Big Finish Folly, Part 15e – Alien Heart, by Stephen Cole
In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Nyssa stumble across a trail of ten destroyed worlds, all of them obliterated by means of some utterly monstrous but utterly unknown device. The planet Traxana would seem to be next in line to suffer the same fate. But when the TARDIS lands on an outpost on Traxana’s moon, Nyssa is carried away by a tide of giant green arachnoids, leaving the Doctor behind…
And the coming menace is closer than he thinks.
Now, here’s an oddity. Big Finish have decided to experiment in the Main Range with the same format of stories that they have previously employed with both the Fourth and the Eighth Doctors – hour-long, two-episode stories. This means condensed, faster paced storytelling, sharp set-ups, less room to lay out and get overly indulgent, perhaps. Sometimes, it can be a good thing. Your mileage may vary. Since the Main Range releases are double-disc, four episode releases however, that means we get two stories for the price of one. Hence Alien Heart and Dalek Soul on the same cover picture over there. And hence the thematic echo of the story titles. We’ve had three-episode stories in the Main Range before, and single-episode stories too – but how well do the Legacy Doctors fit into this particular mode of storytelling?
And – the big question, of course – is it any good?
If you’ve not really heard any of the 4DA or 8DA ranges, you’ll be taken aback by the speed with which Alien Heart takes off. We’re into a mystery surrounding the destruction of a whole trail of worlds within the first few minutes, on the trail of weird sticky spiders, and down in the mines of Traxana before you can take a breath, and pitting the Doctor against a pair of officious Earth Empire investigators at full tilt – and the story only picks up pace from there, kept that way by the rushing of the spiders.
As a small-cast story, it’s perfectly fine. But it’s so breathlessly quick that it’s very easy to miss what’s going on. The means by which the spiders are destroying these worlds went over my head as I focused on the story deep within Traxana’s mines. Nyssa’s encounter with the less-than-reliable Theebe seemed to be the focus of the story, with the Doctor’s desperate attempt to rescue her almost peripheral – and then there’s a sudden amplification of a previously-submerged audio cue, and just like that, we’re in a Dalek story. (This is hardly a spoiler – the cover art kind of gives it away, but I wasn’t expecting the Tory Tinpots to turn up until the next disc…)
So a readjustment is required. It’s not an entirely standalone story, this one, to judge by the ending. It has more in common with the 4DA and 8DA two-part stories (I’m thinking in particular of Trail of the White Worm and The Oseidon Adventure here) and some of the recent TV two-parters than you would have first thought. Interesting, if still slightly too rushed for my liking. But yes, both Doctor Who and Big Finish do have to evolve and change to survive, and there’s nothing wrong with experimentation. When your central premise is one of a character who can change their appearance and personality across more than a dozen regenerations, you can’t stay handcuffed to the same formats forever.