Purgatory 12

Posted in Audio by - January 28, 2020
Purgatory 12

Released January 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

As The Fourth Doctor Adventures at least temporarily transitions to a two-hour story format for its ninth series that will feature four serials spaced across two box sets, it also brings together the season eighteen televised cast of the Doctor, Romana, K-9, and Adric for the first time under the Big Finish banner. Desperately searching for a CVE to escape E-space, the TARDIS crew soon finds itself drawn to a penal colony asteroid that mysteriously features an atmosphere and a gravity unequal to its size and that houses a far darker secret within its depths in Marc Platt’s ‘Purgatory 12.’

By no means was Adric the only companion who didn’t receive adequate exploration and characterization befitting of his experiences both good and bad when in the Doctor’s company, and ‘Purgatory 12’ succeeds most when focusing on Adric’s grief and the actions that relate to the recent loss of his brother, Varsh, as seen in ‘Full Circle. This is a young man still struggling to find himself as the harsh reality of life and death has been thrust upon him while he begins the greatest journey of his life far beyond what he could have imagined, and those conflicting emotions naturally cause him to lash out at his friends and question what is best when compared to his own genuine good intentions that sometimes lack their greater context and understanding. Yet this is far from simply an impetuous teenager written to simply cause conflict as was occasionally the case on screen, and Platt’s writing as well as Matthew Waterhouse’s strong performance highlight the true turmoil and depth of this character while proving within this early chronological setting just how useful this young Alzarian can be when given an opportunity. Of course, part of what makes this characterisation work so well is that the Doctor and Romana didn’t ask for Adric who stowed away aboard the TARDIS to be in their company, and Tom Baker and Lalla Ward excel as their Time Lords each try to bring their own experiences into an almost parental setting with a certain decision-making hesitancy and uncertainty that are rarely seen. Indeed, the culminating scenes in which the Doctor tells Adric that at some point in life everyone will begin losing more than they gain and that it is difficult to hold on to what one already has is perfectly poignant and marks the beginning of a deeper and mutual bond that should have been shown so many years ago.

‘Purgatory 12’ also exceeds with building up a very visual environment brimming with danger, hope, and even a sense of futility in equal measure as this world strewn with wrecks of spaceships and pools of rust eventually reveals the dark presence guiding it and the unique semblance of life that subsists on the surface. However, while the threat of death is very real to the unknowing travelers, the properties of the rust do take away from some of the inherent drama and peril that would otherwise be present, and the characterization of the foe as a petulant child who must get its way but whom the audience can never hear beyond tremors of the ground marking an increasing anger means that the sympathy that this presence should evoke is hardly allowed to develop. It is possible that this was meant to mirror Adric as shown on television and to contrast with who Adric has become on audio alongside the Fifth Doctor and now with the Fourth, but it’s difficult to invest in such a creature who provides no direct interaction with the leads except through a game of chess that provides something of a forced visual theme as Adric first learns the game in the TARDIS, then teaches the game as a new distraction, and finally finds himself in a larger-than-life match with consequences that are all too real.

The strong supporting cast with the likes of Nimmy March, George Watkins, Liam Fox, and Amy Downham all combine to highlight the complexities and strata of what is called life on this asteroid, and the amount of world building to bolster the strong science fiction concepts on display is certainly commendable. Even K9 is given new narrative ground to cover as he makes what he considers to be his first genuine friend, and John Leeson capably handles the expanded role that likewise highlights his character’s unique capabilities and importance to this TARDIS crew. While his seeming loss here does bring out more emotions from the Doctor than have been shown previously in similar situations, this is yet another example of just how well Platt and the leads understand these character’s motivations and sensibilities and all that they have been through together. Thus, while the pervasive purgatory metaphor with forgiveness of souls perhaps doesn’t land as much as intended while the villain and soundscape remain somewhat sparse, the characterization is spectacular throughout and highlights how strong this lesser-explored team can be and how much there still is to explore among them.

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