The Cuthbert Annals I – The Sands of Life reviewed

Nick Briggs takes over the Fourth Doctor Adventures with the first of four stories which he writes and directs all featuring Cuthbert and The Conglomerate. For those who don’t know these are both imported from the world of AudioVisuals though unlike other AudioVisuals (e.g. Sword of Orion) it is only the character who has appeared rather than a re-worked plot. Featuring David Warner as Cuthbert, Toby Hadoke as Mr Dorrick (Cuthbert’s lackey) and Jonn Leeson as K9 plus others, how well does this work? Does it keep up the quality we had in The Auntie Matter? Let’s find out…

The Story

The Big Finish product page gives this synopsis:

Sheridan Moorkurk has just been elected president of Earth… but the harsh realities of who really runs the planet are just beginning to dawn on her. And what’s more, she’s starting to hear voices.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Romana encounter a mass of aliens heading to Earth… Aliens who have already made the mistake of upsetting the infamous Cuthbert, all-powerful CEO of The Conglomerate, by destroying one of his space platforms.

Will the Doctor and Romana be able to avert inter-species war that will destroy all life on Earth?

Cuthbert is about to start a fiendish experiment (or so we assume) when a large volume of manatee like aliens (billions!) appear, damage his space station and then divert to the Sahara Desert. The TARDIS is diverted by the same aliens and lands in the Sahara and The Doctor and Romana are kidnapped and interrogated.

Cuthbert heads for Earth, makes it clear to new President Moorkurk (Hayley Atwell) that he pulls the strings and gets The Doctor freed for his own benefit; meanwhile General Vincent (Duncan Wisbey) takes Romana to the desert once he learns she can communicate with the aliens.

Things come to a head as we learn the aliens are called the Laan, many or all are pregnant and here to spawn. When one of the Laan gives birth a massive incursion of temporal energy wreaks havoc – billions would spell the end of the world!

Cue the music and we wait for next month’s War Against the Laan!

The Production

This is unusual in that it is made in three parts not two. It works well this way with more cliff-hangers and overall a good sense of pace. K9 can’t manage the sand but has a role to play and I like the fact that Romana and The Doctor are treated with suspicion and threatened.

The President is a weak character and without Romana this script might have appeared somewhat misogynistic though I suspect the President may have more to do later.

The General is the most one-dimensional military stereotype ever – more so than those in UNIT Dominion which this resembles in some way that isn’t easy to pin down.

Wonderful though are the scenes between Tom Baker and David Warner as it slowly dawns on Cuthbert that here is someone who hasn’t heard of either Conglomerate or Cuthbert himself!

Overall

Despite some qualms this is a very good episode and if the other three stories in this arc are to this standard we have a candidate for the non-anniversary story of the year.

What did you think? Did it work for you or am I exaggerating? Let me think!

 

Tony, February 2013

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