Departures, sacrifice, and the proper way to say goodbye are all preoccupations of this latest Fifth Doctor set from Big Finish. Recorded pre-pandemic, and only arriving now following the conclusion of the Monthly Adventures range, these three tales (well, two and an outlier), might have you taking stock of things: and, if you’ve been listening to the Doctor Who range for a while, will definitely make you wonder where the time has gone.
Peter Davison’s Doctor, stalwart and stiff-upper-lip as ever despite some truly harrowing experiences, shepherds his diverse team of companions through some of their greatest tests.
Reuniting the Doctor, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Marc (George Watkins) after a long break, we begin with the title story – a spooky, Gothic adventure concerning a place where the line between life and death is thin.
The Lost Resort
Directly after the conclusion of Madquake, The Doctor picks up Nyssa, Tegan and Big Finish original companion Marc with the ominous line “I suppose we should talk.” When we last saw Marc, he was working out exactly how to reconcile his organic and artificial instincts following a partial Cyber-conversion. Narratively speaking, we’re still occupying the space after Adric’s tragic death in Earthshock: Tegan and Nyssa, too, are suffering something of a crisis of faith in the Doctor.
They head towards Gallifrey, but their ultimate destination is Soresia. “Not a wing-backed collar in sight”, the Doctor remarks, realising his mistake. Nonetheless they explore Soresia: a planetoid on which a sanatorium has been set up for the benefit of a few wealthy patrons. It’s a crumbling, mostly empty edifice: but as the Doctor notes, “Edwardian style suits a spot of decay – gives it gravitas.” The vapors on the planet cure long term medical conditions, it seems, while the view across the neighboring lagoon is breathtaking: it’s a perfect spot for the patients to recuperate.
They meet Dr Aether Beauregarde (Anna Barry) and a prim service robot named Fabrico (Julia Sandiford), plus Dr Beauregarde’s helper Sylvie and Sylvie’s robotic son, Thad. All of the inhabitants, it seems, are suffering with loss of some kind: an air of melancholy permeates the darkened rooms.
The sense that the flow of time on Soresia isn’t quite linear soon becomes literal, and the past resurfaces. With some technical intervention from Fabrico, the Doctor enters a trance state, and his dead friend Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) appears to him. Adric’s not a full, flesh-and-blood person but a faded illusion: nonetheless, he insists that he’s the real thing. The Doctor’s outraged anger is impressively realised by Peter Davison – tempering outrage with frantic attempts to convince himself that he’s seeing things. Likewise, Waterhouse remains a remarkable soundalike of his teenage self, helping to sell this uncanny development.
It’s a tangled yarn, as the Doctor tries to work out exactly how and why the dead are lingering on Soresia: and how the environmental properties of the planetoid are key to all of this. Listeners will need to pay keen attention. Some of the residents are on the Doctor’s side, but others – among them the odious Viscount (Glen McReady) – are keen to continue with the status quo and get rid of the newly arrived nuisances.
“Let go of all that haunts you”
Fabrico is one of the stand-out characters, given a spark by Sandiford’s wry performance. Rather than a face, Fabrico’s many physical forms are equipped with mirrored discs to reflect the patient back a themselves: but Marc, being part-machine, senses a keen, hidden intelligence beneath her steel skin. Fabrico’s coolly detached manner is borderline sociopathic, issuing cheerful proclamations even in the face of grim death. Her resentment of her peers is palpable.
The Lost Resort isn’t a perfect story. For one, it’s just not as creepy as it promises early on – despite Rob Harvey’s music and sound design being perfectly pitched. There’s also no convincingly realised central threat: I’m a big fan of Doctor Who stories in which there’s no ‘villain’ as such – no clawed terror, or tyrant pulling the strings, but The Lost Resort suffers slightly from a vacuum.
