Released September 2012
Attempting to rescue the Doctor from the trap he has walked into, Ace, Hex, Sally, and Lyssandra arrive in a strange land that seems exempt from the laws of physics. As the odds in their favour continue to shrink, Fenric and the gods and monsters of this realm are out for long overdue vengeance, bringing to a close this lengthy saga of the Seventh Doctor’s timeline.
Big Finish has had the opportunity to craft several epic stories for Doctor Who, and while there has been the occasional misfire, the overall trend has been quite a positive one. That said, ‘Gods and Monsters’ knows that it is an epic tale and has heaps of expectations piled upon it, but it tries a little bit too hard to convince its audience that it is worthy of its important placement, in the process taking away from the cosmic yet personal events at hand. While there is the occasional line of overly descriptive dialogue to get across the fantastic imagery of the piece, and while the voiceless Haemovores that follow Fenric cannot be fully realised on audio, it’s the massive amount of retconning that will be the most divisive point of this release.
Seemingly isolated images and events from earlier tales formed an important basis in showcasing the insidious nature of Fenric in ‘The Curse of Fenric,’ and ‘Gods and Monsters’ attempts to highlight that nature once more. It makes sense that Elder God references were in ‘Lurkers at Sunlight’s Edge,’ ‘House of Blue Fire,’ and ‘Protect and Survive’ since all three tales are closely linked with this arc, but positing that Weyland saved Hex back in ‘The Angel of Scutari,’ that Ray is a Wolf of Fenric in ‘Delta and the Bannermen,’ that Weyland was the creator of the Forge, and that Fenric put out the chess set in ‘The Magic Mousetrap’ is a stretch too far back into the mythology of the Seventh character to be completely effective. Setting up the appearance of a recurring powerful foe is a tried and trusted technique, and the end result does blend disparate events together cohesively, but these few isolated incidents in such a lengthy time period for the Doctor seem more like the authors picking and choosing past aspects that fit their current story rather than of continuing a set plan.
Retconning aside, the story of ‘Gods and Monsters’ itself is an exciting one and the Doctor’s rightful fear of Fenric’s insanity and power underscores the unique danger of this foe who can casually ask if the mortal realm actually matters. Whereas ‘The Curse of Fenric’ tried to showcase a battle of two isolated gods, ‘Gods and Monsters’ takes an inherently more fascinating approach by having the Doctor realize that he is just another pawn in battling Gods’ cosmic game of chess, playing into another’s schemes by bringing Hex along with him. Seeing the grand manipulator outmanipulated is a shocking twist, and the humility he gains from this encounter should prove to be an interesting turn going forward.
The characterization of the two long-standing companions is a bit mixed as well. Ace is much older here than during her first encounter with Fenric, but there are still instances where she acts like the same angst-ridden teenager obsessed with explosives as if nothing has changed. That said, her being taken back to Perivale before the time storm that brought her to Iceworld arrived and given the opportunity to completely change her life, in the process wondering if her greatness is innate to her or just because of her chance meeting with the Doctor, is a fascinating turn. Hex, on the other hand, is revealed to be a secret weapon of Weyland’s in his own battle against Fenric, his renewed wound from Scutari confirming that he should rightly have died so long ago. As he refuses to conform to expectations and instead thinks for himself, he steps into the spotlight as the team’s true beacon of hope against first Weyland and then Fenric as he again channels his true faith in his dead mother before making the ultimate sacrifice. It does seem odd that the storyline involving Hex’s trust in the Doctor due to events concerning his mother should rear its head after being seemingly resolved in the 2010 run of stories, but it is nonetheless used to good effect here as Hex departs, bringing about a primal anger in Ace as a result.
Lyssandra and Sally are used a little less overtly, but Fenric does not forget the unique opportunity they afford him either as Sally sees her more militaristic future self torture Lyssandra and activate the weapon that will destroy the world. With Lyssandra also seeing the moment where Sally kills her, Fenric proves adept at playing on the emotions of humans to increasingly shift the odds in his favour.These events serve to heighten the Doctor’s theory that these immortal gods need mortal beings to give their universe a sense of scope, and events becoming a surreal representation of the chess board presents a nice allegory for the grandiose schemes and plots. With the Doctor having long ago realized that someone was trying to stir the Elder Gods, he has been undertaking his own research across galaxies and millennia to learn about the Elder Gods and the oft-mentioned Weyalnd’s Shield. A creator of atefacts that can destroy Gods, Weyland’s factory of death beneath Perivale is a fascinating concept, and the Shield’s apparent limitless power that could allow Fenric to re-attain his natural form and span across dimensions is certainly an object deserving of the Gods’ attention.
‘Gods and Monsters’ is a tale that obviously requires a significant amount of backstory to fully enjoy. While there are still some questionable moments and dialogue as the script continues to revisit older plot points including some seemingly resolved, the end result is a bombastic and harrowing conclusion to some very long-standing plot arc and a fitting end to the once-invisible Hex and his undying faith in his mother and himself. The fallout of Hex’s death is reserved for an upcoming tale, but ‘Gods and Monsters’ makes good use of its large cast while showcasing the Seventh Doctor’s pride, strengths, and shortcomings.