THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE BIG
"THE SIRENS OF TIME"
BIG FINISH CD#96
RELEASED IN JUNE 2007.
Welcome to Valhalla,
Capital of Callisto,
moon, where anything
and everything is up
for sale. But
Valhalla isn't quite
what it says in the
brochures – not since
independence and cut
off the supplies.
The former Doctor
(FOR SALE. EXCELLENT
CONDITION) visits the
Job Centre and finds
power cuts, barcoded
citizens and monthly
riots (ALL BOOKABLE.)
And then there's the
problem with the
Not being all that enamoured with out-and-out audio books like Frostfire, for me it feels like forever since Marc Platt last wrote for Doctor Who. I always get keyed up when I see his name on the tin as I know that I’m always going to getting something a bit diverse. A bit remarkable. His murky 1989 television story Ghost Light is well respected, if seldom understood; his two mid-1990s novels are both enthralling, mysterious and even quite divisive pieces of work; and his two fifth Doctor audio dramas - Loups-Garoux and Spare Parts - still stand up as two of the very best that Big Finish have ever produced. But how does his latest effort compare?
Rather well, actually. The dark mood and the fascinating characters that manifest themselves in each and every Platt story are both present and correct here, but in a lot of ways this story feels like an attempt to go back to basics. The canvas may be broader and deeper than on the small screen, but even with ticketed riots and audio car chases Valhalla has a discernable studio-bound feel to it.
I should add that Valhalla is certainly Platt’s least controversial offering to date; he offers no explanations as to the Doctor’s origins, nor does he base the entire Cyber Race upon the Doctor’s physical template. He doesn’t even have the Doctor fall for a wolf-lady. ‘Traditional’ is a word that I loathe to use, but here it seems to apply in abundance. Valhalla is classic Who; textbook, even. Yet whilst all the traditional story elements are here, the Doctor himself is in a strange mood…
In his notes, Platt says that his story is about “…the endearing human habits of exploitation and of not noticing other worlds right under our noses; not until those worlds burst out and bite us…” which just about sums up his A-story perfectly. The first episode begins with the Doctor already at work on Valhalla, setting the wheels of his latest master plan turning – he is putting himself up for sale! This first episode is without doubt the best of the four in my opinion; the story becomes so action-packed so quickly that these opening scenes that focus on the Doctor’s character seem all too fleeting. Platt very cleverly leads the listener into thinking that the Doctor has really retired this time; that he wants to get a regular job, settle down. He’s had enough. There’s one particularly memorable skit where the Doctor visits the job centre to see what they can offer him. The Doctor speaks of opening a hotel and about wanting people to come to him for a change. He even dismisses all his plotting and scheming as “a phase” that he’s been going though! It’s wonderful and indulgent seventh Doctor stuff – and Sylvester McCoy plays it so, so well - and for a moment Platt almost has you believing it. Almost.
Why I feel Valhalla works so well is that the Doctor’s act may be all part of one of his great schemes, but he certainly doesn’t have to act all that hard. Every word he says in that job centre comes right from the hearts. The trouble is that he can’t just stop and settle down. He can’t help but meddle and poke his nose in and plot and scheme and worm his way into the epicentre of massive cosmic events. He cannot sit still. Throughout this story, the Doctor is not just trying to save Callisto from giant Termites – he’s also trying to save himself. He goes through the motions and does everything that he would in any other story, but you don’t get the sense that he’s enjoying it here. This is the sort of seventh Doctor that we saw towards the end of the New Adventures in print, and more recently in Big Finish plays like Excelis Decays, Master, and Return of the Daleks. He can’t even get the girl anymore, as it were. Jeavon, who could so easily have become his new travelling companion, just turned him down flat. No. Just like that.
For her part, Jeavon is far from being an outstanding character, but as a one-off companion she certainly carries this story well. I would credit actress Michelle Gomez more for this than I would the writer though. I’m a huge fan of Irvine Welsh’s work – he’s easily my favourite non-Who author - and so I’m used to seeing Gomez playing rock hard Scottish women in stuff like the movie adaptation of The Acid House and this year’s terrific TV movie Wedding Belles. And as I’d have thought, the Scots actress does bring a lot of gritty realism to the role of Jeavon, but she also surprised me with some of her softer moments. I also found that she played off McCoy extremely well, and so in a way I guess it is a shame that Jeavon didn’t take the Doctor up on his offer at the end of the story. Do bear in mind though that I might not be saying that had she played Jeavon with a hammed-up Swedish accent, as I understand she originally requested…
Speaking of hams, Susannah York admittedly goes a bit over the top playing the Termite Queen, but then who can blame her? When you’re perpetually pregnant and in command of a brood of Termites that push tall buildings around like colossal chess pieces (wonderful imagery, by the way; absolutely beautiful!) you are going to have a larger-than life presence.
When all’s said and done, Valhalla is a release that comes highly recommended, particularly to those of us who have a fondness for McCoy’s Doctor on one of his more sombre days. Let’s just hope that it isn’t another five years before Marc Platt pens another audio for Big Finish’s flagship range…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
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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