Plague of Austerity

Big Finish Folly, Part 117 – Antidote to Oblivion, by Philip Martin

Antidote to OblivionTheir much-needed holiday interrupted by a distress call from another Tardis, the Doctor and Flip head back once more to Earth. But this isn’t a simple rescue mission – it’s a trap, and the Doctor has taken the bait. ConCorp needs to slash its budgets by up to 90%, and the fabled Timelord resistance to diseases is key to the President’s plans. With Thoros Beta’s most mercenary financial advisor pressing for ever deeper cuts, and a virologist with a grudge wielding the needles, this time the Doctor’s very DNA is under siege…

Future Britain: bleak, ruined, inhabited by shuffling, sedated zombies, and ruled by a business elite that is financially, morally, and ethically corrupt. Absolute fiction, of course – it couldn’t happen here.

For ConCorp, read the bastard Conservatives and the smug inbred git Cameron. For Nabil Shaban’s perfect villain, the self-absorbed coward Sil, read Farage (pause while I wash the sour taste from my mouth). Welcome to ConCorp, people – we’re already there, with a government of self-servatives intent on creating, maintaining, and extending austerity by almost literally starving and killing the unprofitable population that foolishly voted them into power.

As you can tell, I have very firm views on this subject. I’m a great believer in science fiction and fantasy being able to reflect and explore today’s issues. Doctor Who is perfectly placed to do such things, and indeed it has done so before – the rogue financial advisor Sil appeared first in Philip Martin’s Vengeance on Varos, which was an equally dark statement about society’s increasing reliance on television (and televised executions in particular) as a means of pacifying a population. Listening to Antidote to Oblivion is uncomfortably like watching Cameron’s haw-haw club pull the purse strings tight.

That’s not the whole of the plot though – the driving force is Sil’s machinations, but for a large part of the play both the Doctor and Flip are trussed up and being treated as lab rats, fighting off sentient microbial diseases. As a Tardis companion, Flip has thankfully gained some of the immunities the Doctor naturally possesses, and it’s a damned good job she does, since otherwise she would be dead – again! – by the end of the second episode.

Philip Martin ties his tale to much of his previous work with the Sixth Doctor and Sil. Not just thematically – the Timelord bully Anzor, from Mission to Magnus, makes a cameo appearance, though much reduced by circumstances, and Dawn Murphy’s biochemist Cordelia links things back to Sil’s second TV appearance in Mindwarp.

Nabil Shaban is, once again, excellent as Sil. He does things with his voice that makes my eyes boggle. His looping, ululating laughter seeps through every episode. Antidote to Oblivion is brilliant because of him. It’s all Colin Baker and Lisa Greenwood can do to keep up with him. In keeping with previous Flip stories meanwhile, there’s a heck of a close shave for the companion, and even a firing squad at the end of the first episode. This is darker, bolder Who, and all the better for it.

There’s a clue for the future direction of the Sixth Doctor’s arc here too, hidden in a conversation that takes place after the first meeting with Sil. Without spoilering too much, Sil reminds the Doctor that their last encounter (Mindwarp again) left certain events distinctly unresolved. If you’ve followed the most recent (as of writing this) Main Range releases, you’ll know where this is headed.

So: final marks. While the invasion of the microbial viruses is hardly Fantastic Voyage, the main plotline and the welcome return of Old Sixey’s great nemesis allow me to give this the full five stars. Take that, austerity.
*****

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