Excelis Decays

Posted in Audio by - October 23, 2017
Excelis Decays

Released July 2002

The Excelis saga draws to a close with a more sombre Seventh Doctor nearing the end of his life paying another visit to Artaris centuries after his previous adventure. Yet whereas the city of Excelis seemed to be on the verge of entering an age of enlightenment and reason at that time, the Doctor now finds a totalitarian regime at war with everything outside of the city’s borders living off the efforts of a broken underclass. While the Doctor struggles to piece together the identity of the mysterious Lord Sutton and the role that the Meat Puppets play in the eternal war, he finds that his arrival may just be the final piece in a plan that has taken centuries to come to fruition.

‘Excelis Decays’ is a much darker story than its predecessors, but both the content and tone follow a logical progression given Grayvorn’s persistence in slowly melding the world into a model that fulfills his own need for power. After portraying a bombastic warlord and a more thoughtful lawman, Anthony Stewart Head subtly alters his performance once more to believably highlight a determined and intelligent man bent on increasing his authority and domain. The extent of his madness is significantly amplified by writer Craig Hinton’s ability to create a visual, visceral world that is so similar and yet so incredibly different from what has been written before. Now a city filled with factories spewing smoke and in which questioning those in charge results in death, the Excelis here is a factory of war whose denizens are kept subdued by the addition of Treasure to its food and water supplies.

Hinton also ties in the mythology and theology of the preceding releases nicely by including the Relic and the notion of immortal souls upon Artaris. With the Meat Puppets’ use of souls and the Elite the next evolutionary step for the people of Excelis, ‘Excelis Decays’ quickly becomes the deepest and most thought-provoking story in this collection, especially with wartime called the Age of Reason and when dealing with how difficult the concept and prospect of peace to those entrenched in war for so long can be to accept. Indeed, in a story that questions just what it means to different people when one refuses to fight, the only significant misstep relates to the logical progression of Grayvorn’s character at the end when he signals his intent to use the TARDIS and his Meat Puppet technology to take his warring ways into the universe at large. Though the only rational ending is Grayvorn’s nuclear annihilation of Excelis after the Doctor manages to free the souls from the Relic, it’s disappointing to see what had been a decently layered character become a stereotypical villain in his final moments that borders on the edge of pantomime.

In ‘Excelis Decays’ it is revealed that a part of the Doctor’s soul was absorbed by the relic so many centuries ago, the reason he is drawn back to this planet yet again and the reason that Sutton knows the Doctor’s thoughts, desires, and knowledge of other worlds. Sylvester McCoy gives a powerful performance laced with superb moments of terrifying anger, and Hinton proves early and consistently that he has a firm grasp on the Seventh Doctor, even in the character’s more melancholy later days. Hinton even goes so far as to write the first moments in which the TARDIS seen in Paul McGann’s television outing comes to life, neatly filling a small gap in continuity in the process and ultimately proving just how vital the TARDIS is to the Doctor- especially with no companion around to explain himself to- as he tries to persuade his ship that he had no other choice.

‘Excelis Decays’ is certainly not an all-time classic, but its gritty tale of war and politics is certainly the strongest in the saga. Though it relies too much on clunky dialogue for exposition and reduces its intriguing villain to a stereotype by the end, it provides satisfying closure to the exploration of this planet and this city and provides a suitable end to an experimental format that remains a rarity in Big Finish and Doctor Who in general.

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