THE EVENTS OF THIS
STORY TAKE PLACE
BETWEEN THE TV STORIES "STATE
OF DECAY" AND
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES' CD 5.04
RELEASED IN OCTOBER
Trapped within E-
Space, the Doctor,
Romana and Adric
are searching for
a Charged Vacuum
Emboitment – the
gateway back to
our universe. It’s
like looking for a
needle in a haystack.
Then, by pure chance,
a brand new CVE rips
into being. Its makers
are The Farrian, who
have come to invade
and plunder this new
territory, and the
riches of the planet
Ballustra are their
In 1980 Andrew Smith became the youngest person ever to write for Doctor Who.
At just 17 years of age, he got to live the dream of so many and watch Tom Baker and Lalla Ward bring his ambitious script to life right before his eyes. It did not matter that they were
doing so in a boggy part of Slough, or that they were in the middle of a dramatic lovers’ tiff;
it was magic, and nobody’s done the same since. Smith never had the opportunity to write for the series again though - whilst he did work for several years as a professional writer, mainly crafting comedy sketches, until now Full Circle has stood as his only endowment to the Whoniverse. The Invasion of E-Space, however, sees him come full circle.
As its unabashed title suggests, this Companion Chronicle shamelessly cashes in on its author’s association with the E-Space Trilogy and the characters that populated it. This two-part tale boasts the burgundy-clad fourth Doctor, the second Romana, Adric, green space, and a Charged Vacuum Emboitment. Rather wryly, K-9 is even consigned to the TARDIS’ repair bay, firmly cementing the Season 18 feel. However, rather than try to do the same
sort of thing as he did in Full Circle, here Smith uses the same toys to forge a completely different type of adventure. Whereas Full Circle was a clever, brooding story, The Invasion of E-Space tells of a straightforward alien invasion. What you see is exactly what you get – battles in space, fighting in the streets, a series of ever-louder bangs; “widescreen audio,” as director Lisa Bowerman so niftily put it.
In this regard, The Invasion of E-Space does its job very well.
Everything is large and loud, and - particularly in the latter half
of the second episode - rather thrilling. Conceptually, however,
the story leaves much to be desired. Whilst a full-scale invasion
of E-Space really fires the imagination, one expects a certain level of sophistication from the N-Space invaders; sophistica-
tion that the disappointing Farrian don’t possess. Their ability to
create CVEs (albeit unstable ones) seems completely at odds
with their barbarically truculent culture and, worse still, belittles the romantic idea that the Doctor and Romana are marooned
in another universe, cut off from everything that they know. It was
bad enough when stories in the expanded universe started to
paint pictures of TARDISes dipping in and out of E-Space with
consummate ease, but having a bunch of ordinary Joes merrily
crossing the threshold really takes the biscuit.
The story’s framing device is similarly disappointing. I had assumed that there would be
some significance to Smith having Romana narrate this adventure before returning to N-Space, but if there is, I can’t see it. Listening to the production, I wanted to know what was
going on ‘now’ with the Tharils; indeed, the second episode ends where I wanted the first to
begin! I had hoped that Smith would use this exceptional standpoint to flesh out Romana’s
thoughts about her isolation, having decided to remain behind in E-Space with K-9 at the end of Warriors’ Gate, but instead we just get a few token lines about the Doctor’s nomadic existence having rubbed off on her, and about how Adric isn’t so bad once you get to know him (though I suppose I should appreciate the irony that Romana had to be locked up in a cell with him before she even felt the inclination to try).
Much to my surprise, Suanne Braun’s (Hathor of Stargate SG•1 fame) Marni Tellis is often much more engaging than Romana here. Usually a guest voice is there to offer a little aural diversity and push the principal character this way or that, but here Tellis narrates her half of the story, and it is as much her story as it is Romana’s. Ballustra is her world, and this is her fight. And through her, it becomes the listener’s too.
Perhaps the most remarkable
aspect of this production though
is its sound design. Howard
Carter’s work is always of an
extraordinarily high standard,
but here he tries something a
little different. Rather than litter
the soundtrack with subtle little
soundbites which suggest that
the narrator is reliving events
as they are discussed, here
Carter often segregates the ‘then’ and the ‘now’ – it’s as if events are running parallel, and as listeners we are privy to both. In one scene, for instance, we hear Tellis crying her heart out, whilst over the top her composed future self explains why she’s crying. It’s unusual, certainly, but highly effective. Sadly Carter mars things a little with a schoolboy blunder, bookending all of his hard work with the original Delia Derbyshire rendition of the series’ theme, rather than the appropriate Peter Howell version. This gaffe is then made all the more prominent thanks to the release’s prevailing John Nathan-Turner era feel; electro-starfield cover art and all.
But despite all its flaws, The Invasion of E-Space offers us a trip back through a CVE to a season that, until now, had been untouched by spin-off novels or audio productions. I don’t know whether it will be a big enough hit to warrant a follow-up, but I’ll tell you what – I’m really worried about Romana and those Tharils…
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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