Big Finish Folly, Part 128 – Spaceport Fear, by William Gallagher
Welcome to Tantane Spaceport. You’ll love the facilities. The moving walls, designed to segregate all potentially dangerous arrivals from the populace at large. The grav-rail train – it may work again, one day. The ambient darkness, which disguises the centuries of neglect. The tribes of the descendants of stranded passengers, reduced to eking out pathetic existences in the remains of the lounges and tunnels. The Wailers. God help you if you ever come across the Wailers. So… Economy or Business? Be careful, the wrong answer might mean more than just an uncomfortable seat…
Both of William Gallagher’s two full main range stories so far have pitted the Doctor and his companion (Flip in those two) against big, truly alien bad guys. No, not fair, they’re not necessarily bad as such, it’s more that humanity has gotten in the way of their aims and needs for survival. The Wirrn were hibernating, after all, and Scavenger had no real animosity towards Earth. Spaceport Fear carries on the theme with the Wailers (no, not the reggae group, though that would be an interesting clash of cultures to say the least) – one such creature has been trapped inside the spaceport for centuries, picking off the barely-subsisting human tribesfolk one by one. Something to really terrify your children with, especially when you live in close to full dark.
The light go on when the Doctor arrives, however, albeit only briefly. This is a base under siege story, combined with several knowing nods to The Face of Evil and injokes directed at everything that usually goes wrong on a package airplane holiday. As a result of that last factor the dialogue is nicely done, witty enough to draw out a few laughs between the drama and the actual plot.
Ronald Pickup is the main guest star, and it’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that he, not the Wailers, is really the Big Bad of the story. A duplicitous and manipulative character, he’s played on just the right side of megalomaniacal, alternately strident and soothing. The Doctor’s playful bluster comes off a distinct second best, especially when he gets distracted by a handheld gaming machine and the high score table… Mel, on the other hand, gets a proper share of the problem solving to do, which is another theme common to Gallagher’s scripts.
It should be an excellent, rip-roaring adventure through darkened halls and baggage reclaims, with the spaceport’s failing shield generators providing the sound of the ticking clock, but for me it doesn’t quite get there. The handheld game doesn’t quite hold together as a communications shortcut, and the fact that Duty Free hasn’t already been completely ransacked over the centuries is a little too convenient. The ease with with Elder Bones has managed to divide and conquer the stranded populace, while never once being able to access the control tower itself, also strikes a bit of an off note.
A good story, but not an excellent one.