January 2015 kicked off a new Fifth Doctor trilogy with Mistfall by Andrew Smith. With the Doctor are Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough making this a relatively crowded TARDIS. For the setting, Andrew Smith returns us to E-Space the scene of his first ever Doctor Who story Full Circle in which he gave us the first appearance of Adric. This was the Fourth Doctor’s E-Space trilogy and in it we bid farewell to Romana and K9 Mk II in the final story, Warrior’s Gate. Thanks to Big Finish, none of these departures is a permanent as we once feared.
Nostalgia aside, how does the start of a new E-Space trilogy stack up?
A long synopsis on the product page:
Drawn off-course, the TARDIS passes through a CVE into a closed universe – a hugely improbable event with a tragically obvious cause. In order to escape inescapable E-Space, the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough are forced to venture in the wilds of planet Alzarius.
But they’re not the only unwanted visitors to this strange world. A Starliner has landed, captained by Decider Merrion – but why would Merrion risk rousing the Planet that Slept, and the monsters in its marshes?
Mistfall is coming. The Marshmen are coming. But while Nyssa and Turlough find themselves caught in the open, in the hands of fanatics who model themselves on the legendary Outlers, the Doctor and Tegan discover that the supposedly secure Starliner affords them no protection from monsters both within and without…
The story splits the four travellers into pairs, allowing us exposure to various sides of a conflict on Alzarius. Various forces are at work and as the plot unwinds we learn more about the planet itself and, of course, the Marshmen. If that wasn’t enough complexity, the TARDIS itself is damaged (for a change) as a result of crossing the CVE; things are bad enough then take a turn for the worse when a key component is stolen meaning that the TARDIS is trapped and sets up the rest of the trilogy as a quest for escape.
The shadow of Adric sits across the start of this story, though once it gets into E-Space and they start exploring action moves on. The strength of this story is in the way it moves on from Full Circle and broadens out the original story rather than repeating it.
There is quite a lot of exposition in places and balancing the action amongst four main characters along with giving opportunity to the new ones is difficult. This large TARDIS crew is not my favourite set-up and I do feel Turlough was squeezed out at times. I assume the trilogy as a whole will restore the balance, as has happened in previous years, so I reserve the right to change my mind!
Production wise there are some points to make, and this is very, very rare for Big Finish.
First off, several people on the Big Finish forum have mentioned the sound being difficult to make out on the first disc. I happened not to listen to the first disc on my normal headphones and was also out in traffic. I did find myself repeating a few moments to track what exactly was going on. I haven’t re-listened on my normal setup.
Second, and more mysterious, one of the episodes is unusually short and when I happened to speak to Andrew Smith about this he had no explanation. As you might expect, all writers work to very specific word counts and Mistfall was no exception to this. There is no real sense of the story being rushed so this will have to be filed away as one of those things.
As I said above I expect to re-evaluate this story once the rest of the trilogy has been listened to. I welcome your thoughts.