Released August 2009
‘Patient Zero’ is one of the most hotly anticipated titles Big Finish has ever released, continuing the fascinating tale of Charlotte Pollard and the Sixth Doctor and tasked with satisfactorily resolving the cliffhanger from ‘The Raincloud Man’ while bringing in both the Viyrans and the Daleks. While these type of ‘event’ stories have a habit of simply failing to meet expectations, ‘Patient Zero’ somehow manages to deliver on all counts, continuing the very strong stretch of audio outings with a superb effort.
Writer Nicholas Briggs deftly reprieves Charley from her certain death by having her contract a virus and succumb to a coma, the TARDIS withdrawing its protection from her when her deceit was revealed. This turn of events prompts the Doctor to urgently seek a cure, traveling to the Amethyst Viral Containment Station while Charley stays in the TARDIS’s zero room. Importantly, the story shows that the Doctor has made many trips between the prologue and the true story, giving many isolated events and stories over the past year extra context and meaning.
‘Patient Zero’ finally introduces the Viyrans into a feature-length story after their all-too-brief tease in the one-part ‘Mission of the Viyrans.’ It’s incredibly rare that a novel creation is so captivating and mysterious, and the script superbly holds the tension and intrigue throughout as the Viyrans are slowly introduced and illuminated. Right from the start, the Station’s caretaker Fratalin shows an incredible dedication to the Viyran’s work even though he has never seen them, helping to produce incredible tension through his concerns and fears as he warns that the Viyrans are on their way to take stock of and destroy the viruses present.
The Daleks are, of course, present as well, but their portrayal here is particularly enthralling because, as they also travel back in time to the Station to find an escaped experimental subject, they find themselves constricted in their actions, afraid to interfere with the web of time. This subject is Mila, the patient zero of the title, and though the Daleks’ discretion with time does seem to go a bit against character, the Dalek Time Controller is still a fascinating presence and this caution does lead to some particularly strong scenes between the Daleks and the Doctor later in the story. The reason for the Daleks’ interest in Mila is typically evil and conniving, though, the virus they infected her with capable of copying DNA and infecting others nearby. With the virus, they seek to turn all of the universe’s life forms into Daleks.
However, Mila is quite resolute in her desire to not help the Daleks. Having decided long ago to seek out their immortal foe, she stowed away aboard the TARDIS and waiting centuries for an opportunity to present itself for her to infect a companion with her virus, and the TARDIS deciding to no longer protect Charley finally gave her that chance. Jess Robinson does incredible work with the character of Mila, giving her a disquieting and somewhat unsettling persona that makes perfect sense given the context of what she has been through and decided to do. While the concept of stealing or taking of identity or consciousness is certainly not a new one, ‘Patient Zero’ pulls it off agonizingly well.
It should come as no surprise that ‘Patient Zero’ is a very deep and layered script, and the two leads give dutifully strong performances as they deftly meet the quality of the material. The lengths to which the Sixth Doctor goes to save Charley, a woman who has so overtly deceived him, is perfectly in character for the Big Finish stalwart, and it will be extremely exciting to see what India Fisher continues to do as the two versions of herself going forward. The pacing of the story is brisk from start to finish, and the confrontation between the Viyrans and Daleks certainly meets all expectations. Likewise, experiencing the Daleks’ wreaking terror aboard the TARDIS and the Doctor making a rare miscalculation all serve to heighten the drama, capping off a spectacular release that certainly meets all expectations and further whets the appetite for further adventures and ramifications.