Project: Nirvana

Posted in Audio by - June 06, 2019
Project: Nirvana

Released September 2012

As with “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” and “Night’s Black Agents” before it, “Project: Nirvana” represents an instalment of The Companion Chronicles tying into a concurrent Big Finish main range trilogy, in this case the Seventh Doctor Elder Gods saga comprised of “Protect and Survive,” “Black and White,” and “Gods and Monsters.” Likewise representing the fourth audio drama featuring the Forge from authors Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, here the black TARDIS lands in mid-air in 2015 Eastern Europe and drops companions Lysandra Aristedes and Sally Morgan into a daring mission within Lysandra’s own past that she cannot remember.

Rather than focus too unduly on the Elder Gods, “Project: Nirvana” wisely allows the usually reserved Lysandra an opportunity to open up and truly explore her emotions. The Doctor chooses not to reveal to his companions that a younger Lysandra is aboard the train they have just infiltrated, and the resulting scenes that highlight the humanity that has always been hiding beneath her inexpressive exterior are well-realised and wholly captivating. Due to the presence of the elder Lysandra, however, her clear progression from pride to disenfranchisement stemming from her work with the Forge that nonetheless resulted in her being given a second chance by the Doctor is able to be shown and accordingly reveals much more about this unique character than her entire tenure in the main range has managed. This is a woman who has undergone a monumental amount of change in her life, and this is the story that finally offers an engrossing explanation for how this change came to be and how she came to accept that process.

Of course, the coveted Forge artefact aboard the train contains the spirit of the Elder God Derleth who is able to control and manipulate the emotions of the people surrounding him. Given just how eerily easily those involved fall victim to Derleth here with even the Doctor’s steadfast defenses failing, this is one of the strongest and most effective forces yet presented within this range, and the Forge’s plan to create clones of this being to turn enemy combatants against themselves in the field is all the more chilling and visceral as a result. It’s perhaps no surprise that Scott and Wright have the firmest grasp on Lysandra who represents the Doctor’s only hope given that they created the character for the novel Project: Valhalla, but that they have also managed to create a truly powerful and terrifying menace the likes of which the Elder Gods should truly be yet so rarely are makes this a genuinely tense and emotional story on every level that more than achieves what any complementary story should.

“Project: Nirvana” as a story follows almost none of the norms and conventions of typical Doctor Who, but by blazing a totally unique path with the relatively unknown companions played so convincingly by Maggie O’Neill and Amy Pemberton, it manages to stand out not only within The Companion Chronicles but also amidst its full-cast contemporaries. Even the Seventh Doctor, the manipulative incarnation who often prefers to operate from behind the scenes and thus seems like the perfect match for this range that places the impetus on the companions, acts more atypically as Sylvester McCoy in a cameo takes to the front lines and commands his companions in a manner wholly befitting of their soldier status. Aided by brilliant sound design and a rare music suite for the range that accentuates the epic nature of these events, ‘Project: Nirvana’ isn’t necessarily a story that was needed, but it absolutely makes its source arc more meaningful and resonant and is essential listening both in that context and on its own merit.

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