Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/31/18 3:42 pm
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In the finale of Tales from New Earth, Senator Hame (Anna Hope) and Devon Pryce (Kieran Hodgson) are reunited once again, this time travelling to New Cairo, where Hame hopes to give a report about her investigations into the Lux to the spiritual leader of Catkind: The Most Exalted High Persian (James Dreyfus). But New Cairo is not the same city it was when Hame was last there; the Lux have found a stronghold here, and seem to be increasing their numbers, as a ceremony draws near to celebrate the union between Catkind and the Lux. With the events of New Cairo threatening all of New Earth, Hame and Devon must work to fight for control of New Earth, even if that means putting their own lives on the line. The Cats of New Cairo, by box set co-script editor Matt Fitton, ably closes out Tales from New Earth with a trip to the seat of Catkind, filled with interesting characters and a fantastic setting. Anna Hope and Kieran Hodgson lead off the story with two fine starring performances; Hope makes a welcome return to the series with a multi-faceted, sensitive performance, while Hodgson once again proves his chops with a strong, leading performance. The guest cast is surprisingly strong, with Adjoa Andoh and James Dreyfus leading as guest stars for the story, while Toby Hadoke delivers a strong turn in his final performance as the Lux within this set. Fitton is able to craft an interesting story that draws the box set’s arcs to a satisfying close, while also writing a strong standalone story. While Tales from New Earth was surely not on many people’s radar, given all that Big Finish releases, the set has nonetheless been a strong series of stories, and the finale clinches that.
Anna Hope and Kieran Hodgson once again return as Senator Hame and Devon Pryce. Hope has been absent the past two stories, and while her presence wasn’t quite missed in those two stories, it’s still a delight to hear her return as Hame. She has always brought a much different quality to her performance than other performances by members of Catkind, like Adjoa Andoh and Dona Croll, with a far more sensitive, almost unsure quality to her performance. It’s made her infinitely more engaging than the other members of Catkind, who are typically snobby and brusque towards anyone else, something we see in relief within this story, as Hope acts opposite Andoh as Jara. It gave the character of Hame a leading quality that not many other one-off characters had, and it’s a trend that Hope very much continues in this set. I particularly found myself enjoying the various interactions that Hope had with James Dreyfus and Andoh, as it was interesting to see that conflict between Hame and other members of Catkind. Hodgson also stars as Devon, portraying the second-generation new human with the same charm and awkward wit that has made the character so endearing in the previous three stories. However, freed from having to voice the Doctor, save for a small scene at the end, Hodgson seems able to hit his stride a bit more in this story, hitting some highs and lows with his performance. I particularly like the chemistry that he and Hope share between their characters, and the way that this chemistry is contrasted when Hodgson shares scenes with Andoh.
The guest cast for The Cats of New Cairo appropriately introduces us to a couple new members of Catkind, played by James Dreyfus and Adjoa Andoh. Dreyfus portrays The Most Exalted High Persian, a character who shockingly is NOT the Master in disguise, but the spiritual leader of Catkind. The performance is enjoyable, a sort of hedonistic puppet ruler over Catkind and New Cairo, and that’s reflected in his tone. His tone has an airy quality to it, of being wholly unconcerned with anything that’s happening to him, as well as giving him an aloof feeling. But it’s the flashes of anger that are the most engaging parts of his performance, such as his character’s anger at being told, “no” by Hame, and his disappointment at Sister Jara’s betrayal. Andoh also guest stars as Sister Jara, sibling of Sister Jatt from the TV episode New Earth. Andoh represents all the evils of Catkind with her performance in this story; the racism towards other species, the manipulativeness for the sake of the, “greater good”, and the sneering superiority towards even fellow members of Catkind. But still, Andoh has vastly improved in her performance, compared to her last performance as Catkind, as the character seems to have some depth to her. Part of this may come from the writing, but undeniably, her performance has vastly improved over time. Rounding out the guest cast is the returning Toby Hadoke, primarily voicing the Lux within this story. Hadoke, known best for his extensive interviews with people involved in Doctor Who’s long history, has proved over the years that he can be a fine actor, with his roles as Dorrick in the Fourth Doctor Adventures and Carruthers Summerton in Jago & Litefoot proving his comedic talents. But the role Hadoke inhabits in this set is not a comedic one, but he ably rises to the occasion. Some of the most effective horror performances for robots come from the disconnect between tone and intent in the performances; Hadoke gives the Lux a rather pleasant voice, which throws the horrifying things that they’re doing into relief far more than a more evil-sounding performance could’ve done.
