Blurb: A damaged alien computer is being guarded by UNIT troops, but the soldiers simply vanish…
Usually the Brigadier would call in the Doctor – but on this occasion the Time Lord is being kept out of the loop. Instead, it’s up to Elizabeth Shaw to oversee the project to repair this alien technology, and recover the missing men.
And then Liz vanishes too.
Trapped inside the machine, Liz faces a battle for survival against a lethal defence system. And this time, she must save the day without the Doctor at her side…
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. Published by Big Finish Productions and released March of 2012.
Setting: Earth: London. UNIT dating makes the precise chronological placement of this story iffy but it's during the Doctor's first or second year at UNIT, which I would place in 1970-1971. It is unclear from the details given when or why Liz is narrating the events of the story.
Continuity: This story takes place between Inferno and Terror of the Autons. Liz mentions that she's decided to leave UNIT but it's unclear if she's referencing The Scales of Injustice or The Blue Tooth or if this story is meant to predate that one or how this story relates to any other stories set within this gap. I personally place this story prior to every other novel and audio set within this gap.
Canonicity Quotient: Placing a story in the gap between Inferno and Terror of the Autons gives you a lot more leeway than most gaps in the television series because we don't know much about what happened there. It creates an issue with the many ways that Liz can leave UNIT and it seems that almost all novels and audios set in this gap flirt with the idea of why Liz left UNIT. This story is no different, but knowing that this is old hat, Eddie Robson makes sure that at the end of the story, Liz has decided that she still has a job to do at UNIT and will come back, so this fits into the established canon. It does seem odd that that UNIT has all of these other scientists at their beck and call. While I agree that every scientist has their own specialty, Liz was chosen simply because she was so smart and had degrees in several sciences that she could be the expert in all the fields that they would need her for. It makes one wonder why they didn't call in these other experts at other points in the series. 0.95
Discussion: I'm actually genuinely surprised that we hadn't gotten to the gap between Inferno and Terror of the Autons sooner. This is the gap that was always exploited by the various novels with Liz and it's the gap that I expected the audios to favor as well, but Big Finish only decided to set 2 of their 5 Liz audios into this gap. This allowed them to do some stories earlier within season 7 and even one after season 7 to flesh Liz out more. But here we are in a story firmly set in a season 7B where we need to deal with the events that lead to Liz's untelevised departure. Interestingly, even those who wrote Liz stories set prior to Inferno flirted with finding reasons to get Liz thinking about leaving UNIT and it's become a bit of a theme in the audios with Liz. So it's a bit refreshing that Eddie Robson starts this story with Liz already having decided to leave UNIT and have her decide to stay over the course of this story. I also like that he dressed up the story with references to other untelevised events. It helped in the story immersion by helping us to visualize that the Doctor and Liz have been involved in other adventures and helping to set the scene for us in this current one.
Unfortunately with that being said we get a bit of a lame duck as far as stories go. Liz basically sits or stands around talking with people over the course of the story. Not a whole lot happens other than at the cliffhanger. Even when we get into some interesting philosophical debate at the end, the whole thing just seems to be cold and clinical and there isn't a whole lot of emotional engagement with the audience. Being on the inside of a computer should be a really interesting experience but it seems just like they're in any old maze with "monsters" in it and it doesn't seem like there's anything really fresh here. We've seen all the same archetypes in other maze stories and it seems that most of the time they're just walking around in this maze and speculating on what could be the problem. It gets even sillier when the Doctor tells Liz that she's the only one that's left in the computer that she doesn't immediately realize that Childs and Foster aren't what they appear to be. I can see how maybe she could have assumed that the Doctor omitted Childs because he was standing next to her but when Foster showed up she should have been immediately suspicious. Instead it takes her a while to work out why she thinks that he's an imposter and the fact that the Doctor said that she was the only living thing in there doesn't even come up as one of her reasons. Any story that can make me questions Liz's intelligence is not a good thing and it wasn't that difficult to work out as I was on my guard as soon as Foster was originally replaced with Childs.
The voice acting was definitely up to its normal standard. Caroline John is wonderful to listen to and I have no trouble imagining the Liz Shaw of season 7 speaking the lines that she's given. My only complaint is that Liz seems so completely acidic on this story. It makes sense since she had resolved to leave UNIT that she'd been feeling bitter, but I just felt that it really hurt in a story where there was little emotional engagement and very little action already. It probably would have gone over well if more had been going on. Instead we get a lot of Liz talking about why she doesn't like being patronized by the Doctor or how the Brigadier has no appreciation for the work that she puts in as just another talking point. One neat thing about this story, though, is that we get two secondary characters with Foster and Childs. This is nice because it gives Liz two other characters to react to. Both Joe Coen and Kyle Redmond-Jones do a great job of sounding like young, enthusiastic UNIT soldiers and it's nice that neither really gives away their true nature in the way that they deliver their lines. Unfortunately the script is less kind to them in flagging some of these details.
There are a couple of other things that I liked about this story. For one, I liked how even though you suspect that one of the projects is bad and the other is good that the story leads you to the false assumption that Childs, the one who wants to fix the computer must be the bad one as he is trying to get the thing online and that Foster who wants to destroy it must be the good one. The reversal when you come to the end is well done and leads us to the second thing that I liked. I really liked that Liz didn't just blindly go with what the Doctor said. She worked things out for herself and made her own decision and frankly she's right. The machine is sentient and you don't kill or enslave sentience because of the potential harm that they may do. This was especially satisfying because of all the companion chronicles with Liz this seems to be the one where she's the most on her own and the Doctor players only a peripheral part in the story. Liz is assertive and smart and sometimes the Doctor is wrong, so I liked seeing that come up here and having her come up with her own plan.
Final Rating: 5/10
Recommendation: There's some neat philosophy and some neat character stuff for Liz at the end. Unfortunately that isn't enough to prop up the rest of the story. Binary isn't really engaging and not a lot happens. It doesn't help that one of the major twists can be seen from almost a mile away and you'll begin to wonder how smart Liz really is by the end of it. I would definitely suggest skipping this one.