Revenge of the Swarm reviewed

Revenge of the SwarmThe latest Seventh Doctor trilogy for the main range kicks off with a Jonathan Morris tale Revenge of the Swarm. This features Ace and Hector Thomas (see Afterlife) as companions. The cast also includes Siobhan Redmond (announced as the new Rani) and John Dorney doing a spot of acting as well.

Jonathan Morris has written some wonderful Ace / Hex stories (I’m particularly thinking about Protect and Survive) – how well does this work with the new version of Philip Olivier’s character as Hector Thomas?

The story

Let’s start with the Big Finish synopsis:

The Doctor thought he had defeated the microscopic Nucleus of the Swarm in his fourth incarnation. He was wrong. It survived within the TARDIS, and now it has brought it back to Titan Base, back to the point of its own creation. It has a plan that spans centuries, a plan which will result in the Nucleus becoming more powerful – and larger – than ever before.

To defeat it, the Doctor, Ace and Hex must confront the Nucleus within its new domain – the computer-world of the Hypernet, the information network crucial to the survival of the human empire. But if the Doctor is to save the day, he has to risk everything and everyone he holds dear…

Ace and Hector Thomas have been getting friendly as they travel. This is all fine until Hector touches the TARDIS console and is taken over by the remnants of the Swarm, hiding since the Fourth Doctor story, The Invisible Enemy.

The story splits into two parts: the first disc is set around the creation of the Swarm and very careful weaves in events that join up to the original story which now follows this one from the perspective of non-time travellers. The second refreshes the cast and takes us to the very end of the Swarm’s existence when it is trying to dominate existence by value of exploiting the Hypernet, think world wide web on super-steroids.

At various times the Doctor enters the virtual world of the Hypernet and have some fantastic chase scenes reminiscent of Tron and Jonathan Morris works in a link to The Happiness Patrol.

Everything is tided up at great risk to both Ace and Hector and this leads to a major clash of personalites among the TARDIS crew and for a change Ace isn’t the angered party but Hector is. The seeds of a deep tension between Hex (as remembered) and Hector (the part person as is) are taking root.

The storytelling

My sense (right or wrong) is that this is a story about bringing back the Swarm (as voiced then and now by John Leeson that takes advantage of the Hex / Hector situation as a trigger for the story. What I found less convincing is its continuity with events as they unfold from Afterlife. To a large extent Hector seemed very much like Hex. This is not a criticism of Philip Olivier who was very good at a darker, angry version of Hex and had some very good lines as he argued with the Doctor. The scenes at the end make up for a lot of this gap but it came across as telling the Swarm story, then the Hex / Hector one. Maybe this is a side-effect of Hector’s being taken over during the plot.

Ace seemed very relaxed about the situation and is slightly marginalised by this story; perhaps there are too many plates spinning. There are also two lots of secondary characters to develop plus the Swarm needs to work as a character.

Lots of fun in the third part with plenty of 80s references (and some anachronistic modern references to the Matrix) which left me unsure of who Ace is meant to be. A continual problem – we fans want the character as was and we want them to know that time has moved on. This is a conundrum yet to be solved.

[pullquote]I also didn’t like the dodgy science[/pullquote]

I also didn’t like the dodgy science (yes 2014 is bringing this out a lot for me). Three things annoy me – the conversion to virtual, energy vs information and the assumed equivalence of forms (I explain all of these). If your happy to treat the science as magic (and yes we have time-travel, faster than light drives, regeneration, sonic screwdrivers, psychic powers as given!). Apologies that this has become far more of a rant than intended. There is a lot that is good in Jonathan Morris’s story and my peeves are relevant only to me in the final analysis.

Conversion to virtual

A computer handles data. Data can be copied. If you ‘read a person into a computer’ they don’t transfer. There is no soul being moved; just because a version of you goes into a virtual reality why do you remain behind as a mindless corpse. How do you die if the computer copy dies? You could have 200 copies of you in the computer.

That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the threat of deletion or the Tron bikes!

Energy vs information

Just because the Hypernet moved colossal amounts of information you can’t convert that to mass. You convert energy to mass. The idea that information is a sort of parallel world that can be visited comes up a lot in Doctor Who. You could imagine a network that moves energy around the galaxy (and this has been done in books I have read). The whole idea of thinking yourself into physical existence from information is more like magic or the supernatural.

Equivalence of forms

The Doctor has immunity to the Swarm virus in his physical form. Being moved to the virtual world moves his mind (see above) – the immunity wouldn’t be ‘copied’ across to poison the Swarm. The immunity isn’t logical / mental as far as I can tell. If the Swarm can be resisted by the Doctor’s immune system that is nothing to do with the process that makes a copy. This is really just the soul thing again and is not really very sensible. The physical properties of the participants don’t determine the mental patterns nor the avatar.

This also means that the whole Swarm -> virtual -> recreates as physical is somewhat dubious as the pattern to make a creature involves DNA and lots of physical data. Making a big nucleus from energy in space would just make a big dead blob in space. All very good story-telling but dodgy science to me.

Rant over!

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Aidan says:

    I was really disappointed with this release which surprised me as this is probably my favorite Big Finish TARDIS crew (admittedly with Hex rather than Hector) and this is by one of my favorite Who authors.

    I also found this story too fantastical and I am never am fond of when a story contains many elements that pull you out of the period the show was originally made in. If we accept that Ace is catching up on her cultural references through time travel shouldn’t she also reference holoplays or other futuristic art experiences?

    Still the performances were good and I liked the dash of conflict at the end. I hope the trip to Ancient Greece is more to my tastes.


    1. Tony Jones says:

      Aidan – you make a really good point about Ace also dropping in notes from our future. Mr Morris has been in touch over the dodgy science (which is rather a constraint he has to write to) and I am happy my attempts to be objective have worked.

      I didn’t take the time to talk performances and there were many good ones. Let’s compare notes on September’s two releases when they happen!


  2. Tony Jones says:

    Thanks to Jonathan Morris who read this and did me the honour of tweeting a few observations


  3. Kitty Eden says:

    I really loved this one, despite everyone else’s complaining, and I’m not quite sure why. :3


    1. Tony Jones says:

      Kitty – I know what you mean. Some of my favourites defy rationalisation!


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