Blurb: The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara land on the planet Hydra, where Admiral Jonas Kaan leads a vast flotilla of ships trying to elude the vicious race that has invaded and occupied their world. But his ships are being picked off one by one, vessels and crews dragged underwater by an unseen foe.
The time travellers find themselves pitched into battle against the Voord, the ruthless enemy they last encountered on the planet Marinus. As they take the fight to the very heart of the territory now controlled by the Voord the stakes get higher. First they lose the TARDIS... then they lose that which they hold most dear. And that's only the start of their troubles.
In the capital, Predora City, they will learn the truth of what it means to be a Voord. And that truth is horrifying.
Format: Full-cast audio drama starring William Russell and Carole Ann Ford published by Big Finish Productions and released September 2014.
Setting: The planet Hydra, time unknown. It is 100 years after the events of The Keys of Marinus.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants. There is no indication of where it fits in relation to other stories within the same gap. Yartek and his group of Voord are mentioned several times throughout the story (see The Keys of Marinus).
Canonicity Quotient: The details that we're given of the Voord just don't fit in with what we're told in this story. It may make them more interesting villains from here on out but it doesn't work with the story so far. 0.80
Discussion: The Domain of the Voord is the first in a new series from Big Finish called The Early Adventures. Once Big Finish went through all of the unused scripts that they had for the Lost Stories they realized that line could no longer continue. They thought about what that line offered that none of the others did - almost full-cast stories with the early Doctors. Yes, one of the companions would double as the Doctor and sometimes one of the companions would also have to double for another missing companion such as Barbara or Ben, but the other speaking parts were given to other actors. This differs from the Companion Chronicles. Those also tell stories with all the Doctors but it's usually only one companion with only one guest reading the lines for another important character in the story. The Early Adventures was a way of continuing the Lost Stories atmosphere with new scripts. In Domain of the Voord, Carole Ann Ford doubles as both Susan and Barbara and William Russel doubles as Ian and the Doctor but the rest of the roles are played by three other actors who play the important parts in the story.
It's an interesting choice to go with the Voord. They're almost the returning alien that no one ever wanted to see again. They were a creation of Terry Nation's, the man behind the Daleks. Unlike the nihilistic pepper shakers, the Voord failed to really grab any kind of attention. They looked a bit silly and their storyline didn't really lend itself to a return appearance. Big Finish, attempting to start off their new line with a splash wanted a returning foe and they settled on the Voord as an unexplored adversary whose only appearance was in the 60's and therefore fitting for their new line of stories.
I have to say that there was one thing that I really wanted from this story and that was a completely retro feel. Season one is one of my favorite seasons in all of Doctor Who and I really wanted a script that felt like it came from the Lambert/Whitaker era. What I got was something that seemed to take on some of the trappings of that era but failed utterly in catching the atmosphere. I realize that this is a personal issue that may not matter to everyone, but I have loved the Fourth Doctor Adventures recently that have created a feeling of authenticity as if they were scripts approved and brought to life by Hinchcliffe and Holmes. I was expecting the same feeling in the Early Adventures, especially with all the advertisements proclaiming that they were stories "told in black and white". I feel slightly cheated that I didn't get it and that is probably making it more difficult for me to review the story on its own merits.
One of the main culprits to me in feeling like a first season story was the music. It's not the actual score itself. While sometimes it does feel like a bombastic old film with the wild trumpet fanfares, those early days were full of experimentation and innovation. Some of the music sounds downright weird and surreal. A few bits of it do sound like they were lifted from the generic season one stock music as well. I approved wholeheartedly of the eclectic mix. The problem is that the music just never stops. Almost from the moment each episode begins to the moment that it ends it is nonstop music. All that you have to do is listen to the DVD commentary for those classic stories to hear the actors and production people talking about how in the 60's you didn't have wall-to-wall music like you do today. Then they allowed the story to evoke emotion in the audience and didn't use music as a cudgel to force the audience to feel a certain way. The constant music gets very tedious and you get the feeling that it's pulling a Wizard of Oz, trying to cover for a lack of emotional content within the story itself.
The two other things that upset me were writing Barbara and the Doctor out for the two middle episodes and the lack of a science lecture. While it is authentic to season one to write a character out for two episodes, they never would have written two of the leads out, especially not for two episodes in a row. The crazy thing was that it wasn't even necessary. William Russell has done six episode stories in the past where he doubled as William Hartnell, so he could have easily carried the performance through here. I see more of a reasoning behind writing Barbara out. I thought that Carole Ann Ford did an excellent job with Barbara's character in Farewell, Great Macedon and The Masters of Luxor. Here it just seems like she's doing a flat reading of Barbara's lines. With no inflection or real character for Barbara I can see why they might want to write her out although that's a bit disappointing as Barbara apparently had quite an adventure and one that wouldn't have happened onscreen in the 60's. It may have appeared as pre-filmed inserts though. The other thing that blew my mind was the lack of a science lecture. Once we learned about the Voord's sea engine I thought for sure that we'd get a lesson on hydrolysis. Instead we're just told that hydrogen is extracted from water and that's it. They would have never given up a chance to educate in the first season of the show and it felt like such an obvious missed opportunity that I'm really surprised that I haven't seen anyone else comment on it.