I also wish there had been more interactions between Tegan, Nyssa and Adric: but understandably, it’s the Doctor’s story, first and foremost. Adric has a beautiful, short scene with the Doctor which many fans of the Fifth Doctor may realise they’ve been waiting for for years. AK Benedict is clearly a true fan: The Lost Resort is really great work. It all leads to a hopeful, beautiful ending, which comforted me as much as it did our beloved characters.
The Perils of Nellie Bly
Next up, we have a tight two-parter without any sci-fi complications involved: as the team meet Nellie Bly (Sydney Feder), reporter for the New York World, on the 68th day of her attempt to beat the record set by Phileas Fogg. Fogg, of course, travelled around the world in eighty days: Bly’s trying to top that and secure fame and fortune.
The setting is the RMS Oceanic (the largest ship in the world, for a time), crossing the Pacific en route to San Francisco. Bly complains that somebody is trying to thwart her progress by manufacturing obstacles for the voyage: the ship’s already been halted, and any further delays could cost Bly the record. The team, inevitably, are drawn into the conspiracy.
Bly’s an interesting character, and Feder (and writer Sarah Ward) captures her attitude perfectly. She’s a spirited, adventurous Katherine Hepburn type, with just a hint of narcissism. Historical figures appearing in Doctor Who often fall into one of just two categories: saintly or comic. So it’s refreshing to have a real person, particularly a female one, who’s depicted as not only brave and capable, but also occasionally unlikeable. Bly is maniacally focused on achieving her (self-imposed) goal, while Tegan pokes fun at her apparent snobbery – set at the turn of century, the theme of economic inequality often pops up in this short story.
Nevertheless, writer Ward clearly has an affection for Nellie’s life and her persistence against the odds in a male-dominated world. We, and the protagonists, learn about Bly’s other famous journalistic endeavour: reporting on poor conditions in a psychiatric hospital, as a patient there. Ward, a crime writer, also brings a welcome comic touch.
“I’m hardly responsible for the Battle of Trafalgar!”
Tegan and Nellie eventually reconcile their differences, and swap clothes on a whim (Nellie’s jealous of Tegan’s shorts), an ill-advised switcheroo which leads to Tegan being kidnapped by those desperately trying to sabotage Bly. From there, it’s a quick ride to the climax, in which The Perils of Nellie Bly morphs into a quasi-cowboy story (ably assisted by the spaghetti western guitar of composer Rob Harvey.) This is a quality addition to the set, adding some much-needed levity and adventure, and one perfectly suited to the two-part format.
Nightmare of the Daleks
Tegan, perhaps still reeling from being traumatised by a kidnapping and the apparition of her dead friend, wishes for a more comfortable, less strenuous adventure. Spoilers: she doesn’t get her wish. Marc collapses onboard the TARDIS, and the team seek help nearby. Landing on a mineral-drilling rig in the 51st century, on the celestial body XB-93, the rest of the team are questioned by Chelmer (Alana Maria).
We learn that the crew there have been suffering a shared hallucination, being transported to a nightmare mirror of the real world in which their base is underwater. There, they’re stalked by steel spectres, and killed – dying in the real world. Chelmer’s aware of the problem, but she’s short-staffed and has targets to meet: it’s not as simple as packing up and flying away. As the Alien series taught us, in space, nobody can hear the exploitation of the proletariat. Chelmer’s a stoic, but with a heart: there’s definitely shades of Ellen Ripley in writer Martyn Waites’ characterisation of her.
Unluckily for Marc, he’s ended up in the dream world, where he meets Jez (as far as I can tell, this isn’t a Peep Show reference). The Doctor and Nyssa enter the sleep pods to investigate, with Tegan watching from the outside. Dream logic allows them to bring items in with them, but also to bend the rules slightly: there’s a clear The Matrix/Inception influence.
It’s a wonderful sci-fi mashup, blending a lot of tried-and-tested tropes with a supernatural spin. Nightmare also isn’t above taking a cheeky joke at itself: Marc, lost in the base, notes, “It’s no good: all these corridors look alike.”
