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 …