On my iPod: Cobwebs and Martians

I continue to have a void in my life after catching up with all 200+ episodes of Radio Free Skaro. Most of my favourite podcasts come out in a group round about Monday, and I try hard to make them last, but they don’t, and there is nothing more sad than an emptying iPod. I have been turning back to Big Finish plays to fill the gaps, dipping into my recent haul of these, and hoping I can eke them out because I am determined to not make any more purchases before Aussiecon.

Invaders of Mars (2002) was a bit diappointing, but that may be because I had built it up so much in my head over the last eight years as one I REALLY REALLY wanted to listen to. I loved the premise – aliens invade on the night Orson Welles makes his historic Halloween spoof broadcast of the War of the Worlds – and it has two of my favourite performers of all time in it, Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson.

What I didn’t take into account was that in order to be set in the right time period for Orson Welles, the story had to be based in the US in the 1930’s. Which meant… accents. Dodgy Brits-doing-B-movie-American accents. With a Russian spy thrown in for good measure. Yes, it was shades of Daleks in Manhattan all over again, plus I couldn’t even tell which ones were Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson!

On the other hand the Eighth Doctor and Charley were being awesome, and there were all these cute Orson Welles bits, and by the time the last couple of episodes kicked into gear, I was really enjoying it. I particularly loved the Doctor’s delight at getting to perform some of the scenes in the broadcast of War of the Worlds, once the two storylines collided. But yes. I had to overcome a lot to get to that point.

Cobwebs is a far more recent release – in fact, it was only released this month! Big Finish cleverly had the first episode available as a free download at the same time as their mega First Fifty sale, and then of course I had to get the rest of them, didn’t I? I have to say, I rather like the system BF has for its downloads – you can usually buy the first episode for about $1.50 Australian, and then can purchase the other three episodes by paying the remainder of the price for the full story. While it’s not a discount, it does give you the chance to see if you like the story or not.

Anyway, this story is rather cool because it’s the first time that they have been able to reunite the full TARDIS crew of Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough. Janet Fielding has been notoriously reluctant to return to her role, and only recently realised that by doing so she was limiting what the others could do and chose to come back out of charity! It’s ironic that I got rather excited by this story, as I was never a fan of Tegan (she whined too much and gave Australians a bad name!) though I did adore much of the Peter Davison era. I find that I am able to appreciate Tegan a lot more now than I did when I was younger. I think I’d complain too if I was chucked into some of the situations she was!

Also I adored both Nyssa and Turlough, and was rather sad that they barely got to interact with each other, her final story coming immediately after his introductory one, and them rarely being on camera in the same scene. Both Nyssa and Turlough have had some excellent Big Finish plays as sole companions. The clever choice on the part of the production team with Cobwebs – the first of a trilogy of stories with this TARDIS team – was to move the story of these companions further forward rather than trying to pretend there were some exciting adventures between Mawdryn Undead and Terminus. Instead, the slot they have chosen is immediately after Enlightment, with the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough meeting up with Nyssa much later in her time stream, many years after she left their crew.

There are many awesome things about this choice. For a start, there are nods back to Enlightenment, actually acknowledging the import of the confrontation with the Black Guardian, and the revelation that Turlough had been trying to kill the Doctor, something that was pretty much never mentioned again in the TV show. While the Doctor and Turlough had made their peace with each other, Tegan never got her say, and this story allows for that, and for she and Turlough to start making something of a patchy accord. It also allows for development of Nyssa’s character beyond her TARDIS years, building on the way she left the show (helping to develop a cure for a disease) and showing her as a mature woman with her own agenda, rather than a clever child on the brink of adulthood. I liked the way that she and the Doctor related to each other a bit differently, and the way that the script allows her to be independent and closer to being his equal. Also, she and Turlough get to have a conversation!

My only disappointment was that we didn’t see any friction or problematic aspects with her friendship with Tegan – nice though it is that they can pick up where they left off, I do think that it would be hard on a friendship for one of them to go off and age 50 years (even if apparently Nyssa ages at a slower rate to humans) in the time it takes for the other one to brush her teeth. I’d like to see a bit more impact there, in the next two plays. Which apparently I am going to have to buy and download. Damn you, Big Finish!

Character interactions aside, I really loved the story of Cobwebs. It’s a very tightly plotted science fiction piece, using time travel cleverly, and with a mad computer and a neurotic robot at the centre of it all. There’s also a very cool subplot about memories and identity, with the crew of an isolated laboratory on a distant planet having voluntarily given up their personal memories for the duration – and this comes up in several other aspects of the story. There’s also a genuine sense of dread and worry for the TARDIS crew, in an opening reminiscent of The Space Museum, when they are confronted with a set of four skeletons that appear to be themselves and all react very differently to the apparent evidence of their impending deaths. Excellent script from Jonathon Morris!