THIS STORY TAKES
BIG FINISH AUDIO
BEN AARONOVITCH &
BIG FINISH 'THE LOST
RELEASED IN JULY
the space vessel
mission: to guard
a vast shipment of
grain from Earth
Its Captain is called
Ace. She seems a BIT
unsure of herself. In
fact, some mAY think
she was new to the
Its medical officer is
called ‘The Doctor’,
and he’s perhaps not
all he seems either.
When ships target the
Vancouver, Ace and
the Doctor are EACH
pushed to the limit.
something nasty in
the grain containers.
And it’s not happy...
Much like last month’s Crime of the Century, until recently Ben Aaronovitch’s Earth Aid only existed as an alluring opening scene and a smattering of ingredients. Part 1 would open, and we would find Ace in command of an Enterprise-style starship. She would promptly leave the bridge and return to her quarters, where the Doctor would be sat waiting for her. “This is never going to work”, she’d grumble, and with that we’d be catapulted into
an intergalactic tale about a food aid shipment being hijacked from both within and without. But with his former script editor Andrew Cartmel’s help, Aaronovitch has now been able to return to his premise and see it completed with an extra companion, but without the pictures.
In many ways, Earth Aid is a very different animal to the three ‘Season 27’ adventures that
it follows. The Thin Ice, Crime of the Century and Animal were all Earthbound escapades with intricate narratives. Earth Aid, by contrast, is a futuristic piece set in deep space that, despite being rife with sociological and ecological subtext, seems to place more emphasis on action than it does on plot. There are twists and turns, particularly in the final instalment, but the first three episodes amount to a medley of spectacular set pieces, which to director Ken Bentley’s credit he manages to convey awesomely in this medium (and no doubt more convincingly than any director would have been able to do on the classic television series’ budget).
Above: Graphic designer Rob Hammond helps us to picture the season that never was on the Survival DVD
What remains the same though is the indelible sense of fun; if anything, the comedy is even more explicit here. Much, but by no means all, of the humour arises from Ace’s captaincy of the SS Vancouver. How exactly the Doctor inveigled her into a position of command is not broached, but from the story’s very first scene it is apparent that the job has been dumped
on her with little or no warning, and that she is wholly reliant on what little she can remember from Star Trek: The Next Generation to convince her redolently-cosmopolitan crew of her credentials. It’s hilarious, not to mention a little painful, to hear Ace – and still a fairly young Ace at that – spouting phrases such as “belay that” and “make it so”, as well as revelling in deploying as much ordinance as she can without pushing her already-suspicious crew too far. It’s a lovely performance from Sophie Aldred, deliberately cringeworthy but credible.
However, with Captain Ace taking centre stage this time, Raine seems to suffer a little. Beth Chalmers is brilliant once again, and enjoys some sumptuous scenes (her arrival is inspired, for instance), but ultimately she feels like something of a third wheel in an adventure built on the backs of the Doctor and Ace. In some ways though, this isn’t a bad thing, as it suggests to the listener that Miss Creevy’s story is far from being over. Indeed, seeds sown late on in Animal have yet to be paid off, and Earth Aid’s climax seems to have been very deliberately designed to feel less like a conclusion and more like an affirmation of a new beginning.
Above: Alex Mallinson brings the Grubs to life in every sense (left) while Ace gets her own command (centre)
Turning to Sylvester
McCoy’s Doctor, as
in the foregoing Lost
Stories he is neither as dark nor as brood-ing as he was in his
final two seasons on
television, or as he
would portrayed be
in a lot of subsequent spin-off media, but Cartmel and Aaronovitch still engender that same
appealing sense of suspicion surrounding him. The listener could accept what the Doctor
says, i.e. that none of what transpires in this story does so according to his design, or they
could envisage that little twinkle in eye as he feigns innocence. The final episode also does
a rare and wonderful job of really getting under the seventh Doctor’s skin - there are shades
of Journey’s End to be seen in the Doctor’s cruel and unusual torment at the mandibles of the Metatraxi, which is made all the more excruciating thanks to the Doctor’s initial laissez-faire deportment.
Earth Aid also boasts an impressive guest cast, headed by highly-regarded Jekyll star and once-rumoured eleventh Doctor actor Paterson Joseph. Joseph (Bad Wolf, The Parting of the Ways) plays Victor Espinosa, an inscrutable, sea-shanty singing US relief worker who is either bonkers, bent or knows far more about what’s going on than anyone else. John Banks also returns to play the story’s many Metatraxi, who have finally fixed their translators and are back to their chilling Crime of the Century selves, but even he is outdone by Big Finish’s in-house pixel monkey, Alex Mallinson, who voices the tale’s grain-munching Grubs. Mallinson has played a number of monsters and bit-parts for his employers in the past, but this is the first time that he’s knocked my socks off with a performance. I’d never have guessed that it was he, had I not known.
The production’s weakest element is its plot. Save for in its crammed final episode, which proves to be surprising in far more ways than one, Earth Aid is a good old fashioned space-slobberknocker; no more, no less. As such I think that it would have made for a much better season opener than it does a finale, but it still does its job very well, and leaves its listeners aching for more from the seventh Doctor, Ace and Raine.
Overall, this run of seventh Doctor releases has been the clear highlight of the Lost Stories range to date, and I’m hopeful that Big Finish will revisit this exhilarating old / new TARDIS crew in the future - perhaps in the main range, or a Beth Chalmers Companion Chronicle, where the writers won’t be bound by provisional plans laid two decades earlier.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
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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