December 2013 and we lucky subscribers are treated to a freebie; this year it’s the Sixth Doctor story Trial of the Valeyard written by Alan Barnes and Mike Maddox. This will not be generally available until December 2014, much as last year’s Night of the Stormcrow will become available this month.
Free to subscribers it may be but is it up to the usual standards and more importantly, what is the Valeyard up to now? I have kept the spoiler level low so as to allow a casual reader a taste without ruining the whole thing if they have yet to hear it.
As you might hope this is a return to the Trial of a Time Lord and sees the return of Lynda Bellingham as the Inquisitor and Michael Jayston as the Valeyard. The Big Finish summary is:
There is some evil in all of us – even the Doctor. Transported aboard the Time Lords’ orbiting courtroom, the Doctor once again encounters the Valeyard, an amalgamation of the darker sides of his nature. This time, however, the Doctor isn’t in the dock. This time, the Valeyard is the defendant, accused of a crime so terrible that the presiding Inquisitor is forbidden to reveal it even to the court, nor even to his counsel for the defence… the Doctor.
If the Valeyard is found guilty, he’ll be executed. Execute the Valeyard, and the secret of his origins dies with him. A secret that the Doctor is desperate to know… and which the Time Lords will stop at nothing to protect.
The Doctor finds himself back on-board the Time Lord’s orbiting space court and this time is persuaded by his noble instincts to defend the Valeyard despite fully expecting him to be guilty. As the trial progresses we learn that deeper aspects of Time Lord culture are at stake and the very origins of the Valeyard are explored.
The story ends on an apparently insignificant mud-ball of a world where the Doctor encounters his final incarnation. As you might imagine there are layers of trickery and plot with plenty here for the knowing fan to admire.
The story telling
From the beginning this is full of great chemistry between the leads and lots of humour. By the time the Doctor has left his TARDIS and entered the courtroom the listener has been treated to several great one-liners and has already decided that this is a superb story. This all before the main course arrives – the Valeyard himself!
The interplay that results in the Doctor defending the Valeyard against unspecified crimes is a delight. Slowly we peel back the layers of truth and deceit as we learn first the origins of the Valeyard and then the deeper truths about Rassilon and the twelve regeneration limit of the Time Lords.
[pullquote]Even Stockbridge gets a mention.[/pullquote]
As the story progresses the Doctor encounters a mysterious figure living in a hut on a mud-ball of a planet who appears to be none other than his final incarnation. Fans are treated to a whole host of recollections including references to foreman, totter and Polly put the kettle on. There is then a final encounter that hinges on whether or not the Doctor will open a box that holds the secrets to shadow houses and Rassilon’s original genetic manipulations. It could lead to immortality – all great stuff!
All ends with the listener unsure of how much truth has actually been shared and we are all a happier and maybe a little wiser and who knows, the Valeyard may just appear again.
I was really surprised at how much this was a 50th anniversary story and probed deep into such topics as the regeneration limit along with other arcana of the Time Lord mythos. Given the approaching Time of the Doctor and the announcement that Matt Smith is technically the last incarnation (and wither Capaldi?) this is all very topical.
In the end I think this is a superb release and I wonder just how we survived so long without reuniting these characters. Hopefully it won’t be another 25+ years before we are treated to a rematch.