Big Finish Folly, Part 0E – Zaltys, by Matthew J Elliott
In the Vortex, the TARDIS comes under a form of psychic attack – resulting in the abductions of first Adric, then Tegan. Following their trail, the Doctor and Nyssa arrive under the lurid skies of the planet Zaltys, whose entire population has vanished in strange circumstances. Soon, they discover that Zaltys is now the target of treasure seekers, come to scavenge this so-called Planet of the Dead…
Meanwhile, deep below the planet’s surface, Adric learns the earth-shattering reason why the people of Zaltys disappeared… and why they were wise to do so. And Tegan is, quite literally, in the dark – enduring interrogation by the mysterious Clarimonde. Any friend of the Doctor’s is Clarimonde’s enemy… because theirs is a blood feud!
Well, here’s an odd batch of plot devices, characters and situations. We’ve got vampires in spacesuits, fish people (out of water), vulpine psychics, a planet that looks like the music video to Ashes To Ashes, an entire population in hibernation underground, scavengers, and a serious case of UKIP-level xenophobia in one character. Normally, I’d guess that this combination wouldn’t work very easily. And yes, there are definitely some moments where the whole thing doesn’t equal the sum of its parts. But then we’ve also got Rebecca Root, Niamh Cusack, Sean Barrett, and Philip Franks, who between them somehow manage to turn this confection into a glorious, almost camp in some respects, day-glo celebration of Dr Who tropes at the same time as Carol Sloman kicks bigotry firmly in the nuts with her ice-cold portrayal of a horrifically ungrateful protector of her people.
I’ll own up – I was once in an RSC production with Niamh Cusack. I played her character’s young son. This was way back in 1985, probably. But anyway, this means I have a degree of separation to Doctor Who! Naturally I was looking forward to “mom”‘s performance, and the evil Clarimonde doesn’t disappoint. I do remain slightly confused as to whether the Doctor (third incarnation) and Jo Grant have actually met these vampires before, canonically, but I’m happy enough to roll with it for the time being. Tegan’s encounter with Clarimonde makes copious use of ventilation ducts, riffing effortlessly off the Alien films. Meanwhile, down on the planet surface, Rebecca Root’s very salty mercenary Sable does bad-ass banter at will, and Philip Franks’ Gevaudan has some hairy sass.
All of this leads up to a large amount of death. A lot of sacrifices, a lot of revenge. And all to save a planet of xenophobes who really don’t appreciate being saved by aliens and are so ungrateful that they might as well be registered Conservative party members. It’s a brave decision, narrative-wise, and it makes the listener furious on behalf of the characters who have died so that others might live. The Doctor looks upon this cold stupidity with shock, disgust, and resignation. He won’t be helping this bunch again. And I really can’t blame him.