Released February 2015
‘Aquitaine’ is an unassuming title that does nothing to prepare the listener for the fantastic tale it harbours. Even the blurb on the back of the case gives nothing away, setting expectations for a charming story about a robot going about his daily chores on a ship circling a black hole. While this is certainly true, it’s only the very tip of the story, and ‘Aquitaine comes as a genuine surprise.
The titular Aquitaine is the spaceship in question and Hargreaves, the ship’s computer/butler/medic/gardener, is essentially the ship personified. He’s very classically trained, going about his daily tasks to the point of mania even after his entire crew disappears. It’s actually quite sad in a way, and Matthew Cottle does a fantastic job in bringing a dramatic sense of bleakness, determination, and anguish to what could have very easily been a one-note role. In fact, he and Peter Davison carry the heart of the story and play off of each other fantastically as they try to find out what is happening to the ship and its occupants.
As innocently and pleasantly as the story starts out, though, it quickly unfolds into a tale filled with horror, and the two different styles blend together perfectly. When Nyssa is scratched by an innocuous plant, she quickly disappears from the medical centre; the Doctor soon discovers that the black hole is collapsing, thus causing temporal disturbances that are causing the vanishings and Hargreaves’s continual rebooting that causes him to forget all of the progress he and the Doctor have made along the way. What seemed like a seven-day anomaly has actually been going on for some fifty years or so, and the continued temporal disturbances flash Nyssa and Tegan through various points in the ship’s history.
What follows is a story filled with ghosts, incurable plant toxins, mutant monsters, and time travel. Understandably, the four episodes race by as the pieces of the puzzle are slowly unveiled and slotted together. However, the plot itself never feels rushed and every scene and action ends up making perfect sense by the time the end theme plays. The tight script is buoyed even further by some great cliffhangers, particularly part three’s when the Doctor completely sheds his usual calm demeanour and acts with reckless abandonment.
Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton are on top form as Tegan and Nyssa, respectively, each believably reacting to the temporal changes each experiences and the different crew members each meets. This is another highlight of the setup of the story in that each crew member is built up through reputation and dialogue before actually being introduced in person. It’s a clever conceit that exploits the black hole’s effects on the ships and the results are great, sometimes revealing characters in a completely different and unexpected light. Nina Sosanya as Captain Maynard, Harry Myers as Dr Akunin, Gerald Kyd as Lieutenant Savinio, and Danusia Samai as Lieutenant Jennings all provide nuanced performances that breathe extra life into the mystery, even if some of the motivations and actions are a little clichéd and predictable.
‘Aquitaine’ is an incredibly captivating story that unfolds in a non-linear form and continues to surprise with its plot twists and revelations. Considering how low-key the title and description are, this is a fantastic addition to the Fifth Doctor’s lineup, brimming with great science fiction ideas and filled with heart.