Occasionally, the Big Finish Main Range monthly release is a little different. A four-parter of some ilk, perhaps including work from writers new to the range. Or, as in this month’s release, a two-parter. Alien Heart and Dalek Soul.
And I have to say, it’s not a bad idea. It allows a story – two stories, in fact – to be told at a somewhat sharper pace than most of the monthly releases. Less padding, more action. Now, that will only work if the stories in question benefit from that pace – and, to be fair, many wouldn’t. Or at least, many of the main range work well spread over four episodes. But for the two here, I would say that the decisions to keep them to two episodes each were decisions well made.
Although not necessarily well made for the same reasons…
Stephen Cole’s Alien Heart sees the Doctor and Nyssa attempt to take a brief vacation, only to discover that the planet they’re looking for is one of a number that have disappeared. Brought to the planet Traxana, they soon find that the hideous time-bending cell-spiders are actually a front for something even more dreadful…
Dalek Soul from the pen of Guy Adams is a less traditional story. Nyssa and the Doctor are progressing well in their work to develop a genocidal virus and lure the treacherous rebels into a death-trap respectively, and all on behalf of their friends and masters the Daleks. Atypical behaviour for sure – but how long will it take them to realise?
Let’s talk about the second story first. It’s a fairly straightforward conceit: something is wrong, and we the audience observe our heroes realising, and working out what it is. But for all that it’s straightforward, Adams’s adroit writing keeps the mystery of exactly what is happening hidden until the very end of the story. As such, it’s compelling stuff, and even though we know roughly where it’s going, Dalek Souls becomes unputdownable really quite quickly. Certainly an enjoyable way to spend an hour.
I have to say, that was less the case with Alien Heart. For a start, this is fairly well worn territory: the Doctor and companion try to go somewhere, get waylaid, end up somewhere else, get split up, and eventually come together to beat the baddies. However, in this story, it don’t half happen bloody quickly. The opening segment is very nearly: “Oh there you are Nyssa, let’s go to Fintlewoodlewitz like we agreed, oh dear it’s not there, where are we now? Where’ve you gone and what’s that spider?” Seriously, almost that quick. Cole just races through the plot points, and does so through the medium of rampant exposition, almost as if he’s just learnt the writers’ idiom of “tell, don’t show”, and is making full use of it, having not yet realised he’s got it the wrong way round.
And even past that first section, when the pair are split and dealing with their own subplots, the exposition doesn’t end. Sure, it furnishes the audience with information that would take longer to convey in audio; but hell, that’s half the fun. And if that level of exposition makes the characters sound like they’re at best just venting their inner monologue repeatedly, then it’s not long before it starts to grate. The story has to be really original and compelling for the writing to get away with that; and sadly, this one isn’t.
The cast, main and supporting, are of course great across both plays, and the sound design is, as ever, so good that it’s unnoticeable (and I mean that as a compliment). Similarly, the music evokes early-Eighties Who beautifully. So much works, so well. But for me, it’ll be hard to get past Alien Heart. Let’s not forget that Stephen Cole has written some fantastic stuff for Big Finish in the past: Land of the Dead; The Wormery; The Whispering Forest. Really great plays, all. Looking forward to the next one from him.
Alien Heart/Dalek Soul is available from Big Finish
Written By: Stephen Cole, Guy Adams
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Eve Webster (Sonderal), Geoffrey Newland (Elthar), Alex Tregear (Theebe), Vineeta Rishi (Falex), and Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks)
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Alan Barnes
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs