, and whilst Tegan gets perhaps the least to do, I wouldn't say it's too little. There's really quite an impressive equity in the action doled out to each of the TARDIS crew in this one. In particular I love the fix the Doctor and Turlough are tangled up in during the early part of the story - and their way out of it! The two of them together in a ridiculous caper calls to mind the interaction of Singularity, which I love. Mark in particular is really on fire here. Turlough is my favourite companion, and he has a solid complement of great lines, written and delivered splendidly.
It's Nyssa who gets the lions' share of the focus in this story though. In particular I find the final episode is heavily focussed on her. I think you could maybe accuse the audios of become a little morbidly fixated on Nyssa facing doom lately, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt for now on the expectation of it feeding into the culmination of this older-Nyssa arc. However, on that note, I'm not really seeing the point of her rejuvenation at the end of the Emerald Tiger. It's paid a little bit of lip service at the start of the story, but not much beyond that. We're reminded once again of the world Nyssa still has to do, and her family back home, but the inertia is wearing a little thin by now. The series needs to show some real movement in this older-Nyssa arc, and soon, if it's to have been a worthwhile detour.
Unusually for the generally high standards set by Big Finish, I found the sound design and direction to be a little off this month. It felt like it was faltering from time to time, with awkward momentary pauses between cues that made the impact of events feel oddly cushioned. The music also didn't seem entirely inkeeping with the tone of the piece, either in general atmospherics or in specific cues. It sounded more like something that might accompany a lumbering cyberman style story. These are all fairly small quibbles, however. (Also, on a technical note, it seemed that the volume was somewhat all over the place at the start of episode three.)
Much like last month, this is a solid, enjoyable outing for my favourite TARDIS crew. It doesn't quite pack in the gusto and joie de vivre of the Emerald Tiger, but it makes up for it with some smart, original, yet utterly 'Classic Who' ideas. Another quite commendable 7/10 for this series, and I'm hoping next month's Butcher of Brisbane will cap the run with a breakout display.