Released January 2010
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
Following two adaptations of well-known scripts featuring returning foes to begin its The Lost Stories range, Big Finish turns to a lesser-known story with a completely novel and satisfyingly complex plot as ‘Leviathan’ finally sees the light of day. As the Doctor and Peri arrive in a mediaeval society where nobody lives to old age or dares break with tradition, the mystery behind Herne the Hunter and the local baron’s cullings slowly takes prominence and leads to an entirely unexpected truth.
‘Leviathan’ is unquestionably a tale of immense scope, and it’s difficult to believe that a production such as this could have been realistically realized on the limited BBC budget of its intended time. Nonetheless, within the confines of the audio medium, it comes to life spectacularly from the very beginning as the mythological skull-faced and antlered figure of Herne is seen pursuing youngsters through the forest. Although ‘Leviathan’ ultimately plays out as a story of two distinct halves, which again proves to be the wise approach given the individual episodes’ prolonged running time and the availability of only one cliffhanger, the mysteries that engulf the events of the opening half are truly superb and set the scene for the bombastic finale wonderfully. Indeed, what seems like a simple story about a sleepy village under torment quickly becomes increasingly complex as androids and lasers manifest and the logo of the Sentinels of the New Dawn is emblazoned on the looming castle.
The cliffhanger truly sets ‘Leviathan’ apart from its peers, though, and those with no knowledge of how it plays out will undoubtedly be impressed by the small hints dropped in the first episode that make the revelation that he entire setting is an artificially-controlled world upon a spaceship so resounding and satisfying. Suddenly the thin castle walls and shallow moat carry an entirely different meaning, and the description of the Leviathan ships being futuristic mankind’s greatest hope as they undertook centuries-long journeys to ensure humanity’s survival leads to the inevitable but nonetheless shocking truth regarding recycling and to what extent the ship will go to protect its secrets. As a pirate ship approaches the adrift lifeboat, the Doctor and Peri must use all of their bravery and ingenuity to save those around them, using a literal legend to guide the villagers quite literally into the future.
‘Leviathan’ also excels with the portrayal of its leads leads, and Colin Baker makes the most of this strong material to convey a stellar range and versatility that he was not afforded during his televised tenure. Proud and haughty as he pieces together the anachronisms and confronts those seemingly in control, soft and tender as he comforts a young boy approaching death, and every bit the hero as he scoffs at the offer laid before him and boldly takes the more righteous path, this is the epitome of the Sixth Doctor that easily puts him on firm footing with any other incarnation. At the same time, ‘Leviathan’ is quite likely the script that would have defined Peri as a character as well. Complaining is absolutely a firm part of her personality, but Nicola Bryant excels as she is tasked with bringing out a grim determination and unwavering morality as Peri becomes a source of inspiration for the young rebels of the village and bravely stands up to the tyranny around them.
While there’s not really any deeper subtext to the events on display, ‘Leviathan’ is unquestionably the strongest of this fledgling The Lost Stories range so far. The action unfolds at a blistering pace, and the mystery is both set up and resolved logically. Along with superb performances and truly excellent sound design, ‘Leviathan’ is a testament to the creativity that was very much still alive during the mid-1980s as well as to the prowess of Big Finish perfectly realizing everything without having to worry about the visual practicalities of the restrictive budget of the time.