July and September 2011 saw the release of three titles featuring the Seventh Doctor without a regular companion in three tales that seem unconnected though as ever it is entirely possible that a bigger picture will emerge in the fullness of time. Even so I have decided to review them as a group which makes sense to my ageing brain. Spoilers and personal opinion follow…
We only know these tales are linked as careful listening (or listening to the CD extras!) reveals a continuing, unexplained presence of a black TARDIS. As usual all are well made, produced, audio-scaped, cast, directed and performed.
I present thoughts on individual stories in the order released; there is no internal logic to this excepting that it seems we have a new companion after the third!
Set as a follow up to the Fourth Doctor story Robots of Death this tale finds the Doctor facing what appears to be another outbreak of murderous robots this time on-board a space freighter carrying 1000s of robots! This Nick Briggs story is well paced and really comes to life with the superb performance of Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka (covered here).
Why the Doctor has to wait so many lifetimes to re-visit this thread of robot stories is not clear suffice it to say let’s hope he doesn’t wait as long again for a return!
The Doomsday Quatrain
Possibly my favourite of the three (vying with Robophobia), this tale of Nostradamus and the destruction of mediaeval Florence by crocodilian aliens I found really pleasing to listen to. The performance of David Schofield as Michel de Nostradame is fantastic and the whole story moves along well as we find out what is really going on just before we begin to feel trapped in a historical tale that we know never happened.
The writing also is balanced as to the status of the Nostradamus prophecies (written as four line verses called quatrains hence the title) which I was also pleased with – in the 70s these were popular so I actually read a translation in order to make up my own mind. Suffice it to say the ability of the human mind to make patterns from noise is never ending.
Back to the tale; we have genocide, trickery and even some paradox – the crocodilians having already met the Doctor in his future. For me the tale works well.
The House of Blue Fire
Now for my least favourite – introducing Sally Morgan as (possibly) a new companion, this was a story that started better than it finished. I note that others really liked this one so as usual personal taste applies!
The first part is sans Doctor – we are in a mysterious house sharing the experiences of four people with fears (slightly reminiscent of the recent God Complex [here]) and damaged memories. They meet ‘the master’ and move into episode 2 in the company of an increasing infuriating (and somewhat powerless?) Doctor. We arrive at a reveal then move to another layer in the story – from here on I found the writing formulaic and also under-used Timothy West playing Dr Magnus Soames before yet another mythic creature from beyond attacking earth via a crack in reality gets defeated.
The story then ends with in invitation to Sally Morgan (who has sounded like a companion from the start) to travel on the TARDIS; will she accept?
Three tales that I mostly enjoyed, some great writing and performances and also another colour change for the TARDIS. We have yet to bottom out the bizarre white TARDIS arc – do we need another colour change? Only time will tell.
Will Sally travel with the Doctor? I expect so though what do I know!
Update August 2012 – and Sally Morgan does indeed return in Black and White. She is also in the Companion Chronicle Project: Nirvana
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Glad to see The Doomsday Quatrain getting some love. I thought it had a really clever idea behind it featured some very good performances – particularly from Schofield – and was a little baffled that the general reaction seemed to be that it was the weak link in the set.
Indeed I felt it was the strongest and surprised me by how well it found a way to make a Nostradamus story work