Talking Regeneration Blues

At last – the last chronological play was way back in April last year! – we move on to the Seventh Doctor’s reign. While Peter Davison plays a straight bat of quiet desperation, and Colin Baker’s Ol’ Sixey has an oeuvre as colourful as his coat, Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor strikes me as an organiser; someone who moves the plot around himself to suit his own agenda. Things are going to get dark in this run; we may be glad of the (more frequent, because there are two Doctors to fit in now) breaks in the schedule to let some light in.

Big Finish Folly, Part 131 – Unregenerate, by David A McIntee

Unregenerate!In a run-down asylum, screams echo in the halls as mysterious creatures roam, terrorizing the staff. Patients complain of betrayal rather than illness, and no-one is quite what they seem. Mel knows that the Doctor is the best person to find the answers – but she is stranded on Earth, and the TARDIS has returned without him…

Why does a medical facility need to be under armed guard? What procedures are the staff carrying out, and to what purpose? What is the price that must be paid for making an agreement with those who run the asylum? As the answers begin to be uncovered, the Doctor finds that the past may yet come back to haunt him…

My take on Big Finish chronology puts this play at the start of the Seventh Doctor’s reign. Start as you mean to go on – this one is dark, warped, manipulative, and filled with secretive shenanigans. Just the sort of thing that McCoy’s Doctor ends up involved with later in this incarnation. It makes a certain amount of perverse sense to begin steering him in that direction right from the get-go. And Unregenerate is definitely dark, with the Doctor seemingly insane after falling foul of Klyst and Rigan and their bizarre Institute. While Mel gets to do pro-active stuff like breaking & entering, with a street-tough cabbie in tow, Sylvester McCoy ranges up and down the spectrum of incomprehensibility.

For the first couple of episodes, it’s all a bit too piecemeal for me. We’ve been dropped in media res, having to discover the plot along with Mel and fellow Institute guest Johannes Rausch. It’s clear early on that aliens are meddling with Earthly affairs (when are they not?), but before half-time it’s touch and go whether those aliens will turn out to be anything to do with the dreaded Forge arc. Fortunately they aren’t – if anything they’re even worse than that bunch (in a good way). There’s a Frankensteinian plot that requires human bodies to house very alien minds, and the Doctor has accidentally got in the way of this morally dubious scheme.

The morals are as murky as the soundscape. I had trouble through much of this – echoes, mutterings and YELPS! and multi-layered alien voices caused me to miss parts of the dialogue first time around and I felt as lost as Johannes Rausch. Not the easiest narrative to follow, though not because it was especially complicated. What did stand out however – aside from Mel’s much more dynamic role so far in the audios as compared to her TV character – is the change in the Doctor’s moral tone. Yes, he’s always been the man to wade in and put things right (even if, in the Fifth Doctor’s case, he’s caused the problem in the first place…) but here the Doctor is looking down and passing judgement on his technical peers. Here’s the seeds of Time’s Champion that the Doctor was destined to become in the Virgin New Adventures novels.

It’s interesting and quite different to what’s been going on with the previous two Doctors, but it’s also a little too unfocused and gun-happy for my liking. I reckon a quieter conspiracy would have been far more effective than attempting to pitch Jacob’s Ladder against Aliens…

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