THIS STORY TAKES
"POINT OF ENTRY" AND
THE SONG OF THE
SPACE WHALE &
THE SPACE WHALE
BIG FINISH 'LOST
RELEASED IN MAY 2010.
Deep space in the
distant future, and
Captain Greeg and
his crew are hunting
Space Whales on a
vast harvesting ship.
By pure accident,
they also capture
The Doctor and Peri
must use all their
wits to survive. But
what is the creature
running loose in the
ship's bowels? And
can the Doctor save
Megaptera before its
song is extinguished
The Song of Megaptera
Originally written for Tom Baker’s Doctor, The Song of the Space Whale was
Doctor Who’s 1980s sub that never got off the bench. It warmed up a few times, and even came painfully close to making it onto the pitch, but each and every time its number came up, authors Pat Mills and John Wagner found some unassailable obstruction before them. As such, when David Richardson decided to resurrect The Space Whale for Big Finish’s Lost Stories series, no-one ever quite believed that the script would make it into production, some even going as far as to brand the story “cursed.”
But to Richardson’s credit, The Song of Megaptera would eventually see release, albeit under a slightly less evocative title. With co-author Pat Mills having penned two sumptuous scripts for Big Finish’s eighth Doctor range, asking him to revivify his Space Whale for audio must have been an obvious choice. His story fitted perfectly into the proposed sixth Doctor season, he knew what Big Finish generally look for in an audio script, and – perhaps most importantly of all – nobody would have to worry about the logistics of realising a mile-long Space Whale on the small screen.
The Song of Megaptera is presented as four standard-length episodes, much as it would have been had Mills and Wagner’s original submission been produced. Indeed, Big Finish have been quite liberal in that they have allowed Mills to produce a definitive version of the story, rather than a variation of it that 1980s script editor Eric Saward would have green-lit. By Mills’ own admission, many of Saward’s revisions have been removed from the script, and as a result The Song of Megaptera feels like it would have been much more at home under the stewardship of Graham Williams than it would under that of John Nathan-Turner.
This means that the production always feels
slightly hysterical, the jovial repartee between
its many characters conflicting terribly with the
story’s subject matter, which is actually very
grim. Listening to the play, I was never really
able to invest in the supposed danger; even
scenes as potentially harrowing as Peri’s arm
being infected with the Caller’s fungoid virus
descend into silliness. The listener should be
wincing as the guards prepare to hack Peri’s
diseased limb off, but in my case at least, I was
cringing at Nicola Bryant’s delirious recital of
The Star Spangled Banner instead.
Thankfully Mills’ plot is much more arresting than his overwrought dialogue, but even here The Song of Megaptera doesn’t quite work for me. There’s no clever allegory to be found; no conceit - just a big whale being harassed by a nasty bunch of whalers. Fair dues, Mills has substituted the word “whale” for “Gallean”, but the term never really sticks – what you
see is exactly what you get, and every whaling cliché from being trapped inside the belly of the beast to abetting its bid for freedom is milked for all its worth. It’s like Moby Dick meets Free Willy... only in space, and with a tachyon core.
“I know what goes into the sausages, it just makes me hungrier.”
Nevertheless, for all its shortcomings, The Song of Megaptera is certainly a timely piece,
its central themes of ecological exploitation and economic recession arguably even more pertinent today than they would have been when the idea was first pitched. These themes seep into each and every one of Mills’ colourful cast of characters, from Toby Longworth
and Alex Lowe’s underprivileged guards, to Susan Brown’s (Torchwood) cost-conscious engineer and all the way up to John Benfield’s abhorrent Captain Greeg and the corporate pressures that are constantly threatening to break his back. Indeed, it is in the characteris-ation of the supporting characters and particularly in their feverish performances that this production excels.
“This will not happen,” they said, but happen it did. After thirty years and almost as many false starts, Pat Mills’ Space Whale has finally been allowed to sing its song. It’s just a pity that it sounds more like The Power of Kroll than The Beast Below…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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