Matt Fitton, co-script editor for the box set, takes his stab at writing a story set on New Earth, and more than succeeds in both writing a strong story that stands on its own and closes out the set well, but also with expanding the already rich, detailed world of New Earth. Fitton has, in the past, struggled with the finale of box set releases, especially those that are part of a box set-wide arc. But he largely pulls off a satisfying finale to the set, as he brings the Lux’ plan to its climax. Their plan, taking over New Earth before they work to spread out among the stars, isn’t the most inspired of villainous plans. But Fitton puts a lot of work into making their plan feel like an achievement, especially once they take control of Catkind, someone they previously couldn’t control due to the reflective quality of their eyes. It’s a remarkable moment when the Lux burn out the eyes of The Most Exalted High Persian, as well as the rest of the residents of New Cairo, and helps to highlight the danger of the Lux. Even the plan that Hame and Devon use to defeat the Lux, drawing on their old friends, while a bit cheesy and a little too easy, is effective enough, and comes as no surprise, considering the tone of the box set. A lot of the box set has dealt with themes of racism and the clash between species; Death in the New Forest, The Skies of New Earth, and this story have dealt with it far more directly than the first one, with Devon receiving firsthand experience of the racism of other species as he travels around New Earth, and its fitting that Fitton draws upon these themes to craft an ending and a solution to the Lux problem that requires all of New Earth to stand together. It’s a bit scholocky, and a bit heavy-handed at times, but it largely succeeds despite itself, and for that, it’s an effective finale.
Once again, perhaps the biggest strength of this latest entry into Tales from New Earth has been the absolutely fantastic world-building and character work of the writer. Fitton does a fantastic job building up New Cairo into a living, breathing city, filled with intriguing people and interesting customs and characters. The whole set has been like this; from the New Forest and the treepeople, to this Skies of New Earth, and the bird people and Solar Bears, we’ve seen fascinating areas and settings, with even more intriguing people. That has been the triumph of this set; I said in a previous review, that often settings on Doctor Who, especially on audio, feel somewhat, “disposable”. The heroes arrive, some cursory information is given about it, and then the heroes fight their battles and win, and then leave. There’s very little chance for the setting to come alive in the way that New Earth has in this set; we’ve seen so many aspects of it over the years, from the gleaming metropolis of New New York in New Earth and Escape from New New York, to the undercity in Gridlock, as well as all the aforementioned settings from this set, that this place just feels so alive and richly detailed. But equally as impressive as that is the character work, not just that of leading character Devon, but of all the guest characters as well. All the writers and the actors involved have worked extremely hard to make the guest characters of this set some of the finest, most well-developed characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Characters like Oscar McLeod, The Most Exalted High Persian, the Duke of Brooklyn, Sister Jara, and more, have all jumped out of the story to feel like fully-realized, interesting characters, the likes you’d find in a melting pot city like New York City, and all have felt far more well-defined than the normal, rotating cast of guest stars that Big Finish usually has, no disrespect intended. It’s such delight that the writers, producers, and directors that they’ve been able to create and expand upon this vastly detailed, rich world in such a way, but the fact that they’ve done so extraordinarily well is nothing short of a great achievement.
Overall, The Cats of New Cairo is a largely strong finale to Tales from New Earth. Matt Fitton closes out the box set with an interesting tale that takes Devon and Hame to New Cairo, and sees them encounter the Catkind and the Lux, as they plot to take over New Earth. Fitton’s writing is rather stellar, as he continues the strong world-building of the box set with a trip to the richly-detailed New Cairo, and his character work continues to shine; the only time the story falters is in the rather schlocky ending, albeit one that I was half-expecting, given the themes of the box set. Anna Hope and Kieran Hodgson delight as Senator Hame and Devon Pryce, with Hope giving her finest performance to date as the character, while Hodgson delights, as always, as Devon. The guest cast, made up of James Dreyfus, Adjoa Andoh, and the returning Toby Hadoke, helps give the finale a bit of star power, and works to make it one of the finer finales to come out of The New Series license, and one of Fitton’s better works of fiction.