Big Finish - The Entropy PlagueBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 22 April 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock

Written by Jonathan Morris
Directed by Ken Bentley
Starring Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding, and Mark Strickson, with Robert Duncan and Catherine Skinner

Sometimes, Doctor Who is slightly dark. Sometimes that darkness is offset by black humour. Other times it's not, and it's just plain bleak. This is one of those times.

 

The Entropy Plague wraps up both Big Finish's new E-Space Trilogy, and the story of the older Nyssa. Rather than picking straight up from Equilibrium's cliffhanger, it does something different. It opens with the Doctor sombrely visiting Nyssa's son Adric to deliver some bad news, and the story unfolds in flashback, with all four members of the TARDIS crew 'narrating' in turn. We know right from the off that something has gone terribly wrong, and that Nyssa isn't coming back.

 

The TARDIS crew, in pursuit of the kidnapped Tegan, arrives on Apollyon, a world that knows it is dying, a world with no power, wracked with entropy - patrolled by steam-powered robots and menaced by horrifying 'Sandmen'.

Here, fruit rots within minutes, and desperate citizens offer themselves up as 'tributes' to amoral scientist Pallister (Robert Duncan) in an attempt to get off-world. Pallister guards a portal - a way out of the CVE and back into N-Space, but it's powered by human life-force. The tributes are quite literally sacrifices, procured for Pallister by a group of space pirates led by one Captain Branarack.

 

The pirates are quite cartoonish, with their broad West Country accents and constant leering they just don't quite sit right with the rest of the story - which is so bleak that they don't even provide any form of light relief. The sneaky Pallister, on the other hand, is excellently played by Duncan. There's not a lot to him as a villain apart from standard-issue amorality and self-preservation, but Duncan runs with it and makes him compelling. Catherine Skinner also does well as the plucky Cherryanne.

 

The episodic flashback format is unusual, but works pretty well. Ken Bentley does a fine job of directing as always, and the sound design is superb with its hissing Sandmen and steam-driven Sentinels.

Writer Jonathan Morris really excels on two fronts. The first is a fine bit of world-building - vividly binding together not only themes from the rest of the trilogy but nods to Warriors Gate, The Keeper of Traken, and Logopolis, with a soupcon of the mexican day of the dead thrown in against a backdrop of dying stars. The second is in some fine material for both the Doctor and Nyssa, with the former starting off on rattling form - charming and cunning, until he realises how hopeless their situation is, and attempts to sacrifice himself by staying behind in E-Space. Peter Davison makes this all sound effortless, his Doctor is lining himself up here to do basically the same as his much older self will one day volunteer for on Trenzalore, he sells it well with a tiny hint of regret, and a sense of responsibility for dragging everyone into this.

Meanwhile, Sarah Sutton quietly steals the show - as wise, gentle Nyssa calmly and gracefully steps into the breach to save E-Space, at the expense of her freedom, leaving her friends and family bereft. This looks to be her final bow, her final speech is beautifully written and tear-jerking. Although it ends with a slight note of hope, this looks like more of a full stop than a comma. Nyssa has had more character development on audio than she ever did on TV, and her character has really grown.

Tegan and Turlough slightly fall by the wayside for parts of the story due to various collapses and captures, but have valuable contributions to make, with Tegan the angry voice of humanity and reason, while Turlough's trademark selfish nature twists well into upset frustration when his friends try to sacrifice themselves. It's a nice added dimension to his character, and it really adds to the story. 

Knowing Big Finish, this might not necessarily be goodbye for Nyssa, but if it is, it's a beautiful, sad send-off for an underrated companion - one of the Doctor's best friends. The Entropy Plague isn't always an easy ride, but goodbyes aren't always easy.