With all that aside, I generally liked the story. I smiled when I learned that the planet was named Hydra because that was such an early Doctor Who thing to name a planet after it's dominant trait. I liked the idea of a flotilla drifting through the sea and worried about pursuit and attack. It was almost like Battlestar Galactica on water except that these guys didn't have anywhere to go. I do think that the character with nefarious intentions was a little to easy to spot, but they weren't exactly subtle in the TV series either. There were shades of Marco Polo in the plight of Susan and the TARDIS and I really loved the resolution with the Doctor in the midst of it all as always. I also like that the Voord were genuinely scary with their sneak attacks under the water and how they drag off their prey. The body horror of the mask is also a little scary and the idea of giving ones will away permanently, so that you aren't worked to death as a slave is horrible to think about.
On the other hand, I'm not to much of a fan with what they did with the Voord here. Smith didn't want to use the idea that they become the Cybermen, which I don't like either but instead turns them into the Borg? How is that any better? It also makes a mockery of The Keys of Marinus. So they wanted the Conscience because it just happened to be a little better than their own tech? Why would they have even bothered? And honestly after 700 years how is it that if the Voord could assimilate people that they hadn't already taken over the entire planet and been ready to attack Arbitan en masse. I also don't buy that they weren't from Marinus to begin with. You have to assume that Arbitan is an idiot, which I guess is possible but it does seem like a strange leap to make. It'd have been easier to say that they came from Marinus originally and went to space after Yartek died. They could have also explained that they developed something akin to the conscience on their own, so they could have even had the whole cheap-Borg-equivalent thing going for them as well.
We were also told that this story would explain why the Borg look the way that they do. The masks are explained but we're never told why they go everywhere in a wet suit. Their technology has "an affinity for water" we're told at one point, but that doesn't really tell us much of anything. We're also told all the time that the Voord want to welcome others into the "Voord way of life" but that's never explained...at all. Ok so the mask forces you to be a good little puppet and do the Voord way of life but what the heck is that way of life? Why do they feel that it's superior? Instead of inundating us about the mask and the tech throughout the story it would have been nice if they'd told us a bit more about the culture other than that it's considered dishonorable to force someone to take the mask. I also like how after having Neblin unable to believe that Susan met Yartek 100 years ago that we then get told that the Voord live for thousands of years. Um, why would Neblin who knows that Susan isn't from Hydra question her ability to meet Yartek 100 years ago when he comes from a race that can do the same thing? Why is so much made of the fact that those who are converted to Voord become mindless drones only to be confronted by a Pan Vexel who seems just like his old self just wearing a mask. Vexel obviously isn't of The Blood Tree, so he should be a mindless drone like the others, but he isn't. It seemed like a rather glaring story inconsistency to me. Also, I almost threw up my hands in despair when we're told at the end that the galactic authorities are coming in. Um, instead of running that whole almost-no-chance-of-succeeding resistance wouldn't it have made more sense for someone to have mentioned galactic authorities and either tried to steal a radio or if there were none left on the planet construct one to call in said authorities? It might have been nice to have had that backup.
From a production standpoint, the actors in this were really good. William Russell was fantastic as Ian and his Doctor is still the best impression of Hartnell that I've heard. I really hope that they don't case a new actor in the Doctor's role because as long as Russell is alive I think that he's the best choice available. Carole Ann Ford really impressed me as Susan this time around. She's managed to shed her years and recapture that youthful sound that she had as a 23-year-old playing a 15-year-old. Unfortunately her Barbara was her worst performance as the character yet. It was really lacking any of the love and charm that she showed in her prior two outings with the character and I don't mind at all after hearing this that they're going to recast Barbara with a new actress for the next run of Hartnell era stories. Andrew Dickens really steals the show as Admiral Kaan. He really seemed to embody a strong authority figure that you can trust, like the Brigadier but nothing like Nicholas Courtney in his performance. He also played the Voord leader, Tarlak and I really love that he gives a true 60's melodramatic performance for the main villain. It was a real pleasure to listen to. Andrew Bone did his own moustache twirling villain as Pan Vexel and he plays it admirably. I almost imagine John Ringham in the role, hunchback and all. He gives far more of a performance with Neblin, who ends up being a sympathetic Voord. My problem is that Vexel ends up playing his own Voordized self later in the story and it is way to obvious that Neblin is played by the same guy. This story could have really used another actor for the Neblin part and some of the minor Voord roles as every other Voord sounds like Bone. Daisy Ashford impresses as Amyra Kaan. She plays a strong character who never gets up despite the overwhelming odds and she succeeds at things that the other male people cannot. I also like that she plays a slight tension between herself and Ian and its another disappointment that there was no strong role for Barbara here because it would have been nice to have her a little jealous of those two. She's the daughter of two acting legends, so she's definitely worth watching as she performs in future stories.
Final Rating: 7/10
Recommendation: It's a pleasant pseudo-60's romp. Those wanting pure nostalgia will be disappointed because the atmosphere is off and the continuity seems to be wonky. Still, the performances are top notch and there are some touches to the production that are pure 60's in their experimentalism. For better or worse the Voord are given a purpose and backstory and have been elevated to a threat that may pop up from time to time in any Big Finish story. For the most part the plot hangs together and while there are a few things that don't make sense, it's a satisfying conclusion to a fun adventure. You also don't need to have seen Keys of Marinus to understand the story. I recommend listening to it.