Doctor Who – Lost Stories 2.6: Earth Aid

The Plot: Welcome aboard the space vessel Vancouver. Its mission: to guard a vast shipment of grain from Earth to the planet Safenesthome. Its Captain is called Ace. She seems a little unsure of herself. In fact, some might almost think she was new to the job…

Its medical officer is called simply ‘The Doctor’, and he’s perhaps not all he seems either. When mysterious ships target the Vancouver, Ace and the Doctor are pushed to the limit. Meanwhile, there’s something nasty in the grain containers. And it’s not very happy…

“This is not gonna work!”

This audio brings to a close the mini-season of ‘Lost Stories’ approximating what might have been the 1990 TV series of Doctor Who, had it not been cancelled the year before. It is probably the best known of the titles from that putative season, and was at one point even going to be a stage play. What we have on audio is a variation on what might have been and is clearly a new work derived from older material – as such it is only of tangential interest compared with the original show – but how does it shape up as the conclusion to this belated quartet?

“When you say it like that, it does sound implausible.”

It begins with the image we had been promised long ago, with Ace incongruously seen captaining a starliner, leaving the bridge for her quarters to tell the Doctor that she doesn’t think she can hack it. Most of the early fun in this audio play, written it would seem predominantly by Andrew Cartmel from material created with Ben Aaronovich, are the various jokes at the expense of Star Trek: The Next Generation, with Ace telling her bemused crew to ‘Make it so” in her best Jean-Luc Picard imitation. The ship is carrying grain as part of a relief effort but  soon here are alien invaders from within and without as we see the return of the Metatraxi, who have a score to settle with the Doctor after their defeat earlier on in the series.

“Let the taunting begin!”

The tone, as in the earlier installments, is light and breezy, which seems to have distressed many on the blogosphere but which works perfectly well on its own terms and suits the ‘Raine’ character, a safe cracker who has joined the Doctor and Ace to probably make a buck and have a few laughs. And there are some really amusing characters, such as the Peter Lorre-style giant slugs (courtesy of Alex Mallinson), and the sentient planet is a great addition for the plot towards the end. As a conclusion to the series though it has to be said that this is no great shakes – a number of tantalising hints were dropped in previous stories (such as Raine wanting to investigate the mysterious death of her father, Ace’s potential apprenticeship on Gallifrey etc.) which aren’t really picked up here, perhaps deferred to further episodes should they ever come about (nothing’s been announced …). In addition the plot, while full of some great ideas, relies on some gigantic coincidences to work, which are acknowledged and shrugged off in the finale perhaps just a little too lightly.

So, while the season began very well with Marc Platt’s Thin Ice and Cartmel’s Crime of the Century in terms of setting up this ‘season’, Animal and this conclusion in some ways seem to have retreated a little from really defining and bringing to fruition an overall arc – instead – we have introduced Raine as new companion for Doctor and Ace and have been introduced to the Metatraxi in the audio realm for fairly comedic effect – perhaps not quite where we thought this series was going, and not really following through with the darker and more Machiavellian conception of the character as McCoy and Cartmel’s Doctor seemed to be heading on TV. But given the independent life that their conception had both in book and audio form, this was perhaps neither possible nor desirable – instead we have had a season of light adventures with lots of nice ideas but not much of an overarching storyline to speak of, apart from some Russian characters that seem to pass from one story to the next in some incarnation or other. All done with a surprising but creditable lightness of touch – a minor success then, but definitely ones that concludes in the black on the ledger.

We’d love more …

***** (3 stars out of 5)

This entry was posted in Andrew Cartmel, Beth Chalmers, Big Finish, Doctor Who, Doctor Who Lost Stories, Sophie Aldred, Sylvester McCoy. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Doctor Who – Lost Stories 2.6: Earth Aid

  1. puzzledoctor says:

    Well, I think you liked it more than me. Just about passed muster, but basically went nowhere. Which just about sums up this series, for me. Currently debating whether or not to bother with Series 3 – probably will, if only for some Sixy and Peri stories, but I’ve never mulled over a Big Finish purchase before.

    • Well, the whole concept of the ‘Lost Stories’ can be particularly tricky in trying to provide a fair approximation of what might have been while trying also to adapt to the passage of time and the audio version of WHO which has developed very much into its own distinct beast. It was a bit easier with the Sixie and Peri stories as many existed as proper scripts but as these were just barely fleshed out notions I found them good entertainment even if they don’t really fit with the general Big Finish range or the TV counterpart circa 1990 either. I’m glad they did them and I found things to enjoy in all of them, but as a series it definitely started better than it ended.

  2. puzzledoctor says:

    True – I do understand the need for this series, but if I was to make a Top Ten Worst Big Finish stories of the last five years, I think every one of these would be on it – certainly the last three. Just goes to show that BF’s main range is of such a high quality and has indeed surpassed than the old TV show.

    • We are definitely going to disagree here as I do think you are overstating the faults of these releases a bit. I certainly agree that the level at Big Finish has become remarkably high, and if you then factor in the excellent Jago & Litefoot and the Companion Chronicles (they’re not all good of course – I was really bored by THE MISTS OF TIME to be honest), they are absolutely going through a period of ‘temporal grace’. Having said that, I’d much rather have one of these than say the recent RAT TRAP or SUNLIGHT AT LURKERS EDGE (or going back a bit to the full horrors of ZAGREUS …) which was OK but horribly by the numbers – at least the Cartmel stories had some good ideas. I agree that a lot more could have been done with them potentially, but the humour really was a saving grace and to me made all the difference.

      On the other hand, these were basically second tier releases, I agree about that – but in a way, I think they were always going to as creatively they did put themselves in a bit of a bind – I hope they give it a second go and this time have a proper Cartmel Masterplan underpinning the series as that seems to work best for this team – Wishful thinking on my part? You bet – I love the McCoy era so I am clearly a bit partisan …

  3. Pingback: RIVERS OF LONDON by Ben Aaronovitch | Tipping My Fedora

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