Revenge of the Swarm
If you were to poll classic Doctor Who fans on which adversaries from the original run they’d like to see back, odds are the Swarm wouldn’t make the top ten. Nor the top twenty or thirty.
A poorly realized (visually anyway) adversary from the 70’s story, “The Invisible Enemy,” the Swarm isn’t the most threatening, interesting or even well regarded foe the Doctor ever faced. But maybe freed of the limitations of the television series and with the virtually unlimited special effects showcase of the imagination, maybe the Swarm could flourish in the world of audio.
Unfortunately, not so much.
Leaning heavily on the catch phrase from the original story, “Revenge of the Swarm” is a tale of two halves. The first half finds the Swam has hidden itself inside the TARDIS all these years, waiting just the right opportunity to show itself again. That opportunity comes with Hex/Hector, who has recently become (literally) a new man. (If you’re a bit lost here, you’re not alone. I hadn’t listened to any of the stories leading up to this one and I’m sure I’m missing some of the nuances of Hex/Hector’s story.)
Before you know it, the TARDIS is headed back to Titan Base and the Swarm is working to make sure that it comes into existence. Yep, there’s time paradoxes in this one and the question of which came first — the giant prawn or the egg? And that doesn’t even take into account that the second half of the story takes place in a virtual reality like world that requires paying a lot more attention that I’m used to doing on these stories in order to follow things.
My hope heading into the story was that it might take a campy monster from the 70’s and put some new, entertaining twist on it. That didn’t happen. Add in a lot of confusing details about the Hex/Hector drama and a storyline that seems to be chasing its own tail a bit too much and you’re left with a disappointing entry from the Big Finish range.
The Widow’s Assassin
Of all the classic series Doctors to work with Big Finish, it’s Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor whose benefited the most. Given a chance to show that he could shine when given the right material, Baker has finally been given the type of material that many of us wish he’d seen during his (too-short) tenure as the Doctor.
“The Widow’s Assassin” is another sterling example of not only how good the sixth Doctor could be, but how well Peri could have worked as a companion. Driven by guilt over the fate of a previous companion, the Doctor seeks out Peri to try and figure out why she didn’t wait for him to come back for her on Thoros Beta and why she didn’t send him an invitation to her wedding to King Yrcanos. Queen Peri is none too happy with the Doctor and has him immediately thrown in the dungeon, figuring he’ll work his way out and abscond in the TARDIS. But when Yrcanos is killed on their wedding night, the Doctor waits in the dungeon for five years for his former companion to forgive him and to ask him to look into the matter.
If you think I’m giving away a lot of the story, I can assure I’m not. “The Widow’s Assassin” moves at a confident, energetic pace and all of what I related to you takes place in the first installment of the story. Nev Fountain layers in some interesting twists, turns and some actual humor into one of the more entertaining, fun and well done Big Finish installments I’ve listened to in a long time. The concept of having two guards named Guard One and Guard Two is mined for a lot of humor and you may even find yourself coming to like these two characters as much as the sixth Doctor does during his incarceration.
The only thing that drags the story down is an overly complicated (and long) final episode. The story explores some of the themes from the new series, but the story never wears out its welcome. In fact, it’s one of the few I find myself wanting to listen to again because of how confident and well-told it is.