Big Finish Folly, Part 50 – The Judgement of Isskar, by Simon Guerrier
Searching for Peri on a dismal rainy world, the last thing the Doctor expects is to be whisked off on a breathless quest for the Key To Time by a pan-dimensional girl who has only actually existed for a total of two minutes in our universe. Neither does he anticipate being flung from one end of time to the other, chased up the side of a Martian pyramid, or trapped inside one of the segments of the Key itself by the other pan-dimensional girl who is after the Key To Time…
Obviously, it’s one of those days.
The last Fifth Doctor audio adventures – at least, chronologically speaking – before the events of The Caves of Androzani, this is the first of a linked trilogy called Key2Time to differentiate it from the original Key To Time saga back in the Baker/Tamm era. The upshot of that, if you remember, was that the Doctor frustrated the Black Guardian’s plans by rehiding the segments across time and space again. Unfortunately, as he did that by using a dummy sixth segment to complete the Key he has triggered an alarming rate of decay in the segments themselves. Unless they can all be found quickly, says the pan-dimensional girl sent by “the Grace”, everything will end.
It’s odd, if synchronous, that I’m reading Simon Guerrier’s Past Doctors Adventure The Time Travellers (published back in 2005 but featuring the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara & Susan) at the same time that this play has queued up. Interesting to compare the pair for the way they approach their subject. The Time Travellers, like the other First Doctor PDAs I’ve read so far, is very dark and shines a light into the darker side of human nature. The Judgement of Isskar, however, though it shares a love of high concept storytelling, is quite different.
Simply put – blink, and you miss it. If The Burning Prince galloped through its running time, then this one speeds like a rocket. There’s a hell of a lot to try to cram in here, what with the segments to collect, a new companion to introduce (and name!), and the history of an entire civilisation to derail – and that’s even before we reach the halfway mark. The presence of the Ice Warriors, not my most favourite of adversaries because of their hissssing, sssssibilant voices (which don’t translate well on a motorway commute) doesn’t hamper the story as much as I thought it might.
The listener has to work somewhat harder as a result, however, as much descriptive dialogue is shed to make way for the sheer pace that Guerrier needs to maintain the story. As a result I ended up losing my way at points, particularly when it came to the introduction of the second pair of segment-hunters and the arrival, later, at the castle housing the next segment. The eventual fate of the Ice Warriors also needed a second listen.
Amy and Zara, our handy segment-ometers in human form, are interesting devices, and it is made clear early on that the Doctor himself is there merely as Amy’s companion. Perhaps it would have been easier if their voices were a little more different, but perhaps that’s just me. The final twist is, given that we’re firmly back in old territory, not such a surprise in hindsight – but it’ll definitely make the next two plays more fun…