Fever Island

Posted in Audio by - February 15, 2019
Fever Island

Released February 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Intent on uncovering the truth behind the mysterious Syndicate, the Doctor, Ann, and K9 instead fall victim to a storm in the vortex that sweeps them back in time to a strange location known as Fever Island on 1978 Earth in Jonathan Barnes’s appropriately-titled ‘Fever Island.’ This is not the return home the Doctor may have anticipated for Ann, however, as they soon find themselves entwined in secret agent Jason Vane’s mission to track down the evil Okulov before he destroys the world and nightmares come true.

Doctor Who has always been able to effortlessly blend science fiction and fantasy, and the core concept of a mysterious mist pouring through an aperture that results from an experiment to create and weaponise holes in reality allows for truth and fiction to collide in an evocative manner. The story initially plays out in two tracks as the Doctor and Ann meet Vane while Doctors Leon Jessel and Caroline Pursglove discuss the ethics and merits of their experiment continuing now that living beings have unknowingly entered their testing site, and it’s eminently clear that this mist poses a completely unknown threat that could quite literally cause anything to happen. With the mist’s spread growing each time the aperture is opened, this highly visual and incorporeal threat is much more effective than any singular villain could have been in these circumstances, and its ability to pervade silently and without agenda only further heighten the tense atmosphere of this particular world.

For this very reason, however, the first episode falls somewhat flat because the strong opening sequence in which K9 begins to query what it means to dream makes it clear that the events to follow are not real in the truest sense of the word. Thus, when Vane provides the requisite background of his life and suavely carries on in a manner totally befitting of pulp espionage adventures, there’s something of a tonal mishmash with the Doctor and Ann who implicitly know that something is not right. Because Vane is the only one acting in this off-kilter manner in a world that is otherwise ominously serious and dangerous, these sequences- though instructive in developing the character- do little to develop the actual man. Fortunately, once the experiment and the mist are uncovered, the intrapersonal drama that Vane undergoes is immense as he must confront his present reality, and this is an aspect that Gethin Anthony plays very well, especially once his character’s shrouded past is revealed and its effect on this locale is put into context with even more extreme dangers beginning to manifest and imagination proving every bit as important as fact to providing a resolution.

Though this is not a fault of ‘Fever Island,’ its placement as a standalone story between the Doctor and Ann beginning to directly pursue the Syndicate and the following two-part conclusion does mean that the overall momentum of the series stalls a bit regardless of the unique danger encountered here. Big Finish has grown increasingly confident with its box sets, but just as the early sets of Ravenous have had little to do with the overarching title, the Syndicate has been largely absent from The Syndicate Master Plan with only the finale left. While it is possible that the standalone stories could gain a greater context in the finale, that particular titling of this series that has had so many standalone adventures in such short order means that expectations for an all-encompassing Syndicate storyline can never fully be met even with the enjoyable storylines that have featured and the intriguing clues that have been dropped thus far. Regardless, Tom Baker and Jane Slavin excel from beginning to end and are able to evoke the true danger of their surroundings perfectly as Baker also gives a rare villainous turn with panache, and although the first half does stumble somewhat in its setup, the wonderful tension and personal drama that ensue once the truth is known to all create a truly engrossing second half that develops into a highlight of the series as a whole.

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