As promised last review, I'm going to neatly step over the third in the latest series of Big Finish's Companion Chronicles, The Prisoner of Peladon, on the general grounds that there are no companions in it, which is clearly taking the piss.
Instead, let's talk aboutThe Pyralis Effect, starring Lalla Ward as Romana II. Now, despite the fact almost everyone loves the Fourth Doctor, most of the Companion Chronicles featuring him and his various assistants have been terrible, whether they feature Leela, Romana I or Romana II.
But, as you might have noticed, over series three of The Companion Chronicles and as we've gone through series four, the whole range began to get much, much better. So should it surprise you much to hear that, in contrast to those previous Fourth Doctor Chronicles, The Pyralis Effect is actually pretty good?
Long ago, the planet Pavonis IV was saved from certain destruction by the Doctor. Now it is dead, laid waste by environmental catastrophe, but a few survivors and their precious race bank survive on the starship Myriad. Their mission: to scour the universe for the fabled dimensionally transcendental obelisk in which their saviour travels, and persuade him to save their world again.
As the TARDIS arrives, by chance, on the Myriad, the Doctor and Romana are just in time to see the crew achieve their goal. Or so they think… Death stalks the corridors of the ship, the artificial intelligence CAIN has lost control, and a force is about to be unleashed that threatens the entire galaxy.
Is it any good?
It's not without flaws, but they're mostly overlookable.
Flaw 1: Lalla Ward. No escaping that one, is there? She just can't deliver a line. She's like the female Sylvester McCoy. It's horrible listening to her.
Flaw 2: Pick. A. Metaphor. Why is Romana II telling us this story? I have no idea. It's not a big issue and it's easy to overcome, but why is it so hard for Big Finish to be consistent. It's just tedious having a book read out, even if you do get an additional bit of interest from a second actor.
Otherwise, I enjoyed this one. It's a reasonably hardcore sci-fi tale crossed with a bit of horror that works well, even as an audio book. There are a few nail-biting moments, none of them caused by Lalla Ward's reading, most of them caused by Jess Robinson or Big Finish's sound production department. Having the ship floating around in the constellation of Kasterborus (nonsensical term though that is) gives it more resonances than it might have had otherwise, and there are themes of State of Decay and The Face of Evil to enjoy as well.
Characterisation of the Doctor and Romana is spot on, right down to the gormless sci-fi jargon Romana spouts, although some of the ancillary characters behave oddly (They're looking for someone called the Doctor and when someone comes in and says that he's the Doctor, they don't think for a second that he might be the same guy, for example). And the direction's good.
I won't pretend it's my favourite one ever and you could skip it if you're short of cash, but with everything bar Ward working well, it's a well written, reasonably diverting two-parter.
Lalla Ward (Romana)
Jess Robinson (Suri/CAIN/The Pyralis)
Writer: George Mann
Director: Lisa Bowerman