Big Finish Folly, Part 28c – Prisoners of Fate, by Jonathan Morris
Concluding this year’s arc of Fifth Doctor adventures, Nyssa finally confronts the legacy of the virus that first brought her back on board the Tardis (Cobwebs): the crew find themselves pulled off-course to the world of Valderon, where a team of scientists has spent years developing ant-viral treatments with the reluctant help of the planet’s prison population. The team’s leader, Adric, is both surprised and delighted to see Nyssa – after all, his mother has been missing presumed dead for twenty-five years…
Be warned: this is not an adventure to listen to in isolation, or without a certain amount of knowledge of Big Finish’s Fifth Doctor output. To say that there’s an arc plot is a massive understatement. Somehow, Jonathan Morris has had to cram in multiple story references, and tieing them all up without too much discomfort is a very big ask indeed. Yet at the same time there’s a whole different A-story going on, pitting the Doctor against perhaps his most merciless adversary since The Master sashayed across Logopolis.
Valderon is simultaneously blessed and cursed by the presence of the Chronoscope, which has foreseen the Doctor’s arrival and also acts as de facto police force, judge, and jury – by predicting future crimes, criminals can be arrested before the crime itself is committed – and so delivered into Adric’s hands as test subjects. A morally ambiguous utopia, to go with the question of using prisoners as guinea pigs to test the anti-virals – a dangerous world to visit, as Tegan and Turlough discover to their cost.
This play is a vehicle for both Nyssa and the Doctor however, and Morris certainly puts them through the wringer. Nyssa comes to terms with the fact that her continued absence from the galaxy has cost millions of lives, a fact which she can never reverse, and she also has to rethink her reasons for travelling in the Tardis. As we’ve all been aware for some time that this story arc has to be concluded sooner or later, could it be that Nyssa will opt to rejoin her family and attempt to make up for last time?
And the Doctor himself? Well, it turns out that a past error of judgement has come back to haunt him too – in the shape of a Type 50 Tardis that he had flown in the days before he fled Gallifrey in the first vessel that came to hand… Hell hath no fury like a Tardis spurned. There are some excellent lines delivered as The Doctor and the Type 50 negotiate, spar, and finally fight each other in a battle of paradoxes (paradoxi??) for control of both the future and the past.
Those pesky paradoxes are quite mind-numbing at points, and it’s quite a relief when they are finally all resolved at last. Perhaps the only downside of that, on a second listen, is that nothing actually changes at the end of the story – after all the shenanigans and timey-wimey stuff, Morris presses the reset button as the Tardis dematerialises once more. Yes, Nyssa is older and wiser, and more bitter than before, and yes the virus storyline is finally concluded (though I’m certain there’s still a couple of unresolved strands from Cobwebs), but I’ll be a bit unhappy if there isn’t any kind of fall-out from this story over the quartet’s next few adventures (whenever they happen to be recorded).
One other negative point is that the minor characters here (of which there are only one or two – the rest of the story really is carried by the Tardis crew, Adric and the administrator Sibor) flit in and out without really being truly memorable. No offence to Anjella Macintosh and Jez Fielder, but they really are over-shadowed by the weight of the twin A-stories that Morris has to deal with.
Nevertheless, a thoroughly enjoyable story; just a shame that it can’t stand alone to deserve all five stars.