Released April 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
It’s been quite some time since Big Finish’s Monthly Range has toyed with its format and offered stories of any length other than the traditional four parts. For three consecutive release, though, Big Finish is offering two two-part adventures, one pair featuring each of its stalwart Doctors. The two-part story has been used successfully in The Companion Chronicles, The Fourth Doctor Adventures, and The Eighth Doctor Adventures ranges, but Stephen Cole’s ‘Alien Heart’ and Guy Adams’s ‘Dalek Soul’ mark the first two-part entries in Big Finish’s longest-running range. The use of the Fifth Doctor to introduce this string of releases is particularly shrewd as well, as Peter Davison’s tenure featured the final three two-part stories of thirty minute episodes, stories that were by no means classic but that highlighted just how strong and versatile Davison was in the role. With Big Finish effortlessly transitioning from its trilogy with the boisterous introductory era of Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric to the more earnest era that never reached television featuring just Nyssa alongside the Doctor, this first pair of stories again spectacularly highlights Davison amidst events of surprising scope.
In ‘Alien Heart,’ the Doctor and Nyssa discover a trail of ten planets utterly destroyed by some unknown force. With Traxana seemingly the next planet in line, the Doctor and Nyssa soon find themselves separated as they land on an outpost on Traxana’s moon and try to determine cause of this spatial mystery. Understandably, the split storylines that result and the shorter episode count make for a very quick pace, but writer Cole is still able to thoroughly flesh out his small cast of characters’ thoughts and motivations while breezing through the dangers and complexities that the presence of both human colonists and strange green spiders bring and calling into question the concept of humanity itself as time goes awry. Wonderfully, the script never loses focus of its individuals even as the consequences become increasingly more grandiose, lending a strong sense of intimacy to the intrinsic drama on hand. Yet with Nyssa herself fighting to stop an act of mass destruction, ‘Alien Heart’ truly spotlights the moral righteousness and indignation of the normally calm Fifth Doctor with a passion and fury that is rarely seen.
Even though this is not a classic four-part release, the two stories certainly share quite a bit in a common and form a sort of splintered whole when listened to together. ‘Dalek Soul’ is much darker and grimmer in tone than its counterpart, finding a rebel force futilely fighting back against the Daleks who occupy their world of Mojox. As the rebels turn to their mysterious new ally in the form of the Doctor for help, the Daleks turn to their Chief Virologist, Nyssa, to develop a biological weapon to destroy the Mojoxalli once and for all. It’s safe to say that those with knowledge of the various manoeuvres the Daleks have employed before may well be able to piece together what is happening before all is revealed, but the slow trickle of information provided through security footage expertly keeps the intrigue high until the very end. There have been a few occasions previously when Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton have been asked to play darker iterations of their mild-mannered characters, and they once more prove adept at showing how thin the line between good and evil can be. ‘Dalek Soul’ is certainly one of the bleaker Big Finish Doctor Who releases in some time, highlighted by a shocking cliffhanger, but the tension and plotting are superb and will assuredly engage long-term and newer fans alike.
Time will tell if the two-part format becomes more frequent within this range going forward since that shorter running time runs the risks of sacrificing character development and rushing through plot developments. Nonetheless, ‘Alien Heart’ and ‘Dalek Soul’ form a strong showcase of what the format can allow at its best, creating a unique double bill filled with layered plots and characters and making the most of lesser-seen talents of both Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton.