Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/26/17 3:35 pm
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In Zaltys, the final story of this year's Fifth Doctor trilogy, the TARDIS's flight is interrupted by a powerful psychic attack. With Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) and Tegan (Janet Fielding) missing, the Doctor (Peter Davison) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) land on the planet Zaltys, and encounter a group of people searching the planet for resources. But the destruction of the planet is coming soon, and an ancient enemy of the Doctor is behind the destruction. Will the Doctor be able to stop the destruction of Zaltys and defeat his enemies, while ensuring everyone makes it out alive? Zaltys was a rather interesting story; much improved from the previous month's story, it had a strong cast and an interesting, tragic story by Matthew J. Elliott.
Zaltys stars Peter Davison as the fifth incarnation of the Doctor, the often-exasperated, always kind incarnation of the Doctor. Davison is on rare form here in this story; often his companions are the ones who stand out most in these stories, a testament to their characters, but here, Davison outshines all three of his companions. Davison seemed to really enjoy inhabiting the role here in this story, as his acting sounded a bit better than it normally does. I don't know if he just liked the script, or he was excited to be recording with all three members of his original TARDIS crew, but his performance had a little extra oomph to it throughout. His Doctor here is a man caught between a desire to save his companions and a desire to do the right thing; I quite liked how Davison was able to portray the gentleman characteristics of his Doctor in such a calm and reassuring way. He has quite a few scenes where he stands out, but I particularly liked the scene where he was saving Talia's (Carol Sloman) life and casually chatting with the other two Custodians of Zaltys.
The companions take more of a back seat here in this story, with the exception of Janet Fielding's Tegan Jovanka. Tegan is actually a bit grating in this story to start, but she's much improved by the end of the story, especially her final scene. I disliked how her character was insulting Adric quite a bit; it didn't come off as their normal ribbing, but more as Tegan really being kind of cruel towards Adric. But Fielding herself was a delight throughout; I particularly liked her final scene with the crushing realization that Lusca had sacrificed herself to save Tegan and Adric. Matthew Waterhouse as Adric took on more of a supporting role in this story, giving a strong supporting performance to the Custodians of Zaltys, and acting well alongside Sutton in the final third of the story. Sarah Sutton did an alright job as Nyssa, though she was once again stuck with the Doctor and Adric, which is usually not a winning combination, as she tends to blend in with the wallpaper in those situations.
The guest cast was comprised of three main performances; Sean Barrett as Perrault, Niamh Cusack as Clarimonde, and Philip Franks as Gevaudan. All three were uncommonly excellent additions to the cast for this story, and it's hard to pick out who did the best job here. Barrett was excellent as Perrault, the aged leader of the Custodians of Zaltys, a group tasked with protecting the planet from the impending destruction. Perrault was portrayed very well, with a sort of calm, worldly demeanor, making his betrayal of Zaltys to Clarimonde and her vampires all the more surprising. I'll admit that I was convinced that it was Gevaudan who had betrayed the planet up until the fourth part of the story, which is a testament to Barrett's performance here. Cusack was also quite excellent as Clarimonde, leader of the vampires aiming to take over the people of Zaltys. Vampires are often one-dimensional characters; brooding, seductive, and sadistic. Cusack does all this, but managed to really sell the absolute hell out of the sadistic part of her character. You get the impression that Cusack really wanted to be in this role in the story, and no other role. Rounding out the excellent core of the guest cast is Franks' Gevaudan. I quite liked how Franks portrayed Gevaudan, as someone very calm and collected, not really beholden to his past, up until the end, and somewhat odd. His performance set him up to be the villain of the story, and yet, he is revealed to be one of the heroes here. It was a very steady performance, an excellent building block for other actors to shine when acting alongside.
The rest of the guest cast was strong as well. Rebecca Root led the rest of the guest cast with a solid performance as Sable, someone who came to Zaltys looking for any resources the planet may hold, but who's soon caught up in the conflict on Zaltys. Root portrayed Sable as a pretty standard greedy character, but she had an infectious charisma in the role that made her stand out quite a bit, commanding scenes alongside Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan in the final part of the story. Alix Wilton Regan also stared, in a dual role as Lusca, the Amphisbane alien who helped Tegan escape Clarimonde's vampires, and Siobhan, Sable's assistant. Her role as Siobhan was very small, but her role as Lusca was a bit larger, and I quite liked her in that role; her anger towards Sable for threatening Tegan at the very end set up an excellent moment for Fielding moments later, helped by Wilton Regan's strong performance. Rounding out the cast is Carol Sloman, voicing Talia, the third member of the Custodians of Zaltys, and the computer on Zaltys. Both of her roles were rather small, as she was out of action as Talia for much of the story, and the computer was only used once or twice throughout, but she left an impression with her xenophobic role of Talia, especially towards the end of the story.
Matthew J. Elliott's script for this story was the real highlight of the story. Apart from crafting several characters with extremely odd, difficult-to-pronounce names, Elliott created an engaging script, with a fantastic conflict, a smart use of the characters he had, and some really fine character moments throughout. The central conflict of this story is rather simple; a group of people are tasked with saving a planet from impending destruction, only the planet's destruction is a lie, and there is a traitor among this group. What Elliott did to make this story interesting is he introduced an excellent behind-the-scenes villain with the vampires, making the conflict both personal and of a larger scale, simultaneously. The Doctor now has to deal with an ancient enemy of his AND the more immediate concern of a horde of vampires, aiming to take over a planet of frozen aliens. It was smart of Elliott to use the vampires, as it covered for the shortcomings with Perrault's villainy, while introducing a dangerous, competent villain here. I also quite liked how Elliot decided not to try and give each of the TARDIS crew equal time; often these trilogies work best when they focus on one character per story, but Elliott took a different approach and decided that some characters just didn't need the screen time here, and he instead used what he had to great effect. The choice to give the Doctor and Tegan a larger role, while giving Nyssa and Adric a much smaller role, stands in contrast to the previous story, and gives the story more room to breathe. Rather than focusing on five or more different plots, the story is able to focus on two or three intertwined stories to great effect. If I have any criticism of the story, it's that the ending felt rather too neat; Gevaudan was able to stop the vampires very well, while Sable was stopped in a rather gruesome way, and the planet of Zaltys was saved. It felt a little too neat that Gevaudan would be able to use Nyssa's burgeoning psychic powers to defeat all the vampires; I wish there had been more of a struggle here, but it's a minor nitpick.
Overall, Zaltys was an engaging story. The biggest triumph here is writer Matthew J Elliott's choice to focus on the story rather than giving each member of the TARDIS crew an equal part in the story. It allowed the story to just be the story, rather than trying to shoehorn in equal bits of time for Davison, Waterhouse, Sutton, and Fielding. Combined with his strong, interesting script, some well-developed characters, and a series of great performances by the cast, the final story of 2017's Fifth Doctor trilogy was an enjoyable experience. Davison was the highlight of this story, delivering a strong performance, buoyed by the strong writing Elliott gave him, as were the villains of this story. The Fifth Doctor has generally been somewhat inconsistent, quality-wise at Big Finish, but over the last few years, Big Finish has been absolutely knocking it out of the park with his stories; this story continues that trend, with a strong, engaging story, rich, well-developed villains, and several great performances by the guest cast.