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Let me fill you in with a little confession: i was never high on The Fifth Doctor. I dare say that once he was on my bottom three of incarnations. Not that i disliked his character nor his era. He had some amazing serials on TV such as Kinda or (of course) The Caves of Androzani; but the attitude of his Doctor never clicked in for me and out of the 12, id never say -this is my guy- (if you know that McCoy is my favourite you might understand why). If someone had told me that a couple of years later that audio-play after audio-play, not only he would be the Doctor in my favourite Big Finish story of all time (and possibly of any medium) -Psychodrome- (which i bought because of reccomendations), but my impression of him would turn 180 degrees on his head, i would label them as asylum nominees. It goes so far to the point to where now i rewatch his serials, i realise that like Troughton but unlike the others, he literally NEVER had a bad perfomance, no matter how good or bad the script was. Plus, at the end of the day, Peter Davison will always be not only the first Doctor i ever met, plus i had the chance to see him act in the West Ends Savoy Theatre.
Why did my initital train of through about the Fifth Doctor changed so much, would you say? Well, it´s because of stories like AQUITAINE.
Imagine if a space version of The Seeds of Doom (dont wanna mention Terror of the Vervoids in order not to scare some people off) had a baby child with the Series 9 double episode story Under The Lake/Before the Flood, adding 30 minutes for extra ambition and complexity, a couple of elements from The Black Hole; plus the atmosphere and music style of The Chimes of Midnight; and you got Aquitaine. Much like The End of the Line from The Last Adventure, Barnard and Morris show why they are the master of terror. The reverse storytelling factor that the element of the black hole allows is incredibles and the writers use 100% of it´s potential; which wouldn´t probably feel as big if it wasn´t for Andy Hardwick´s superb sound design.
This is a story about people coping in different manners with being lost and alone which enhaces each character separatelly. Peter its at his best when the Doctor has to act and think rushed, and when he is talking like that, you´re buying into his performances so much that you cannot tell the ageing in his voice. And much like the 5th, i don´t know how but after recent stories (Psychodrome; Iterations of I, Waters of Amsterdam), this one included, i love Tegan more everyday. Big Finish, somehow managed to removed the annoying factor from the mouth of legs character and Janet Fielding is a joy backstage. And Aquitaine has been probably the best highlight of the character of Young Nyssa; and Sarah Sutton´s best and loveliest performance ive heard to this day on a Big Finish audio-drama.
However, when you wanna talk about the true star of this story you´ll have to look into the supporting cast, with none other than Matthew Cottle (Paine in The Satanic Mill) as ship butler-conciousness Jeeves type robot Hargreaves. Before this, i never though that the same robotic voice can sound sympathetic, sad, alone, puzzled and dissapointed during different stages on the same audio. It´s Handles from The Time of the Doctor, with much more time, dialogue and script depth to care about him. If there´s oil and water on one side on the scale, his chemistry with Peter Davison its in the complete opposite end of it.
I seriously think that the only bad thing about this story is that it ends eventually. Much like Hargreaves keeping offering the same types of tea (chai, camomille, Earl Grey or English Breakfast), i would never get tired of listening to this time after time.
Final score: Aquitaine is a perfect 10/10 for me. Its not in a box-set (despite a quality worthy of it), its not gonna get a gigantic publicity campaign behind its release nor the hype of a War or Tenth Doctor. But its one worth going broke for. If you havent bought it after reading this; i really dont know what you are waiting for...