Released December 2016
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THOSE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE 1996 MISSING ADVENTURES NOVEL
‘Cold Fusion’ was a significant release in the days of the Virgin novelizations, the first multi-Doctor story in its catalogue and the first time that the Fifth and Seventh incarnations officially featured together in any form. It also firmly cemented Lance Parkin as one of the premier Doctor Who writers after his strong debut with ‘Just War,’ and here he proves unafraid to delve deep into the expanded mythology of the Doctor and Gallifrey to once more offer a completely enthralling and satisfying tale that has made the transfer to the audio medium spectacularly.
Landing on a desolate world of ice that is precariously close to war as rebels target the ruling elite, the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric quickly find themselves entwined in an ever-deepening mystery that could threaten the entire universe. With the Seventh Doctor also present as he conducts investigations into the Earth Empire’s dangerous energy experiments, the story and its need to focus on no less than seven leads certainly had the potential to fall apart under its own weight and ambition. However, by positioning the Seventh Doctor into his usual The New Adventures role where he stays more in the shadows except for key moments, ‘Cold Fusion’ is able to bring the newly-regenerated Fifth Doctor to the forefront while giving two very distinct TARDIS teams the chance to shake up the norm.
Perhaps controversially but ultimately for the best, the two versions of the Doctors spend minimal time together, but their limited interactions are much more filling than the typical jesting and squabbling that dominated previous multi-Doctor tales prior to the novel’s release. Even though this aspect has been downplayed somewhat in the audio version, the two versions don’t necessarily like each other, the Seventh hardly looking back fondly on the Fifth and the Fifth struggling to maintain his gentlemanly demeanour towards the Seventh. This brings the contrast between the two incarnations into sharper focus than ever before as they act with and against each other, especially regarding the darker and more scheming Seventh Doctor that came to feature in The New Adventures. Here he remembers the events from his earlier self’s perspective and proves unafraid to use even his own predecessor as a pawn in his grand plan, creating a fantastic variation on multi-Doctor stories in the process and even- perhaps unintentionally- having Roz knock out the Fifth Doctor to avoid his own wrath.
Parkin chooses to make the newly-regenerated Fifth Doctor the focal point, making this incarnation who had most of his sense of mystery taken away by his televised stories the source of one of the deepest mysteries of all. The novels greatly expanded upon the known history of Gallifrey, and it is a difficult task to transfer an isolated story from that time to audio without all of the surrounding context. Parkin likely made the wise choice in simply presenting the facts superficially in passing rather than trying to insert substantial sections dealing with Looms and Pythia’s curse that allows no natural-born children upon Gallifrey. Once the Fifth Doctor comes upon an emaciated figure who quickly regenerates without maintaining her memory, a moment of psychic contact results in a fascinating trip into the woman he dubs Patience’s past, a past that leads her to recognize the Doctor as her husband.
Although it must have been difficult to pull off on audio, the ambiguity between which memories are Patience’s and which are the Doctor’s following psychic contact still holds true, allowing the mystery of both to be maintained while lightly treading upon the more mysterious aspects of Gallifrey’s past that the novels touched upon more extensively. ‘Cold Fusion’ suggests that Patience and her husband, an Ancient Gallifreyan of great power and repute whose name time has forgotten, had thirteen children. The audio script again shies away from some of the novels’ deeper implications of the Other alongside Rassilon and Omega in the formative period of Gallifrey’s past, but the pieces of information provided still intimate that there is another layer to the Doctor’s past without expressly confirming anything and also begin to explain the presence of Susan as the Doctor’s granddaughter so long ago.
The nefarious Ferutu also can’t feature quite as much in the audio version due to time, but they still prove to be another fascinating presence as well. Coming from an alternate timeline where Gallifrey was destroyed, the Ferutu took up the Gallifreyan mantle of being the defenders of time. Intriguingly, rather than being content to observe, they actively modified their universe to fit their vision, creating a universe quite to the Seventh Doctor’s liking in the process. Threatening to destroy the Doctor’s universe as well with the advent of the primitive TARDIS that causes time ruptures in its wake, the combined efforts of the Fifth Doctor, Seventh Doctor, and Patience are all needed to avert disaster as past and future quite literally collide on several levels.
Aside from the occasional remark such as that about the Fifth Doctor’s hair length of older voice, there is surprisingly little fan service in ‘Cold Fusion.’ Instead, Parkin focuses on the story at hand and is able to give all of his leads meaningful work as a fascinating mystery involving Gallifrey, the Doctor, and an alternate universe unfolds. The Seventh Doctor’s scenes with Adric are particularly poignant given his knowledge of Adric’s ultimate fate, but all of the companions are given plenty of opportunity to shine in surprising combinations. ‘Cold Fusion’ does not follow the trends of previous multi-Doctor story, but that only serves to make it all the more unique, and though the sheer amount of plot and continuity may still be difficult for listeners without knowledge of the novels, the transition to audio is still a definite success that touches upon all of the main elements and captures the spirit and essence of the source material perfectly.