3 out of 5 found this review helpful.
I finished listening to this three days ago and I haven't really stopped thinking about it. I think that says a great deal, especially considering how inconsequential many of these "Lost Stories" turn out to have been. Not this, though. this is really fascinating drama, with great characters that could very easily carry a story completely on their own without any of the regular Doctor Who cast. People will obviously want to compare this with Kinda or Snakedance, and I think that's a bit of a mistake, although some of the social intrigue and strong cultural background that was present in Snakedance is definitely here.
I want to praise the hell out of this story, actually, because I must admit that partway through episode two I believed somehow that I had it all figured out, knew what type of story it was and where it was going. It turned out I was completely wrong. It's usually the first episode of a story that gives me the "intrigue chills", but here, all the creepiest and most haunting bits were saved for the final act. I don't think it's a crime for a story to lose steamm toward the end, simply because I'm one of those people who usually enjoys the journey more than the destination and am often more attracted to the beginnings of things than their conclusions (hope that makes sense to someone out there!), but this tale...this was somethign else. I don't really know if it was the input of Christopher Bailey, who came up with the original story outline, but this feels somehow different from the usual fare, even though, to be sure, Big Finish has done this sort of high court intrigue tale before. I think what really sets it apart is the superb characters, but also the weirdness. I really do mean weirdness, too. Anahita, an old friend of the Doctor's, calls him to Sirius and announces at the end of episode two that she wants him to "go down into Hell for her". And she really does mean a literal, true Hell, which this society knows and fears well. From there, things only get stranger, and yet behind it all there's still the battle of court politics and political machinations, in the manner of an I, Claudius, or something of that nature.
The supporting cast are all really energised and deliver memorable performances, with plaudits, of course, going to David Warner and Honor Blackman, but really, I must single out Adrian Lukis's Lord Vyzan because...damn, he really, really steals the show. I guess he's the principal antagonist, but the thing is, he's a perfectly nuanced, believable person, with passions and ideas and musings all his own. There are so many great moments for him in this play it's hard to know where to begin. I love how quick to honest, genuine laughter, though usually of a rather wry sort, he is. His reaction to finding out that Nyssa really is a time and space traveller as she says goes from disbelief, to sadness, to resignation in a matter of a few seconds when he realises that it doesn't really matter and she still has to be sent to Level 14. He's a warmonger, yet when he learns that his people are going to be subject to mass-murder, he seethes with outrage. So yes, love him: the character, the performance--I wanted more of him and was genuinely sad when he met his end.
And that ending....it's actually quite something, and I'm surprised noone else seems to have really commented on it anywhere. Anahita turns out to be....well, quite a schemer and manipulator, and while she may have been the Doctor's friend at one point, he's certainly in a hurry to leave at the play's conclusion, and I kind of get the impression he isn't too happy about things. The end itself is really haunting, too, and actually gave me a bit of a creepy feeling. It's understated, mind you, but rather dark. The sense is that the lies and deceptions will continue, and the poisonings, as Warner's Autarch affectionately tells his wife that she should keep her bottles handy. The idea of random people just stoppign in their tracks, never to return to their normal lives, never really suspected by those around them, is also very eerie.
Nothing is wasted in this script, with every conversation and action having some meaning or relevance. It's entirely possible that I missed some things, but there are still questions I have about the story, the society and so on, that I can't answer. I think that is actually a good thing and will likely have me returning to this play at some point in the near future. I don't actually get the urge to listen to many plays multiple times, but this one, I feel, will reward return visits. I even feel it could have been longer!
I should talk about the regulars too I suppose. To be frank this isn't always a great TARDIS team for me, and Davison is probably my least favourite Doctor on audio. Everyone does well here, though, probably because they know they have a great script on their hands, though Davison still sounds slightly embarrassed or weird in some line interpretations. Poor Nyssa gets a brainwashing once again and is not at all "with it" for most of the second half of the story, but Tegan is brave and resourceful and doesn't complain, which is obviously meant to say that her character does better than usual and actually seems like a good person to be around. She is really the most proactive of our main characters in the "real" world in the latter half as the Doctor is rather occupied in a different sort of reality. I think Tegan and Anahita had a great rapport, too.
Bravo to this one, then: probably the best of the Davison Lost Stories and certainly a lot better than most of the Colin Baker ones. Never mind that, though; it's really a glorious piece of drama that everyone should hear. Interestingly, I didn't care for the music at all in the beginning, it seeming rather too pervasive, electronic and intrusive, but by the end of the play I was totally into it and what it was doing. SO yes, highly recommend this one, and also suggest that listeners not base judgment solely on an initial listen, as there's a lot going on here and, as I said, no scenes are wasted. It's very talky and you really have to listen well to pick up on the subtleties and implications of the story and understand just how great all the guest characters are.