Finally, the Doctor confronts the Daleks (was there ever any doubt?) and is prepared to make a heart-breaking sacrifice to end the cycle of fear and death – but Waites’ story pulls one last trump card. Don’t expect a pat, cut-and-dry conclusion to this one.
“If there’s one universal truth I’ve come to accept over the years, it’s that time heals”
For the standard cast and crew interviews, we’re joined by the core four actors (Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and George Watkins), plus several guest actors including the charming Matthew Waterhouse. There’s such a sweetness between the TARDIS team: I could have listened for much longer.
There are great anecdotes galore Anna Barry relates her long history with Doctor Who (having appeared in the 1972 story Day of the Daleks), while she and Clare Louise Connolly, inspired by The Lost Resort have a very deep and involved conversation about death – it may be one of the deepest behind-the-scenes interviews that Big Finish have ever brought us.
Scott Handcock, producer of this set, relates how he hired script editor Guy Adams, and how Adams brought these particular writers onboard. Among the first time writers are Sarah Ward, who wrote The Perils of Nellie Bly – she talks about how she was recruited based on her prior work. It’s another fascinating look into the Big Finish process.
Following Nightmare of the Daleks, we learn that Samuel Clemens, director of this story, had never worked with Peter Davison beforehand. Noting the slightly darker tone and spareness of humour in the scripts, he worried that the atmosphere might follow Davison into the studio – gladly, that wasn’t the case. Much as the cast of The Lost Resort discussed death, the cast of Nightmare of the Daleks are inspired to share their dreams: it’s a very illuminating chat.
Separate music suites for all of the featured stories are also part of the package – a most sophisticated way to enjoy Rob Harvey’s varied arrangements.
Doctor Who: The Lost Resort and Other Stories was released in September 2021. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 October 2021, and on general sale after this date.
The Lost Resort by AK Benedict
Reunited with his companions, the Doctor’s plans to travel home to Gallifrey are cast aside when the TARDIS materialises on the Soresia: a planetoid with an unusual temporal atmosphere, home to the Welkin Sanatorium; seemingly an ideal place to recuperate. But the patients – like the Sanatorium – are mere shadows of their former selves. Decay has taken hold… yet their secrets remain as strong and healthy as ever.
The Perils of Nellie Bly by Sarah Ward
When the TARDIS crew arrive on the RMS Oceanic, they meet notorious journalist Nellie Bly on the final leg of her voyage to travel the world in less than eighty days. But with a saboteur on board, the Doctor and his friends must race to help Nellie reach her destination – and save her future.
Nightmare of the Daleks by Martyn Waites
Deep within a drilling rig on planet XB93, its crew has been suffering nightmares: dreams of cold, metallic creatures, stalking them through the base, killing them as they sleep. Fortunately for the crew, the Daleks’ own worst nightmare has just arrived – and he goes by the name of the Doctor.
Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Sarah Sutton (Nyssa)
Janet Fielding (Tegan)
George Watkins (Marc)
Ajjaz Awad (Foster)
Anna Barry (Aether Beauregarde)
Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks)
Chandrika Chevli (Sylvie)
Clare Louise Connolly (Thad)
Sydney Feder (Nellie Bly)
Ryan Forde Iosco (Second Mate)
Marion Jones (Carlyss Peer)
Alana Maria (Chelmer)
Glen McCready (Franco / Luchino)
Daniel O’Meara (Growler)
Alibe Parsons (Nora)
Julia Sandiford (Fabrico)
Kayi Ushe (Jez)
Matthew Waterhouse (Adric)
Cover Art by Tom Webster
Director Scott Handcock, Samuel Clemens
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery, Nicholas Briggs
Music by Rob Harvey
Producer Scott Handcock, Alfie Shaw
Script Editor Guy Adams, Scott Handcock
Sound Design by Rob Harvey
Senior Producer David Richardson