One of the greatest of all Doctor Who writers was Robert Holmes. Creator (to varying degrees) of the Autons, the Master, the Sontarans, virtually everything to do with the Time Lords and sundry other Doctor Who arkana, he also wrote perhaps the best ever story, Caves of Androzani; no lesser person than Russell T Davies thinks he wrote some of the best dialogue in British television history.
However, his first piece of Who writing was a particularly arse piece of work for Patrick Troughton. The Krotons, which starred Welsh god Philip Madoc in the first of his many Who appearances, was a slightly dull piece originally intended to be a serial in its own right. It featured the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie landing on a planet run by South African monsters who want to drain the brains of the intelligent natives. And that was about it. For four episodes.
Here, after no particular clamouring that I've detected, is the triumphant return of the Krotons. A bonus play for subscribers to Big Finish's plays, it's written by, directed by and stars Nick Briggs and also features the sixth Doctor and Charley - and Philip Madoc, even if he isn't playing the same part as in the original.
Good job it's free though.
The dead planet Onyakis is being plundered by the last survivors of the human race, and their leader, Commander Cobden, will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Already there are rumours of those who stand against him mysteriously disappearing. But when the Doctor and Charley find themselves on the side of those trying to expose Cobden, they discover something far more sinister.
Deep in the mines of Onyakis, alien technology is reactivating. Power is flowing. Something is forming in the darkness
Is it any good?
Erm, I've heard better. Normally, you can rely on Nick Briggs to turn in something, which while unlikely to be a classic of English drama, is enjoyable in the traditionalist Who way. Certainly, his stuff is usually a welcome relief of simplicity and fun between some of the more pretentious pieces of cock that Big Finish throw our way.
But this is a bit of a misfire in most ways.
Now for something free, let's not knock it too much. It's got a full cast. It last 60 minutes. It's got the sixth Doctor and Charley. It's got Philip Madoc. Did you miss that? It's got PHILIP MADOC - he's a GOD.
It's just a bit limp.
- It's got some tedious attempts at sci-fi guff to do with generation ships;
- there's fan-wank galore, with constant references to Nerva Station from The Ark in Space that really don't make that much sense in light of The Sontaran Experiment;
- Madoc is channelling his Brain of Morbius self rather than his more restrained War Games self and having him in the play when he's playing a character completely unrelated to his original character is distracting;
- the Krotons are about as scary in an audio play as they were when you saw them wobbling around on-screen and the accents don't half sound daft (Brummie and South African - what's going on there then? It was bad once. It still is);
- the sound design gives the whole thing the feel of Blade Runner crossed with an early 90s Sega Megadrive game; and
- the eventual resolution to the whole thing is a bit like "Fortunately, they were vulnerable to common tap water! Ha ha!"
It doesn't help that India Fisher and Colin Baker are only giving their B-game and everyone else in the cast (bar Madoc) can only dream of scaling the heights of acting that having a B-game would imply.
Basically, my usual test of quality - does it keep my brain occupied for an hour down the gym or do I, at various points in the play, want to trap myself under something heavy in preference to listening to any more of it? - gave it a failing grade.
It's paired with and immediately precedes The Raincloud Man, another sixth Doctor and Charley tale, which contains a few references to this play, so is almost worth listening to for that reason. It's also got a few good Charley/Doctor moments, as well as few, typically unresolved references to the ongoing Sixth Doctor/Charley plot, so again, completists might want to listen to it for that reason.
But unless you're a big fan of the Krotons, I'm going to say you can skip this one, fellow High Brain.
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charley Pollard)
Philip Madoc (Rag Cobden)
Matthew Burgess (Ned Gillespie)
Susan Brown (Eleanor Harvey)
Glynn Sweet (Professor Lyle Woodruff)
Ian Brooker (Romilly)
Andrew Dickens (Security)
Nicholas Briggs (Krotons)
Writer: Nicholas Briggs
Director: Nicholas Briggs
- January 8, 2009: Review: Doctor Who - 116 - The Raincloud Man
A review of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio play The Raincloud Man
- January 7, 2010: Review: Doctor Who - An Earthly Child
A review of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio play An Earthly Child, starring Paul McGann and Carole Ann Ford