Balancing Act

Big Finish Folly, Part 29e – Equilibrium, by Matt Fitton

EquilibriumFollowing the trail of the missing Tardis component, the Doctor and his companions crash through an energy barrier and arrive on the bell-jar mini-world of Isenfell, which is locked into a perpetual winter. While the Doctor struggles to make sense of Isenfell’s obsession with balance, Tegan and Nyssa explore the castle’s icy cellars, and Turlough fends off the advances of a bloodthirsty princess, the end of the world is coming…

Well, I wanted a change of gear – and this is it. Isenfell is a perfectly balanced energy system – perfectly balanced, that is, until the Tardis’s arrival. As ever, everything the Doctor does or says causes things to fall apart around him. he is a natural upsetter of balances, whether for good or for ill, a realisation that causes him a great deal of anguish here. (Worth noting the thematic similarity to Creatures of Beauty in that regard, though in that play he was oblivious to the effect of his presence)

Not only is this play a change of gear from the marsh-bound Mistfall, but it also manages to add twists and change direction again a couple of times before the climax. Of course nothing in Isenfell is exactly as it seems, and it’s up to the Gang of Four to uncover the mysteries on our behalf. Matt Fitton’s script is clever and thoughtful, propelling the characters through their plot arcs at different speeds – Turlough gets the widescreen, windswept vistas, the overview from outside the castle (and a proposal too!); Tegan gets up close and personal with the would-be victims of the Balancer’s rules; the Doctor and Nyssa get the horrible moral conundrums. Fitton plays with our sympathies too – the fugitive villain from Mistfall is dealt with in such a brutal fashion that we have to feel sorry for him, and the peril becomes crystal clear as a result.

The sound of the Balancer’s equipment is superb, as are the Black Wolves. Where Mistfall was tight and claustrophobic, Equilibrium is a paradoxically wide open space, sound bursting all around. At the end of episode three, something else penetrates the energy barrier. The speakers nearly popped.

Annette Badland and Nickolas Grace are pitch-perfect as characters that start as the Doctor’s adversaries but develop into something far more three-dimensional. The entire Gang of Four gets to work their chops in ways that Mistfall didn’t really let them do. If only they’d been able to do this sort of stuff back in the day…

The only downside here is that this is the middle part of the trilogy. Or, as I noted in the last post, parts 5-8 of a 12-part story arc. You can get away with not knowing much about Mistfall, but the climax of Equilibrium certainly does not allow it to stand on its own. I ought to subtract half a star for that, but I enjoyed Equilibrium far too much to do that. Hopefully The Entropy Plague will be able to live up to these high standards…
*****

Buy it here

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