Blurb: The planet Colophos is a dead world. Nothing but dust and rubble – and the ruins of a once-great civilization. But is it really as dead as it appears? When the Doctor and Leela land, joined by the crew of the Oligarch survey ship, it’s not long before they receive a communication from one of the ruins. A communication from Astaroth Morax, the last of the Colophon. Attended by a sadistic robot nurse, Morax is in a wheelchair and bound in bandages to conceal his terrible injuries. But is he really as powerless as he seems? What became of the rest of his race – and why didn’t he die with them?
Entering his lair, the Doctor uncovers a terrifying secret…
Format: Full-cast audio drama starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson published by Big Finish Productions and released May 2014.
Setting: The planet Colophos sometime in the late 40th century.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Horror of Fang Rock and after the audio story The Evil One. Leela references Xoanon, a Horda's warren, and that she has fought invisible enemies before (see The Face of Evil). Leela says that she's seen a man's face that looked like it was boiled (see The Talons of Weng-Chiang). The Doctor states that he has seen invisible life forms before (see The Daleks Masterplan, The Ark, and Planet of the Daleks).
Canonicity Quotient: The presence of a human empire in the late 40th century would seem to be an error, but they do not say that it is based on Earth. So it's possible that one of Earth's colonies has established its own empire at this point, perhaps declaring themselves to be the true successors of the original Earth Empire. Ther'es historical precedent for this with Germany declaring itself the successor of Rome and forming the Holy Roman Empire in the 9th century. 0.99
Discussion: After the fairly lackluster The Evil One, I was a little bit worried that the streak of good stories in this third season of Fourth Doctor Adventures had come to an end. I was bolstered by the thought that the next story was one by Jonathan Morris, though. Morris had impressed me ever since he wrote The Festival of Death for BBC books. He's the only writer that I think was ever able to capture the feel of Season 17 and give that same sense of fun and drama to the 4th Doctor's adventures. I hadn't seen him try to do a darker, Hinchcliffe era story, but I was really interested in what he would do with the material. Most intriguing of all was his assertion that his story would use a Universal Horror movie as a basis that hadn't been used yet. I immediately thought of The Creature from the Black Lagoon as that was the only one that I could think of, but when I looked at the cover I saw what appeared to be a mummy. "Surely, The Mummy was done with Pyramids of Mars," I thought. Intrigued, I dived into the story.
I must say that I went into this with no preconceptions other than reading what Morris wrote about using a Universal Horror monster. I was really pleased with the twist that Morax was invisible. It's exactly the kind of thing that I could have seen them doing in early Doctor Who. I also liked that they played around a little with the sound design so that the listener was just as disoriented as the characters in the story. Morax's story comes from all around, so like the characters in the story you are confused as to where he is exactly. I also thought that it gave Leela a clever way to be a hunter. How would she fight an invisible man? I really liked the fact that even though Morax is a far more intelligent individual, Leela's common sense survival skills still allow her to get the jump on him.
The second part seemed to lack a little something. It was obvious that Morax had prerecorded his final conversation with the Doctor about working together to stop the detonation. I had thought that he'd stow away on the TARDIS but when he wasn't there I knew that he had to be on the ship. They flagged a little to strongly that something weird was going on with the conversation with Morax as they were leaving. My only problem here is that they established that Colophos was a desert world, so did no one see Morax leaving tracks in the sand as they left? It seems a little hard to swallow that they wouldn't have, but oh well.
The whole story is suffused with that darkness that early Doctor Who was able to use to such great effect while still telling fantastic and fun stories. Morax as the crippled scientist is shades of Davros but his willingness to experiment on himself actually reminded me of Solon. I love that they put in the idea that the power of invisibility is inherently a corrupting force. It's the kind of moralizing that classic Who always put in there and of course the villain was undone by something that he didn't believe that the Doctor tells him, which is another trope of those old stories. To hammer home how great the threat was the whole guest cast dies and the Doctor ensures that Morax's body is destroyed along with the now empty spaceship, so that no one else will learn about the process.
The characters in this are good. Leela and Tom are as fantastic as ever. For those who have been following me for a while, I know that I must sound like I'm a broken record but the two of them have been on fire throughout this entire third season. They work together well and have the right comic timing together. Leela has the whole savage warrior thing down to a tee and Tom is great when he has to banter with Morax. I was surprised to find out that it was Gareth Thomas playing Morax. He doesn't sound a thing like himself as Blake. He does a good job sounding like a poor scientist waiting to be rescued but then does a fantastic job once he reveals himself as the confident and malevolent man that he really is. There is no remorse to Morax and the hard edge that Thomas gives him is great. Nurse Torvik isn't really the most interesting or demanding role but I did like that Jane Goddard gives her a bit of a cruel edge to her voice. It's an interesting choice for a robot but one that gives her a bit of personality and differentiates her from the pack. I really liked Jessica Martin as Deputy Surveyor Sutton. She starts out as a standard villainous character coming from a greedy Empire. Yet you find out that a lot of her mannerisms just come from her background. The character seems to become more likable as she spends more time with the Doctor and I was really saddened when she was gone. John Voce and Blake Ritson do what they can for Chief Surveyor Hardwick and Pilot Kellaway but neither of them get a whole lot of development and aren't terribly interesting. They're good at what they're asked to do though.
I will say that one of my greatest nits in the story does come about because of the invisibility. For the most part I was happy with their science. I even thought that it was a nice touch that they showed that Morax would be blind if he were invisible because no light would hit his eyes. Yet then they say that he's immune to the sonic screwdriver because he's invisible. Um, what? I'm usually very generous with the science in science fiction and try to judge by what the layman knows. Sci-fi should never contradict layman's knowledge of science. If they want to put in dodgy facts then do them with things that would only seem wrong to physicists. But come on even a layman would know that sound and light are not the same things and if Morax was also "invisible" to sound he would also be deaf. Since Morris was smart enough to realize that an invisible man would be blind I don't understand why he didn't realize that an acoustically invisible man would also be deaf. The invisibility also leads to the talk of photonic energy which basically just means light. So Morax is invisible but light causes him to break down? That seems pointless. I also don't like how Leela has to shout at Morax in the early scenes when she's trying to evade him. Of course he tracks her by her voice. It's a necessary evil of the audio process I suppose but it does make Leela seem kind of dim. I think as a huntress she would have known not to talk to him and try to use stealth to escape.
I'm also a little confused about Morax's longevity. Was that a side effect of the invisibility process or did his race all normally live for over thousands of years? My only other nit is that the Doctor creates a secret password so that they know that it's him and not Morax, but he uses a rhythm tapped on a door. Um, what if Morax is right there listening? He can just the same rhythm and tap on the door. That whole sequence just seemed odd and out of place to me and not a particularly smart strategy.
Final Rating: 8/10
Recommendation: Jonathan Morris surprises by going back to the old Hinchcliffe/Holmes trick of taking Universal monsters as a basis for Doctor Who ideas and does a great take on the Invisible Man. It's an exciting and dark tale about science gone wrong and the effects that it would have on the psyche. The Doctor and Leela are great and the production and actors contributions are top notch. There are a few plot problems which drop this story down to an 8, but it's still a fantastic adventure. I highly recommend listening to this.