Chase the Night

Posted in Audio by - January 29, 2020
Chase the Night

Released January 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following a distress signal through the vortex to a planet orbiting a massive star with life signs only present on one side of it, the TARDIS soon lands in a tropical rainforest at night as the ninth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures continues with Jonathan Morris’s ‘Chase the Night.’ When the Doctor, Romana, Adric, and K9 discover a set of rails coursing through the undergrowth and a spaceship converted to travel along them, however, the true danger of this world quickly becomes apparent.

With Christopher H Bidmead as script editor, season eighteen of Doctor Who on television often delved into headier science fiction concepts, and the brilliantly simple conceit of a world where life can only exist in the darkness or else be burned to ash in the blazing sunlight certainly fits in well not only with that era but with ongoing theoretical talks about how human colonization on other planets may have to adapt to survive. This, of course, allows for an intriguing discussion about how plant life can subsist here with parallels drawn to certain life cycles on Earth, but this theory becomes all too real for the travelers who quickly discover the remains and descendants of a crashed human expedition from so long ago who have continued to press their ship to its limits to stay in advance of the ever-approaching dawn.

Perhaps wisely, however, ‘Chase the Night’ does not focus unduly on its strikingly visual and hostile setting and instead simply uses it as a vehicle by which to bring forth incredible human drama that expertly highlights the heightened sense of determination and despair as the ship’s engine begins to fail. At a time when the crew has threatened mutiny, Jane Asher’s Pilot Dena unequivocally becomes the standout star of this serial, her imposed martial law perfectly setting the scene for the more desperate actions she comes to take as hope continues to become a decreasing commodity. Naturally, her actions become more misguided as the situation becomes more desperate, and she totally disregards consequences that would be unfathomable in other circumstances, a telling revelation being that her one concession to those expressing concerns about her willingness to leave those who disagree with her on the tracks to await the burning light is to sedate them first. Her progression to insanity is a difficult one to listen to, but this layered journey of single-minded determination gone wrong is amply supported by the setting’s inherent tension and allows Dena to become anything but simply another generic villain.

It’s perhaps inevitable that the surprising truth about the life on this planet somewhat fails to live up to the very human emotions that an impending death brings out, but it certainly provides a fitting subversion of expectations that offers a glimmer of hope when all seems lost as the Doctor appears unwilling to use his TARDIS as an escape craft even before the burning light is seen to reach its outer walls. The pacing in these revelatory sections is significantly slower than the race against nature, but the gestalt presence that has finally made itself known now that all hope seems to be lost for the humans is suitably engaging and offers another outlook on life that certainly carries many benefits even if it is so very disparate to human existence and the strengths and frailties that accompany it.

As is typical with the vast majority of Big Finish releases, the direction and the performances from the leads and supporting cast alike are uniformly excellent and perfectly bring to life the many complementary and conflicting thought processes, hopes, and fears that would naturally go through a group of people in such a situation. The two-hour format truly allows the characters to breathe and develop in a much more measured and nuanced fashion, and Lalla Ward in particular excels as Romana is thrust into the spotlight on a tough but personally enriching journey that wonderfully foreshadows her coming momentous decision in “Warrior’s Gate.” With a more robust soundscape than the preceding release and a slightly tighter narrative that overcomes what at times is a slightly blunt discussion of morality and an ending that is established in history but still somewhat underwhelming, “Chase the Night” is a thrilling adventure that is sure to appease fans that have been waiting for this leading ensemble to reunite once more and that certainly sets the bar high for the two stories to follow next month.

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