November 17th, 2014

Leela no approve

Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 4.10 - The Time Vampire

Blurb: Leela, in her last moments of life, recalls a long-forgotten memory: a time in the TARDIS. The Doctor is worried that K9's increasingly bizarre behavior might become dangerous. He decides to make a new model, little knowing that the fate of all three time travelers has long since been decided.

As Leela recalls the chilling connection between K9's ‘illness’, the Z'nai and the haunted sea fort in which the TARDIS lands, she prepares for her final journey: into the land of her ancestors; the Afterlife.

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Leela. Published by Big Finish Productions and released May of 2010.

Setting: The city of Omnipetoria on the planet Westropi III in the year 7382 (assuming that they're using the old Terran calendar). Leela narrates the story from an unknown world and time (Lance Parkin's AHistory gives the date as 7932 but gives little justification for it).

Continuity: This story takes place between The Sunmakers and Underworld (I didn't place it between Underworld and The Invasion of Time because Leela is wearing her original costume on the CD and I'm assuming that was a deliberate choice). Leela mentions Xoanon and she remembers her younger self going into the TARDIS for the first time (see The Face of Evil). She recalls spinning the Doctor's yo-yo and their conversation about whether it was required to make the TARDIS move (see Robots of Death). Leela mentions that she's been hooked up to the Z'nai machines for years and she remembers encountering H'mbrackle (see The Catalyst). Leela refers to the secondary console room being damaged by fire (see Empathy Games). The Doctor mentions seeing a world destroyed by fire (see Inferno and Mind of Evil but also see Canonicity Quotient below).

Canonicity Quotient: First off, Fairs states in the liner notes that he is answering one of the "great questions of Doctor Who" by explaining what the "world destroyed by fire" is that the Doctor refers to in The Mind of Evil. The only problems are that a.) everyone already knows that the Doctor was referring to Inferno, a story by the same writer as The Mind of Evil and b.) the explanation given here doesn't work either because the Doctor couldn't have traveled with Lord Douglas until after he had control of his TARDIS, something that didn't happen until after the Mind of Evil. Suddenly someone crossing their own time streams creates a time vampire instead of bringing about the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. 0.50

Discussion: Neither The Catalyst nor Empathy Games was ever intended to be part of a trilogy. Nigel Fairs set out to make each story as a stand-alone experience that ends on Leela dying. Producer David Richardson wouldn't let him leave it at that, however, and insisted on making it into a trilogy. Into the mix, they threw in a mandate to use K-9 because Louise Jameson was able to convince John Leeson to do it and if you have John Leeson you use him. Finally, Jameson herself wanted to use a Belfast accent that she'd just had to learn for a play and didn't want it to be something that she used once and never did again, so Fairs wrote in an excuse for her to use it. At the end, looking at the list of mandates perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised by how things turned out.

Let me start again. I really liked The Catalyst and Empathy Games. Both stories were great and even though Empathy Games was bolstered by the David Warner factor, it still would have been a good story no matter who had played Angell. I had been surprised by how well that I liked those first two stories because I had utterly loathed everything about The Abandoned, Fairs' Fourth Doctor Adventure. Many people compared that story to Fairs previous work, so I assumed that his companion chronicles would be similarly awful. Those first two stories left me pleasantly surprised, so I was really looking forward to this third work and the end of the trilogy.

The Time Vampire is nothing short of a travesty. It's obviously trying to be Warrior's Gate without any of the underpinnings that gave that story an actual message or a point. This feels like Filler: The Saga. Yes, it's ended in a way that Leela companion chronicles can continue, but the 60 minutes or so that precede that revelation seem to have been contrived as just a random series of set pieces to keep the listener going and justify this having its own title. Even worse, Fairs introduces much more interesting plot elements. I'd have loved to hear about the Doctor's confrontation with the Z'nai. It sounds like a far more interesting story than this one. We also get an entire character who was created to give Louise Jameson an excuse to reuse the Belfast accent that she had to learn for a play. Unfortunately the character has little to do with the story other than to produce another talking head to keep the story dragging along for a while where the script needed to be beefed out.

