The Bellotron Incident

Posted in Audio by - August 05, 2018
The Bellotron Incident

Released April 2003

Following a successful encounter with the Ice Warriors in ‘The Dance of the Dead,’ the fourth series of Big Finish’s Bernice Summerfield range looks to further incorporate the large roster of famed Doctor Who villains, beginning with the long-present but little-seen Rutans and their eternal conflict with the Sontarans as first introduced in their only televised serial ‘The Horror of Fang Rock.’

Mike Tucker’s ‘The Bellotron Incident’ features an intriguing premise as the Captain of the battle cruiser Rites of Passage finds an artificial energy signature on the primitive planet of Bellotron that follows an orbit from Rutan to Sontaran space, but the lengthy political, bureaucratic, and military discussions about being duly bound to not interfere with the civilisation unfold at such a sluggish pace following the introduction of Bellotron that they only serve to draw attention to the fact that it takes an inordinately long time for Bernice to actually show up as it slowly becomes clear to all involved that unexplored ancient ruins on this world require an expert in archaeology. Fortunately, the story does pick up once Bernice pairs with Commander Ryan and the two head to the planet, and Lisa Bowerman and Karl Hansen share an easy chemistry in a relationship based on mutual respect and the needs of this situation rather than on overt feelings of burgeoning love or hatred as is so often the case when two figures from different walks of life are brought together.

Bringing the trap-filled and very visual nature of these ruins to life on audio is a tricky proposition, and although the sound design aptly does so with a tense and dangerous atmosphere evoked, the script must necessarily employ lengthier and more descriptive dialogue than usual to explain exactly what is occurring. It is odd that Ryan is the more adamant of the two characters that the local culture not be disrupted given Bernice’s chosen profession and previous actions in other stories, but the introduction of the Rutans ensures that nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems. Unfortunately, while the Rutan voice certainly gives a creepy audio aesthetic and the shape-shifting ability naturally creates a sense of unease that any person could be the enemy at any time, the script does nothing to offer anything new about this fascinating race who so rarely comes to the forefront. The Rutan threat ultimately becomes simply a narrative device rather than an avenue for true exploration and drama, and not including the Sontarans at all even with the advent of a mutagenic virus to contaminate Sontaran space only serves to highlight that only the briefest façade of meaningful development is offered for these foes.

‘The Bellotron Incident’ is also notable for introducing Bev Tarrant to Bernice, a character who has featured in earlier Mike Tucker Doctor Who stories ‘The Genocide Machine’ and ‘Dust Breeding.’ This is a woman whose less scrupulous nature forms a great counterpoint to Bernice’s own, and this strong-willed female presence more driven to action as engagingly played by Louise Falkner should provide an intriguing recurring presence for this range. Regrettably, her presence here is rather minor despite some nice moments about her thieving and the inevitable realization that both Bernice and she know the Doctor. This is a story that has so many engaging component pieces to it, including an incredibly powerful twist that comes far too late to deliver anything meaningful as a result, but they are all so criminally underused that the production as a whole cannot help but feeling somewhat underwhelming, one that even the strong performances cannot completely salvage.

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