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Saturday, 10 November 2012 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

Voyage to Venus
Big Finish Productions
Written by Jonathan Morris
Released October 2012
This review is based on the MP3 download from Big Finish, and contains spoilers.

For me, a spin-off series for Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot was always going to be a winner, such is the strength of character from their first appearances in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. In many ways it is a shame that they didn't get their own television series back then, but this has been more than made up for with their continuing adventures from Big Finish. Now, after some seventeen adventures, it's finally time for the intrepid duo to have their first visit off-world, and here they are off to see the sights with the Sixth Doctor (encountered last season) in this special release, Voyage to Venus.

THE PLOT

No prizes for guessing where the Victorian investigators end up, of course, though this is not the Venus that they or the Doctor expected to see. This is a planet some several hundred years earlier than a previous visit by Doctor with Jamie and Victoria (not that one, Jago!), and things are very different than he recalls as first they are captured by green-furred Venusians and then find themselves considered as animals and carted off to a menagerie!

In the early set-up we discover that these Venusians are a female-dominated society, they are ruled by Grand Empress Vulpina, and are served by the more primitive Thraskins. This is a Venus many years in the future, and though early on Jago thinks to claim the planet for the Empire it turns out the Earth they knew is a long-dead, barren place. As the story progresses, their society becomes more defined, living in large floating cities over a land that until recently was barren but had suddenly come to violent life with lush jungles and creatures such as thraskins and also herds of shanghorn - one of which apparently killed the chief scientist and was being hunted when the trio were encountered.

Intrigue ensues, as Litefoot and the Doctor uncover how the scientist was really killed, who is to blame, and how it all points to the "Forbidden Cave". Meanwhile, Jago becomes Vulpina's entertainer, learns more about the status of Venusian males than he really wants to know(!), but is also in the position to be able to warn the others of their impending capture once Vulpina decides they know too much - and there's no prize for guessing where we head to next!

Revelations continue during the latter half of the story as we discover that the dominant species from Venus and Earth have more in common than they realise, and that the original, unknown ancient race of Venusians (Sitherians) are not quite extinct after all ... and as Vulpina tries to erradicate all knowledge and witnesses to this, an all out war between the old and new inhabitants looms ...

OBSERVATIONS

Venus hasn't featured directly in the television series (unless you count its status as a marker buoy in Enlightenment), but two of the third Doctor's traits hail from the planet, his penchant for their martial arts and lullabies. Unsurprisingly, both get name-checked in this adventure. The Doctor discusses learning martial arts during his previous visit early on, but the latter aspect of his third persona turns out to be a key factor in the resolution of the story, with the rampaging hordes of slanghorns brought to bear by a cheery rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Jago! As scientist-cum-musician Felina embraces the tune in their new appreciation of the art (Venusians had no concept of music before), you can quite quickly leap to where this is headed a few hundred years later!

Back in Jago and Litefoot's time of the 19th Century, it was still thought that Venus might have been a lush planet underneath those rolling clouds, so the duo would not have been surprised at the jungle they found outside the TARDIS on their journey ... though a little further afield than Borneo! I must admit I wasn't so enamoured of Venusians themselves in the story, however - this isn't so much a reflection on the actresses playing the Venusians (or the solitary male Sitherian), just that I think I wanted to hear more of the main three actors! One problem might have been how a 'race of women' is a quite familiar pulp-sci-fi concept (not to mention the attention to Galaxy 4 of late), and the ideas of an ancient race that put itself into suspension until a time it can return is also reminiscent of the "Earth Reptiles versus Man" theme that is another Pertweeism. So, with these 'same-o' ideas, ahem, 'floating' about I found my attention wandering a bit with those plot devices. Also, Vulpina's motivation is a little unclear, too - it seemed quite obvious that the ancient intelligence Vepaja was way too powerful to be stopped from continuing his reclaimation simply by making the cave 'forbidden', or later - in another action reminiscent of the Pertwee era - removing a problem by blowing it up!

On the other hand, Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter excel as always; maintaining a convincing contemporary world view can be tricky, and writer Jonathan Morris does a good job of engaging their Victorian counterparts with the usual vigour, practical thought and ethics! Litefoot gets to show off his forensic credentials (though why wouldn't Venusians have such skills?), but the alliterative Jago steals the show with the best lines - even to the point where Vulpina comments: "you have the most extraordinarily expansive speech patterns!"

Colin Baker continues to endow his Doctor with both a sense of force and fun, and the mellower, post-Season 22 depiction that he has portrayed in his Big Finish adventures still fares well. Though not exactly in the background, the Doctor is perhaps a little less prominent in this story, but then I feel it is a Jago and Litefoot tale with the Doctor rather than the other way around, so in that case this would be expected. Nevertheless he does play the important role of filling in the details of the past, present and future that the other characters would otherwise be ignorant of (like the slanghorns' vegetarian nature, or surprise at the Thraskins being "willing" servants at this stage of their history).

The emphasis in the plot of the lemur-like race meant that it wasn't such a surprise that they turned out to be the 'real' Venusians after all, long-since forgotten. The idea of a racial bank being reactivated to repopulate a planet is another old tried-and-trusted staple, though to rebuild the planet's ecosystem in six years does seem a tad quick! (that's three re-s in one sentence, makes me ...) I mentioned parallels with the 'Silurians' earlier, but there are other comparisons between Earth and Venus made during the story. Both they and the Sitherians had to 'abandon' their way of life due to a disaster, later to be re-awoken by the outside influence by the new planet 'owners'. Humans turned the Earth into a lifeless barren world after excessive exploitation, and Vepaja explains that Venus had suffered a similar fate in the distant past, which led them to build their repository. And at the end of the story the Doctor's observation the two Venusian claimants living together in harmony in the future is something that was a cautiously optimistic outcome in Cold Blood.

CONCLUSION

All-in-all, the story has nothing too complex to tax the brain, and the familiarity of plot elements mean that there are no sudden revelations to blow the listener away. This isn't a bad thing, however - the adventure is a bit of light-hearted fun, with sparkling dialogue for the main characters - which was what I was listening for, anyway!

The story ends on a cliffhanger, which leads neatly into the next special to feature the three compatriots, next month's Voyage to the New World.







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