Reviewed By: nukirisame
Review Date: 4/30/18 4:10 pm
2 out of 2 found this review helpful.
I'll be spending one of my rare reviews on this site making a case for what is probably the most underrated, unfairly-forgotten releases Big Finish has ever done. I don't want to say the reason for it being forgotten is people not paying attention, that sounds a little pompous, but judging from the reviews I've read it seems no one else has picked up on some subtext this story has to offer. Obviously, spoiler warning.
The most accessible thing about this story is the inaccessibility of it, funnily enough. If it's known for anything, it's for capturing the claustrophobic, alien feel of 60s sci-fi, of which it does magnificently. One set - a spaceship run by a single mysterious life-form, the sound design does everything it can to make you feel the eeriness, like you're really there on the far reaches of outer space, where humans are just now venturing.
Of course, on top of capturing the past it adds a new feel to all of it as well, I'd say most reminiscent of Platt's writing (funny, because this is the first Hartnell Big Finish story not written by him). The wondrous, incomprehensible imagery of benchmarking - ripping holes through time and space - and of Rostrum and his many branch appendages. And of course, the dark dimensions. A derivative idea, but one not seen much in Doctor Who due to many writers need to abide by the rules of it's established universe (the creature from the Eaters of Light might be from the dark dimensions, perhaps?). It's like Loups-Garoux - werewolves exist because they just do. Here, a Lovecraftian dark matter-like universe exists because that's what Andy Lane wanted to write about. I don't need an explanation, I just enjoy something different.
The dark dimensions leads me to my main point, the thing most listeners might've not caught. The First Mate. A being from another universe travelling to ours to save both realities and sacrifices himself saving the 'monsters'. What a wonderful idea, but he's a little strange isn't he? His name is a bit weird - why call him the 'First Mate' if he's the only 'mate' on board? His form appears to be something he could choose, so if he was adventuring into a hazardous universe filled with monsters, why did he choose to be an old man with long white hair? Susan even remarks how familiar he looks...
That's right, the First Mate is the First Doctor from the dark dimensions. Or at least, there's enough in the story to let you interpret it that way. He even offers to let Susan travel with him! Suddenly, upon realizing that, everything finally falls into place regarding the main point of this story, Susan's decision to leave the Doctor. His alternate self's bravery inspires her to both find her own place in the universe and let go of her silly grandfather, letting him take up the title of a true reckless hero, without him having to coddle her throughout his adventures. And though she leaves our Doctor, the First Mate stays with her forever. It's a marvelous theory that turns the entire story on it's head.
The imperfect rating comes mainly from the acting. Ford narrates the piece pretty flatly sadly, which combined with how slow the storytelling is makes me understand how people can be bored by it and end up not wanting to think about it too hard. From her Big Finish career so far I'd say she needs a strong actor to work with her, like Geoffrey Bayldon from the Unbound stories and Stephen Hancock here. But due to the strength of the script, atmosphere and ideas present I really did fall in love with this one. If you haven't listened to it in a while, dig it out and give it another chance.