Big Finish Folly, Part 15c – Tomb Ship, by Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby
Hard on the heels of their visit to Nathaniel Whitlock’s safari, the Doctor and Nyssa arrive in the dark interior of one of the fabled ark-tombs of the Arrit God-Kings, which drift through deep interstellar space waiting for revival and resurrection. Spooky enough, but Team Tardis is not alone – matriarchal tomb raider Virna has brought some of her sons to break in and claim the prize she has sought for years. But the road to that treasure is fraught with traps, tests and trials, and it will take all of the Doctor’s ingenuity to get through to the central chamber alive. And, waiting in the wings, is an explorer whose bravery rivals that of Indiana Jones…
Well, sort of. Obviously, it’s not River Song, or Trickly Pond, or whatever she was called. Less obviously, the gutsy Edwardian pipe-smoker Hannah Bartholemew (Francesca Hunt, last seen last week in Moonflesh) has stowed away aboard the Tardis (the door has been sticking somewhat). Good thing too, otherwise there’d be nobody left to haul everybody’s ass out of the fire once the God-King finally receives his rightful dues. This is a bit of a cheat, but it certainly doesn’t ruin the story.
In fact, I’ve got to say that you can’t ruin this story. Riffing on Egyptology, Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider and every other against-the-clock treasure hunt movie you can think of, Beeby & Rennie start the story in third gear and never let the pace slip. Though the Doctor and Nyssa are the levers around which the story moves, the focus of the tale is Virna and the clutch of sons she has brought with her this time to gain entry to the ark-ship. Virna doesn’t think of Heff, Murs and Hisko as her children – they are tools to get the job done, crowbars with which to prise open the lid of the God-King’s tomb. If she should happen to lose one or two along the way…? Well, she can always find another husband, make more children, start again…
Virna’s obsessive personality is reflected in the cracked facades of her children. Ken Bentley’s assembled cast is suitably aggressive and intense – Amy Ewbank mirrors the flaws of Eve Karpf’s Virna, while the triptych of hard-assed sons (Jonathan Forbes, Ben Porter and James Hayward, respectively) begin to fall apart as their number diminishes. Their drama, trapped in the enclosed spaces of the tomb ship, gains further momentum as the God-King prepares to explode into an afterlife that will destroy an entire sun, and is soundtracked by a booming chorus of hologram frescos.
He dies again and we shall rejoice eternally in his divine light!
They will come to him and offer their sacrifice!
Do not deny his wrath!
Disturbing and terrifyingly bombastic, the voices give the long-dead Arrit a real presence in the story, and Tomb Ship gets a true sense of depth and time because of that. As a result, it’s a properly massive, high-class space opera that deserves the coveted fifth star.