Released June 2008
Following the thematically fascinating ‘Red’ which explored the concept of violence in society but failed to adequately flesh out its environment or plot, Stewart Sheargold returns to the Big Finish main range with ‘The Death Collectors,’ a script that deserves both the same praise and criticisms.
Thematically, ‘The Death Collectors’ is superb, and the concept of death runs throughout the entire release. The title refers to an alien race called the Dar Traders who literally collect death, but the story also features a Seventh Doctor nearing the end of his life as well as the oncoming Decay which consumes everything in its way. Intriguingly, the same Puccini song that plays in the San Francisco operation room that precedes the Seventh Doctor’s regeneration plays throughout this story, linking the concept of regeneration to death, a concept explored in the modern series more fully but also a facet that causes the Dar Traders to think of the Doctor as a man who has died several times already. So while the somewhat ephemeral state of being in between regenerations that comes into discussion here may not completely mesh with, for example, the Tenth Doctor’s views on regeneration, it’s still a fascinating discussion, especially as the Doctor prepares to sacrifices himself as a trade.
Perhaps the biggest fault of ‘The Death Traders’ is that there simply isn’t that much action. Instead, the plot is composed primarily of talking and of traveling between the numerically few settings. Having a dialogue-driven plot is by no means a negative, but the concepts on display here unfortunately don’t manage to carry events fully enough to overlook the lack of action or a more imminent threat. At the same time, the tone of the story seems just a little off. With such an impending sense of death and demise around, the story seems to be trying to evoke a sense of fear and uneasiness rather than of the tension of impending doom. There’s a subtle difference between the two, but trying to include the former creates a bit of a disjointed experience.
However, the theme and the performances are absolutely superb, and Sylvester McCoy, in particular, delivers one of his strongest performances for Big Finish, perfectly encapsulating the weariness and melancholy of the older Seventh Doctor. Katherine Parkinson, the companion of the story as Danika Meanwhile, and Alastair Cording, a rival of sorts for the Doctor, both share excellent chemistry with McCoy. While the overall three-part script may be a bit lacking, the exploration of death and of the underlying philosophy of regeneration is great, and it certainly makes ‘The Death Collectors’ a story worth a listen.
‘Spider’s Shadow’ represents the one-part complement for this release, also penned by Stewart Sheargold. The story is presented as a sort of fairy tale and, though the concept may be a bit too imaginative for some tastes, the idea of the spider is fascinating. This is a script that subtly plays with format as the Doctor experiences events and showcases morality; without going too much into the condensed plot, this is certainly a strong offering that finishes off the release very well, tying into events in ‘The Death Collectors’ along the way.