On board the Aquitaine life follows a familiar pattern for Hargreaves, the computer consciousness that runs the ship and most of its android staff. Water the plants, run the diagnostics, cook the Captain’s breakfast; then tidy the plates away, rotate the ship, clean the windows of the observation deck. When at last the day’s work is done, Hargreaves will dim the lights in the sleeping quarters. But no one will eat the meals. Or comment on the strange fauna growing in the halls. And tonight, like every other night, no one will sleep on the Aquitaine. The only greater mystery on this strange ship is why poor Hargreaves’s todo list keeps getting longer no matter how hard he works.
This is a belter. It’s one of the best Big Finish stories I’ve listened to (and I’ve had the good fortune to listen to a lot), and boy, is it a complex beast. While the initial setup of this 5th Doctor/Tegan/Nyssa tale gave me flashes of the ‘Red Dwarf’ episode Kryton (due to the lonely mechanoid doomed to clean) this quickly become a far more complex four dimensional mystery. Even the initially quaint, metal butler Hargreaves is a lot more complex and confusing than you’d ever first give him credit.
From the first ghostly scream to the explosive ending there is a lot going on. And for once repetition and being overly familiar is a good thing in a story. My only frustration is like most good stories saying much about it would ruin much about it.
Davison is on fine form and plays well against with the Butler-like Hargreaves. Fielding is, as always, a force of nature (with nature fighting back for once), and Sutton gets to be both damsel in distress and her own rescuer. Matthew Cottle handles the difficult job of multiple versions of Hargreaves (he’s got multiple bodies) interacting with multiple characters at the same time, and Ken Bently’s direction ensure that this never feels muddled or confusing (which it could quite easily have become). Harry Myers’s manages a fun Russian accent and provides an engaging take on the complex character of Dr Akunin, making him sympathetic and horrifying all at the same time.
Time is the other star of this story. It’s always great, for a time travelling show to have the story play with time, and this clever plot has a number of lovely early setups that take the entire tale to fully play out: it’s not often you see that sort of patience in the setup and delivery.