Big Finish Folly, Part 29d – Mistfall, by Andrew Smith
As a result of a rogue program that Adric left running before his death, the Tardis falls through a Charged Vacuum Emboitment into E-Space – and lands on Alzarius once more. Worried that Mistfall might occur whilst they are stranded here, the Doctor realises that a survey and exploration team is also on Alzarius, and that they are running experiments on the native Marshmen. But somebody is sabotaging the expedition – and the Marshmen are awakening…
It’s the first part of this latest Fifth Doctor trilogy, set hard on the heels of Prisoners of Fate and all the revelations therein. There are classic series references all over the place, not least because of the fact that we’re back in E-Space. The ghost of Adric looks to loom large over this trilogy, and it’s his fault that the Doctor has been drawn here.
If you’re unfamiliar with the TV story Full Circle – and I haven’t seen it for donkey’s years, so I needed the reminder too – it was Adric’s introduction story, with the crew of the Terradon Starliner revealed to be evolved native Alzarians. It was Andrew Smith’s debut too, so it’s fitting that he launches this return to E-Space with a return to Alzarius.
He takes the time to expand on the relationship between the Marshmen and their world, something that was hinted at more than made explicit in the TV episodes, and once again we’ve got conflict between the colonists and the Outlers, but that particular conflict is only a cover for the play’s real antagonist. There’s a theme of realpolitik instead, the hard choices a leader must make for the common good versus the victims of those choices. The Doctor and the rest of the Gang of Four (a tag I’ll happily appropriate and use again!) get caught up in this despite the Doctor’s desire to just leave as quickly as possible.
Despite the continuity references and E-nostalgia, however, this isn’t the easiest play to love. I think it comes down to having to achieve certain things, to set up the following plays – the script has to fit itself to certain notes, and the plot does feel somewhat pulled along as a result. The additional cast is quite small – and reduced even further quite quickly too – but both that and the restrictions on the plot are cleverly hidden by the pace and the back story of Solus and his accomplice that provide the impetus of the story.
The characterisations of the main Gang of Four are limited too. Okay, perhaps more muted than limited. The script doesn’t give Nyssa a tremendous amount to do other than explain CVEs to Tegan and tell us that she’ll never see her children again; Tegan does some shouting; Turlough goes swimming and hates spiders. The Doctor ushers them through to the end, herding them a bit like cats.
Again, there’s a definite aim with this story, and that’s to set up the next one. As the original E-Space trilogy hung loosely together, so this one is more tightly bound up. It’s almost four parts of twelve – don’t expect to be able to listen to Equilibrium or The Entropy Plague without knowing what comes first. In some ways I mourn the lack of easy standalone stories, in others it does make sense to spread this Gang of Four across a whole trilogy, to give their characters some more room to breathe.