Big Finish Folly, Part 143 – Earth Aid, by Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch
Welcome aboard the space vessel Vancouver. Its mission: to guard a vast shipment of grain from Earth to the planet Safenesthome.
Its Captain is called Ace. She seems a little unsure of herself. In fact, some might almost think she was new to the job…
Its medical officer is called simply ‘The Doctor’, and he’s perhaps not all he seems either.
When mysterious ships target the Vancouver, Ace and the Doctor are pushed to the limit. Meanwhile, there’s something nasty in the grain containers. And it’s not very happy…
Well, it’s true what they say about saving the best for last, and this is something of a textbook case. This final piece of the Lost Stories arc leaves Earth behind and barrels out into space with Ace captaining a rescue escort and the Doctor doing his very best McCoy in the sick bay. When the grain shipment to Safenesthome is threatened, and the crew of the grain ship mysteriously disappears, it’s up to the Doctor to work out what’s going on – while Ace must role-play as a starship captain until the very end.
The real problem with these Lost Stories, it turns out, is that they try to make things too complicated. The supposed arc of the TV series that never happened was going to make the Doctor darker and more manipulative. If that meant plots within plots, reveals, counter-reveals and all such shenanigans, the Doctor five moves ahead of himself and at least three in front of the audience, then I think it would have been a very frustrating experience. As far as straight-ahead storytelling goes, at least Animal and Earth Aid come out ahead on points.
Earth Aid also scores with a much slicker script. Freed of Earthly constraints, and given Ben Aaronovitch’s input, the dialogue pokes constant fun at Star Trek and doesn’t feel choppy or stilted. Somehow the story keeps both Ace and the Doctor in the middle of the action despite the fact that they’re (mostly) separated and Ace is on duty on the Vancouver. Even the Metatraxi aren’t too irritating in that respect.
There’s still a couple of downsides. Raine hasn’t settled in for me – a bit too arch, a bit too detached? I find it hard to care much about her arc, and here she’s a small plot device as well as someone to react to the Doctor’s crypticisms (that wasn’t a real word until right now). The over-clever counter-plotting is cut back so that it doesn’t overwhelm the plot, but it still removes much of the suspense that’s been built up over the course of the story. If you need to resolve a knot by introducing a planetary intelligence/goddess where none has previously been indicated (a deus ex mundi, perhaps?) then you may need a slightly different resolution.
Out of the four Lost Stories, I’d recommend this one if you want to test out the mini-range. The humour and drama are generally well-balanced and it’s definitely not a chore to listen to – something that you can’t say about Crime of the Century, for instance.