Eldrad Must Die! (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 25 April 2013 - Reviewed by Andrew Batty

Eldrad Must Die!
Big Finish Productions
Written by Marc Platt
Directed by Ken Bentley
Released April 2013
The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough to the Cornish coast. But something is very wrong. The local wildlife has been corrupted by a bizarre crystal infection, an infection which seems to be spreading to humans. Soon Turlough is hearing voices, voices which demand that “Eldrad must die!”

Eldrad Must Die! continues Big Finish’s propensity for sequels to TV Doctor Who stories, and specifically the Hinchcliffe years of the programme. Having already mined the most popular stories of the era for sequels, Big Finish is now turning to the lesser regarded tales, and following on from the return of the Kraals from The Android Invasion in last year’s The Oseidon Adventure, it is now Eldrad’s turn to come out of retirement (he was last seen in 1976’s The Hand of Fear).

The script is from Marc Platt, one of Big Finish’s most prolific, and occasionally one of their best writers. Platt has previously done great things with bringing back monsters, most notably in Spare Parts where he explored the origins of the Cybermen in original and unexpected ways.

Platt goes out of his way to find new and interesting ways to use Eldrad and the Kastrians. The clever inversion of the ‘Eldrad must live’ mantra from The Hand of Fear and creation of a rival Kastrian faction are the most obvious examples of this. Even so, there are only so many ways you can bring back such a specific villain, and despite Platt’s efforts the play does retread much of the same ground as The Hand of Fear. We have a modern-day earth setting, discovery of an Eldrad-artifact, possession of a companion, and a similar structure, with the action moving to Kastria for the play’s conclusion.

The play is most successful in Platt’s wise choice to take explore the unique crystalline biology of the Kastrians. The Hand of Fear’s mental possession here becomes physical, with numerous members of the cast infected with Kastrian crystals. This allows for some decidedly creepy imagery, for example the discovery of a dead bird with its wings interlaced with crystals, and later possessed villagers with crystal masks covering their faces. However, despite these strong, chilling moments, the play’s tone is that of a fast run-around, and it could have been stronger if the early episodes had focused on building chills and atmosphere.

As if being a sequel to The Hand of Fear wasn’t enough, the play also draws from elements of Mawdryn Undead. While the mystery of Turlough’s solicitor (which the TV show left dangling and never followed up) is an interesting one it feels out of place and Turlough’s connection to puppet henchman Charlie seems unnecessary and overcomplicates the story. Perhaps Big Finish are sowing the seeds for a fuller exploration of Turlough’s life at Brendon School, but here it just feels superfluous. Where the focus on Turlough does succeed is in his dream sequences, where the rest of the TARDIS crew get to flex their acting muscles as figments of Turlough’s imagination.

With the exception of Stephen Thorne as Eldrad, the supporting characters are all rather generic and forgettable, and this is not helped by a weaker supporting cast than usually. The inclusion of four regulars, and attempting giving them all enough to do, is also a problem, and the Doctor comes off worst. This is the tenth release featuring the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa in a relatively short space of time, and it would be nice to see the Fifth Doctor used in a more varied way.

Eldrad Must Die! is packed with strong ideas but it never quite comes together. The main problem is that The Hand of Fear dealt with Eldrad quite satisfactorily, and the whole concept of a sequel feels unnecessary. While returning foes and sequels may bring in more listeners, Eldrad Must Die! shows that it is important to consider how much there is to say about these aspects of Doctor Who’s past, rather than bringing them back for their own sake.