The Plot: The TARDIS travellers take a break on the beach world of Vektris. Hot sun, cold drinks and all the time in the worlds. What could possibly go wrong? A kidnapping, a spaceship heist and a desperate chase to a distant galaxy later, Turlough finds himself in a strange winter palace… along with a face from his past. The Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa, meanwhile, fight to escape its frozen catacombs, guarded over by a vast and deadly alien Morass. But what connects Turlough to the ancient treasure hidden somewhere in the palace? And how far will he go to acquire it?
“Don’t just talk about it, do it!”
This is the second of the new trilogy of Big Finish stories featuring the Fifth Doctor and companions Nyssa, Turlough and Tegan. The addition of Tegan, as played by Janet Fielding, has been the main talking point since she joined as a cast regular last year but for this new set of stories the other characters are also having their backstories explored, with excellent results. In last month’s Heroes of Sontar we got a glimpse of Nyssa’s later life as a wife, mother and scientist in her own right. In this release it is Turlough that at long last gets the chance for some character development. While on leisure planet Vektris he runs into Deela, an old flame, but there is no time for catching up with old times as they are soon kidnapped by a pair of mercenaries and taken back to their home planet of Trion (information that incidentally the TV series only revealed in Planet of Fire, the story on which he left the show).
The Doctor and others, separated from the TARDIS while it is undergoing repairs, zoom off in a spacecraft in hot pursuit. They crash-land on Trion after being shot down leading to an excellent literal cliffhanger as Nyssa falls down a crevice, but in slow motion thanks to a gravity flux. The Doctor and Nyssa spend most of the episode wandering the tunnels underneath Turlough’s palace having to deal with a sentient security system, one of the many good ideas in Stephen Cole’s script. It turns out that Turlough was the scion of a wealthy family and he has been taken back to the family castle to unlock a vault said to hold some secret treasure, a resolutely old-school type of scenario that inevitably leads to some amusingly sarcastic comments from Tegan:
“Did your family buy this planet from Enid Blyton?”
While this is a pretty standard plot that uses traditional SF tropes, they prove sturdy enough as a background for some nicely handled character-based development as the evil Rennol (a typically louche and neurotic villain by Michael Maloney) puts our heroes through their paces and makes them reconsider their relationships. Even Tegan has to partially re-evaluate how she feels about the usually cowardly Turlough.
The hiding place is in fact kept secret with a dimensional vault that will only open through a genetic code that requires Turlough and Deela to kiss. We are provided with a nicely rounded glimpse of the young Turlough as he once was, romantic and full of ideals, before being exiled on Earth and becoming a pawn of the Black Guardian Although the Morass is a nicely conceived monster, the part of story dealing with the various confrontations with it in the catacombs are quite fun but are basically little more than a traditional runaround in corridors familiar from countless Doctor Who adventures. It is probably not helped by the fact that the Morass is often fairly indistinct – it is perhaps about time that Big Finish called a moratorium on hard to understand monsters who communicate through closely miked whispers – it was hard to understand them in Lurkers at Sunlight’s Edge and it’s no better here.
Quibbling aside, this is a small scale adventure with a great guest villain and a decent (if hard-to-hear) monster all working in the service of a story the size of which befits its modest desire to provide us with a pleasing sense of what Turlough was and could have become if things had turned out differently. Very nicely done.