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The Doctor trying to take Jamie on a little cruise holiday is the premise for this adventure. Now hang on a second...wasn't the Doctor upset that someone was messing around with Earth's timelines? Well never mind, it's a really nice thing for him to do, and shows his affection for Jamie admirably, so of course things go wrong and they end up on the Titanic. I like the TARDIS's way of locating things. You can tell that the Doctor inputs something like, "absolute coordinates unknown...find me a ship I'm looking for, somewhere in this region of space-time..it should look roughly like this." SO, the TARDIS gives its best guess and winds everybody in a lot of trouble.
I'm pretty sure Barnaby Edwards has read Steve Lyons's Doctor Who book Conundrum. A couple of elements seem to borrow from that book's interpretation of a certain place (hitting of the proverbial reset button when the story gets "too crappy", books with blank pages), and if you're quick you probably already know where this is going. Generally the different arms of the "Doctor Who franchise" act independently, even if a lot of the writers are the same, and I'm in favour of this as it prevents wires from getting crossed too often. I don't mind if an audio story is a bit of a "ripoff" of a book or vice versa because, well, the two worlds exist side by side and not in collusion, and this is cool because you can take as much or as little influence as you want from an original source while still making your own spin on things. Thus, it pains me to have to report that Conundrum is a better book than this or the following story are audio dramas. There's one main reason I can think of for why this is so, and that's a concept that means a lot to me in certain cases and which I'll be delving into more with my Legend of the Cybermen review. The name of that concept, of course, is subtlety.
Subtlety sank completely under the waves with this adventure, and it's not going to re-surface any time soon. This has been a real problem for Big Finish lately and I'm not sure what is going on. I really don't think it's just me. It's even reflected in the way the characters talk. They explain each other's motivations, walking us through the sort of character development that we ought to figure out for ourselves. I know audio isn't always an easy medium to work with, and that all you really have are words and tone of voice, but give your audience some credit, and use those tools at your disposal in order to make smart drama, not stuff that makes people feel a little cringey and wish they'd just get on with it. An example: at one point in episode two Jamie is trying to get a feisty female passenger to jump over the side of a sinking ship. She is frightened and won't go, so Jamie starts on a big rant about women: how they're all the same, how they can never do anything without a strong man beside them, how they're weak, and so on...basically Tom Baker's speech to Sarah in The Ark in Space, but turned Scotch. The girl's reaction is predictable as she becomes pugnacious and spits a torrent of filthy invectives (well, not really, but y'know), jumping over the side of the ship. Then we get a dawning realisation that goes on for nearly a minute..."you were just trying to make me angry so I'd do it! You were playing with me!" What is the purpose of this, exactly? To remind us that Jamie isn't a misogynist? To show us that the female in question is just a little bit bright? Couldn't you come up with anything better, guys, really?
That scene happens in episode two, and it's by far the strongest episode in the serial, and probably the most gripping twenty-something minutes of the entire trilogy. It's the only one of its kind, and it mostly concerns the Doctor and Lieutenant John as they travel across an iceberg, trying to evade polar bears and bonding over the fact that they've just, they think, each lost someone very dear to them. The chemistry between the two actors is good and Colin Baker in particular is just so damn likeable, so Doctor-ish, able to put aside his grief temporarily and push for survival in this place of terrible odds.
...And then the Nautilus shows up.
The Nautilus. The ship from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Doctor helpfully tells us what the ship is and its origin, and that's the cliffhanger. Oops, did I just give some big huge wow moment away there? I'm so sorry.
There's a reason for the Nautilus to be here, of course, which tries to tell us that this isn't glorified crossover fan-fiction. I'm going to get into fiction, metafiction and crossovers next review, because I simply have to; attempting to discuss the serials without doing so would be like trying to describe the structural state of a house without referring to the foundation. I'll keep it quiet for now, and just say that inexplicably with the arrival of the Nautilus my investment in the tale altered. It's not quite right to say that it simply dropped, but everything suddenly became a bit more surreal than it had been, a little flimsier, a little fluffier. People started doing things at this point simply because it was expected of them. There's a frenchman. You can tell he's up to something because he's sly-sounding, and, well, French. Captain Nemo seems to use him as his right hand yet keeps him prisoner on the submarine, because, well, that's what Captain Nemo does. A giant squid attacks the ship, because, well, that's what happens in the book. The two people whom the Doctor and Jamie worked with in order to escape the sinking ship and drifting iceberg end up holding Jamie at gunpoint, because, that's just what such people are bound to do under certain circumstances, and it's what needed to happen. There's a climax somewhere in this play, and I guess it's the squid attack, but I just didn't feel a damn thing and barely noticed when it was over because there was almost a whole episode left to go. At the end of the story the characters decide not to tell the Doctor what is going on, just so they can be totally unhelpful and drop him in the middle of nowhere, because....well, I guess so we can get a good end-of-story cliffhanger.
I was already starting to get a bad premonition about Legend of the Cybermen at this point, a sense that this wouldn't be the kind of story I really wanted told and that maybe revisiting certain elements of the Troughton era, as much as the heart might be in the right place, wasn't a good idea in this smug literary age that thinks that everything is played out, so that now it's time to spend exhaustive amounts of energy poking and prodding at the "played-out-ness" itself, jabbing convention and nostalgia with a stick and sseeing if it rolls over. Most of the time, of course, it doesn't, and instead of a revolution in storytelling, we get...stuff like Legend of the Cybermen.