Big Finish Thoughts: White Ghosts, The Elite & Hexagora

Doctor Who: White Ghosts (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures 3.02)

White Ghosts  by Alan Barnes 

After the promising ending to “The Kings of Sontar” I’ll admit I had high expectations for the next fourth Doctor adventure.

And I’ll admit upon first blush, I was a bit disappointed by how easily it seemed certain developments from “Sontar” were swept aside. But pondering it further and taking the opportunity to listen to the story again, I feel like my first feelings of disappointment were misplaced and that maybe, must maybe I’d missed what this series of audio stories are trying to do in terms of the fourth Doctor and Leela. And if the stories can pay this off (and if that pay off can come without the Daleks being involved), I could see myself being a lot more pleased than I was after my initial assessment.

Avoiding a close run-in with a missile, the TARDIS materializes on board a planet that is kept in perpetual darkness. A scientific research team is there, studying a newly created species of plant life. But there’s a reason the team is doing so on a planet where there is little or no light — a secret that quickly comes to light (pun not intended, but it works). Before you know it, the story unfolds as a fast-paced, two-part base-under-siege story as the Doctor struggles to understand the implications of what’s going on and Leela fights to defend herself and the rapidly dwindling supporting cast from becoming what plant vampires.

Barnes’ story works well enough on the surface. Like another story I recently listened to, the ending comes a bit out of left field and feels a bit too rushed and like Barnes is trying to wrap things up too quickly or within the time constraints placed upon him. It’s a shame because had the story been given another five minutes to breath, it might have worked a lot better.

And there are some interesting implications to the philosophical disagreement that came up between the Doctor and Leela in the last story and the role the Time Lords play in sending the Doctor on this mission. If this season of stories is about exploring Leela’s reaction to how the Time Lords use the Doctor to do their dirty work, this could be a very interesting turn of events.

Doctor Who: The Elite (Doctor Who: The Lost Stories, #3.1)The Elite by Barbara Clegg and John Dorney

The first of several “lost” stories from the twentieth anniversary season of Doctor Who, “The Elite” is a story that it’s easy to imagine fitting into the Peter Davison era.

Writer John Dorney takes a premise pitch from writer Barbara Clegg and expands it into something rather interesting and entertaining. The TARDIS materializes in a domed city where the young people are engaged in constant war games for the pleasure of their ruling class known as the Elite. At the center of why this is happening is a nice little in-story twist that, quite frankly, worked better than it had any right to do so (even if looking back, it should have been a bit more obvious from the cover illustration).

Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton all easily step back into their roles as the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa and the story (shockingly) gives each character enough to do to keep the interest up and not feel like one companion is relegated to a sideline story that may or may not have an impact on the final resolution of the story. As I said before, this one could easily slot into season twenty without feeling greatly out of place, though I doubt the effects budget of the time could necessarily render it quite as well as the theater of my imagination does. It’s a perfect example of what Big Finish can do extremely well — create stories that evoke my nostalgia for a particular era of the show all while using the magic of audio to create a theater that the television screen couldn’t or wouldn’t necessarily be able to do.

And then there’s the music that scores the story. The best soundtracks are those you notice for all the right reasons (say for example, most of the work of John Williams). And this score is one of those.

One of the more entertaining, compelling Big Finish stories I’v listened to in a while and it really gave me a lot of hope that the lost fifth Doctor stories could be something really special.

Doctor Who: Hexagora (Doctor Who: Lost Stories, #3.2)Hexagora by Paul Fitch from a story by Peter Ling & Hazel Adair.

After the success of “The Elite,” I found myself eager to dive into the next lost adventure from the fifth Doctor era.

Unfortunately, “Hexagora” isn’t quite up to the high standards the first story set.

The Doctor takes Tegan home to visit some friends, only to find out that one of her good friends (and former boyfriend) has apparently been kidnapped by aliens. Using the TARDIS, the trio of the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa follow the trail to an alien world that is getting ready for an Ice Age and that seems to have human beings at various levels of technological development.

It seems what’s going on here is that an alien race is kidnapping humans from Earth at various points in history and bringing them to this world to…well, to reveal too much more would ruin some of the reveals of the later episodes of this one.

Along the way, the Doctor encounters the queen of the planet to whom he quickly becomes engaged (she needs him for his scientific knowledge). This doesn’t set well with a couple of her other husbands though no one will tell us exactly why they’re so upset about this. Tegan and Nyssa land get into your standard companion trouble and there’s a lot of chasing around audio corridors, especially during the middle two episodes when it feels like no much is happening.

At four episodes, “Hexagora” feels a bit too padded. The fact that the the cliffhanger to the first and third installments is pretty much the same doesn’t help matters.

The story boasts a performance by Jaqueline Pearce feels like it should be better than this one. Pearce does her best and delivers a solid performance (as do the TARDIS crew) but it feels a bit wasted on a script that isn’t really delivering.

A missed opportunity.


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