Released February 2010
Elizabeth Klein’s travels with the Seventh Doctor continue with ‘Survival of the Fittest’ after several untold travels to the likes of Vulcan, Quinbrax IV, and Mendroxia. Following the pserudo-historical stylings of ‘A Thousand Tiny Wings,’ writer Jonathan Clements’ takes the uneasy duo far into space, creating an extraordinary alien world in the process.
Using bees as a point of comparison, the Vrill race is a wholly unique one in Doctor Who. Yet while the Vrill hierarchy and motivations certainly take precedence, the complexities of the race are presented in a refreshingly straightforward manner, the script even delving into the more intricate side of the TARDIS translation circuits to make an olfactory-based communication possible.
With Klein and the Doctor having already shared so many stories together off-screen as it were, the two are afforded a somewhat different relationship than that portrayed previously. Though Klein still harbours clear resentment for the Doctor and what he has done to the world that she once knew, the Doctor genuinely seems hopeful that she is in some manner reforming her ways and looking to the more positive and wondrous side of the universe. In a rather deft stroke, Clements does not sweep aside the fact that Klein will forever be a fascist and projects what she perceives to be positive aspects of that type of regime onto the Vrill situation. While Klein does develop a sort of relationship with an individual named Steffan who originally tried to eradicate the Vrill with nerve gas, she naturally gravitates toward the Vrill group state as she tries to blend sympathy and Nazi past while overlooking the facts staring her in the face. Both sides of the conflict on this world present certain aspects that Klein holds dear, and Tracey Childs is wonderful in portraying the steadfast but struggling Klein throughout.
While this is the only story to really put Klein into the classic companion role, it is nonetheless quite astounding how much characterization has gone into the Klein and how easy the uneasy chemistry between Klein and the Doctor seems to be for Childs and Sylvester McCoy. Even with the apparent reformation of Klein taking place, she offers a totally unique presence in the TARDIS, but neither actor has any trouble keeping up the guise of friendship despite the inherent mistrust. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the story concludes with Klein revealing her true colours and betraying the Doctor, stealing the TARDIS and letting loose a flurry of malicious scorn that is genuinely surprising. For a story that thrives on harder-hitting science fiction and incredible metaphors throughout, it’s this twist that will remain the talking point while superbly setting up the trilogy’s finale.
‘Klein’s Story’ is the single-episode release to accompany the three-part main story. Obviously set before ‘Survival of the Fittest,’ ‘Klein’s Story’ surprisingly exists only because of the decision to condense ‘Survival of the Fittest’ to three parts, but it ends up being a crucial bit of insight into Klein’s past that deserved to be more fully fleshed out after the allusions and implications present in ‘Colditz.’ Framed almost like a Companion Chronicle as Klein narrates events, writers John Ainsworth and Lee Mansfield draw upon the events of ‘Colditz’ wonderfully as listeners are introduced to Paul McGann’s Doctor Johann Schmidt playing the longest of games as well as to her commander and seemingly lover Jonas Faber. Despite Klein’s rather ruthless nature, the events written here unquestionably give a greater degree of insight into the character while certainly giving her a greater degree of empathy and even humanity than has been written for her otherwise. This is perhaps the most rewarding of the one-part stories Big Finish has published, and it does wonders for a truly unique and fascinating character.