Big Finish Folly, Part 104 – Patient Zero, by Nicholas Briggs
Finally, the Sixth Doctor challenges Charlotte Pollard to tell him the truth. Who is she really? What is she doing in the TARDIS? To discover the answers, the Doctor must travel back in time, beyond all known civilisations to the vast, mysterious Amethyst Viral Containment Station. But answers lie within the TARDIS too. Someone who has been there a long, long time…
Meanwhile, the Daleks have travelled back in time on their own mission, to bring them the ultimate victory they crave. But it is a mission so complex and delicate that even they know they must beware the web of time… Who is Patient Zero? What has happened to Charley? And why have the legendary Viyrans been summoned?
Oops. It’s all going wrong for Charlotte Pollard. Unfortunately, it’s also going slightly wrong for this story arc as well. While The Raincloud Man had a lot of disparate elements that all pulled together as a coherent whole that married Classic Who with the modern world, Patient Zero decides to up the ante with the Daleks.
Not that I have anything against the Daleks, but when you already have the mysterious and omnipotent Viyrans to deal with, alongside a virus that is somehow causing Charley to disappear from reality (which has taken hold because the Tardis itself is refusing to protect Charley), plus the Doctor’s demand for the truth, you’ve already got enough elements to create a damned good story. Daleks, in this case, are just overkill.
Having said that, Daleks who are time-stream savvy are interesting. No, more than that, they’re a definite threat. This is the first time I’ve come across the Dalek Time Controller, but I suspect it won’t be the last – it’s a logical progression and weapon against the Doctor. Still, however, it’s a distraction from the main business of the story – which is to kick off the final trilogy of the Six/Charley arc with a whammy of a twist: unbeknownst to the Doctor, he’s had an invisible companion in the Tardis since the days of The Chase. And this invisible girl, Mila (Jess Robinson), wants to take Charley’s place and become her…
Plainly this is the last thing Charley needs. Just as plainly, Mila is a tad unstable. Well, you would be, after centuries alone on the Tardis, unable to touch or interact with anybody at all. She’s a sort of stalker who never managed to make her presence felt. As a storytelling device, the irony is heavy – Charley’s got to come clean and confess her temporal sins to the Doctor, but now she can’t, and she’s even lost her place to someone else. She wanted to travel with the Doctor, come what may, and now the only hope she has is as a silent, invisible passenger aboard the Tardis.
Now, the Viyrans – we’ve met them before, in the Virus arc of one-act tales. Peter Davison’s Doctor encountered them with Peri. At the time they seemed like an idea too big for a single story; now it turns out that was just an audition of sorts. They get quite a build-up, but their arrival is, again, a little disappointing. Michael Maloney’s other role, as the many-bodied Fratalin, is a more interesting creation here, his motivations and subservience to the Viyrans themselves making him more rounded.
Don’t get me wrong, it is all interesting, but like much nu-Who on the tellybox, it doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts. On the other hand what it does do is actually make Charley’s character – or that of Mila, pretending to be Charley – far more challenging. Now the Doctor really doesn’t know what to make of her. That’ll make things fun…