Released June 2011
Landing in the long-defunct Cadogan tunnels, a secret wartime facility and alleged site of secretive experimentation, the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough soon find themselves entwined in something far beyond the realm of imagination. Directly underneath humanity, a race of highly intelligent rats has evolved, making the twisting corridors their own and not intending to let anyone escape their grasp.
In the 1960s, Terry Molloy’s Dr Wallace attempted to create the intelligent rats to use as spies, going so far as to join three in order to craft a Rat King to coordinate the other rats telepathically. As happens so often with these experiments, however, the rats soon evolved beyond their remit, seizing control of the facility and turning all of the scientists into mindless hybrid slaves except for Dr Wallace, whom they allow to retain his sanity so that they can torture him simply out of spite. With their home now under threat as the castle above is prepped for English heritage, the rats have decided to unleash a plague to wipe out humanity once and for all.
The TARDIS crew is quite quickly separated, and though the Doctor is mostly sidelined again as he explores the corridors with Wallace’s journalist daughter, he does at least contribute to the ultimate downfall of the rats after a strong confrontation scene. Nyssa spends most of the story with a less extreme rat scientist who simply wants to enslave humans, offering her their own research into plague development in exchange for her help. This scientist having his intelligence stripped by the Punishment virus for disobeying orders is quite emotional and nasty, showing how remorseless the rats in general are in their plan for conquest. Turlough is tasked with protecting the TARDIS from a group of rats that has managed to gain entry while also fighting off the traitorous PA, Sally Lucas, using a defibrillator from ‘The Whispering Forest’ and benefiting from the TARDIS’s temporal grace. Tegan spends most of her time with Wallace in order to discover the truth of the situation, again witnessing horrific events and dealing with more humans willing to put the rats’ cause first. Nyssa’s storyline is the most effective and her depression about not being able to find a cure is understandable, but each character’s strand becomes important in the eventual devolution of the Rat King.
Author Tony Lee’s recent background is in the Doctor Who comics, as the rather preposterous core concept might suggest, and the result is a highly visual story in a very tense and claustrophobic environment even if the characters do sometimes blatantly describe what they are seeing in too much detail to feel natural. There seems to be a missed opportunity for Tegan to firmly confront Nyssa for even pondering helping the rats with their virus, and the explanations of how the rats came to alter the humans in the first place while luring new humans to their lair are sadly missing. The end result is a story that attempts to mix politics and social commentary with action and intrigue but sadly ends up being a checklist of standard Doctor Who elements that have been done better elsewhere while also failing to make good use of the Doctor for the vast majority of the running time. The rats certainly hold great potential as foes, but they never quite live up to that potential, and the story suffers as a result.