As we approach the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who, revisit the story of Doctor Who, the occasional series written for the 50th Anniversary, explaining the origins of the programme.

Episode 31 - An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV Legend: First published 23 Nov 2013

Tomb ShipBookmark and Share

Monday, 28 July 2014 - Reviewed by Richard Watts

Tomb Ship
Released by Big Finish
Written by Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby
Directed by Ken Bentley
Released: May 2014

The second of this year’s audio adventures featuring the fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and Nyssa of Traken (Sarah Sutton) sees the time travelling duo arrive on board a giant floating tomb: the final resting place of the God-King of the Arrit, an ancient civilisation who might one day have rivalled the Time Lords, had they not become extinct.

There’s little about the Arrit, as they’re portrayed by writers Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby (The Doomsday Quatrain, 1001 Nights) that suggests ancient and powerful intelligences – one of many flaws of this frankly rather flimsy tale. Save for the ultimate plan of their God-King, the Arrit come across as rather generic aliens, as does their giant floating tomb-ship, a musty labyrinth littered with occasional corpses and fiendish traps straight out of the ‘deadly room of death’ trope satirised so memorably in Galaxy Quest.

With the TARDIS crew pitted against the Arrit’s insectoid slaves, the Arrit-Ko, and only other adversary save for the tomb itself being a party of tomb raiders led by the mercenary Virna (Eve Karpf), there’s an awful lot of running around corridors in Tomb Ship and very little in the way of narrative tension, though thankfully the drama increases in the final chapter, as various plot threads combine.

Tension should arise out of the conflict between the Doctor and his antagonists, but neither Virna nor her hapless sons – Hisko (James Hayward), Heff (Jonathan Forbes), Murs (Ben Porter) and Rek (Phil Mulryne) – have much in the way of personality, rendering their interactions with the Doctor quite forgettable. The monomaniacal Virna is gratingly one-dimensional, and her children aren’t so much well rounded characters as a predictable collection of types: there’s the stupid one, the violent one, the slightly suspicious one – and of course the short lived one whose sole purpose is to show us how the traps work.

Also present on the tomb-ship is the mysterious Jhanni (Amy Ewbank), whose real identity will be easily guessed by listeners, while the sudden appearance of another character from an earlier Big Finish release late in the piece is forced in the extreme, straining willing suspension of disbelief almost to breaking point.

Performances, thankfully, are strong, though Davison sounds a little bored; the rest of the cast do their best with their underdeveloped characters. For once, Sutton does not have to play a possessed Nyssa. The sound design is excellent, one of the few highlights of this underwritten, unimaginative story.

Some of Big Finish’s audio adventures are true classics, easily comparable to such outstanding television stories as Kinda and The Caves of Androzani. Sadly, the company’s 2014 releases for the fifth Doctor to date are more akin to Time Flight and Warriors of the Deep – evocative of the period, perhaps, but hardly worth revisiting.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Fifth Doctor - 1781783128