One of the worst parts is that the Fairs seems to think that the script is incredibly clever when in fact it isn't. We're regaled with the story of how Leela's face is twisted in pain and when she sees the Time Vampire it is also twisted in pain. K-9 appears to be following orders from another source, something that he wouldn't do unless it's from a future version of his master or mistress. We're told that Time Vampires are created from someone crossing their own timestream. What else are you supposed to suspect than that Leela is the time vampire? Yet, this poses it's own set of problems. Apparently K-9 takes the TARDIS and finds Leela as a little girl and brings her to the dying Leela in the future. They meet and this causes older Leela to become a time vampire and she then inhabits Leela as a host. But then, how did Holland capture it as he hadn't met Leela previously? Presumably K-9 then takes child Leela back to her own time, but how does the story with Leela in the present end? It seems to be discarded as an afterthought and only included so that Fairs can include the portentous sounding dialog of Leela meeting the Time Vampire. Most egregious is his assertion that this story explains an important mystery for the series of what the planet destroyed by fire was. Yet this shows how ignorant Fairs actually is about Doctor Who. Not only was it an obvious references to the events of Inferno, but the Doctor couldn't have had the experience detailed in The Time Vampire yet because he did not yet have control of his TARDIS and couldn't have traveled with Lord Douglas yet. Even the title, The Time Vampire, is fairly meaningless. That name implies that the creatures feed on time like chronovores yet the "time vampire" apparently only wants to perceive time through our senses. While they can age people to death it doesn't appear to be a natural thing for them to do.

The plot issues don't stop there. Somehow it's well known how time vampires are created. Since when is time travel so common that not only does everyone in the cosmos know how to create a time vampire but it's a common enough occurrence that there are people who actually hunt the creatures? It doesn't help that Fairs seems to have forgotten that the series has already explained what happens when someone crosses their own timestream. There's a huge explosion of energy called the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. I suppose we're supposed to assume that the Brigadier turned into a time vampire as well even though we've seen him since he met himself and he appears to be perfectly fine. Frankly, I prefer time travel to be a far less common event and don't see the Time Lords crossing their own timestreams willy-nilly as this would imply. The other thing that I found hard to take was the idea that Holland was not only able to sneak into the TARDIS, but that he stole the temporal suspension cage and through trial and error worked out what it does?! I guess time vampires must be extremely commonplace if he was just able to play around with the thing until he caught one. There are so many nonsensical ideas in this predicated on other nonsensical ideas that it just falls completely apart.

Thankfully the production values are actually quite good on this. Louise Jameson is once again wonderful as both the young and old Leela. Her rendition of the Doctor isn't the greatest, but at least it has improved considerably since The Catalyst. Vera, unfortunately is an incredibly annoying and unconvincing character. Jameson gets to use that Belfast accent that she learned but it's pretty over-the-top and embarrassing to listen to and a real downer after her wonderful performance as Leela. It brings a smile to my face that John Leeson is back as K-9 and amazingly he doesn't sound like he's aged at all. He also plays Holland in this story. His German accent reminds me of Tryst from Nightmare of Eden. It's a bit overblown but it just about works and it's nice to hear Leeson get a chance to voice another character. The music and sounds, however, are fantastic in this. There's a wonderful elegiac underpinning to all of the music. There's even a wonderful choirlike chorus that really fits the mood of the story. Musically, the story is perfect and it's such a shame that Fairs obviously spent a great deal of time on this instead of on the script. Some of the sounds are great as well. The sound for the Time Vampire is actually disturbing and made me a bit nervous when I was listening to it in the car. It's such a shame that the aural experience of this play is so good when there's so little of substance in the actual story itself.

Final Rating: 5/10

Recommendation: It's a testament to why scripts should never be done by spec. Nigel Fairs created two fantastic companion chronicles with Leela but Big Finish tried to get blood from a stone and the effect was a mess of a story that Fairs clearly struggled with. It's not as bad as the Abandoned because at least the music and sound in this are utterly wonderful and even the performances are really good. Unfortunately the story is just a series of random events that ends in Leela apparently becoming a time loop. Anything could have preceded those last few minutes. This story is a complete waste of time and since The Catalyst and Empathy Games hold up just fine on their own, I recommend that you skip this one.