Released December 2010
Big Finish’s 2010 Main Range offerings conclude with ‘The Demons of Red Lodge and Other Stories,’ allowing four different authors to each present a unique take on the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa.
The collection opens with ‘The Demons of Red Lodge’ by Jason Arnopp, a horror story that opens superbly with the Doctor and Nyssa finding themselves in a dark room with no knowledge of where they are or how they arrived. While the story quickly devolves to rather typical fare with a very predictable clone element, Sarah Sutton makes Nyssa’s fear palpably convincing and Susan Kyd does very well in playing multiple roles. It’s unfortunate that Davison and Sutton are once more playing evil versions of themselves even if for only a brief time as it’s the third time Big Finish has employed this concept quite recently, but the aliens’ idea of creating a genderless and statistically optimised human race is certainly an unsettling one. Fortunately, the ending in which Nyssa manoeuvres the aliens into committing mass suicide- drawing the hypocritical ire of the Doctor- is very well realized even if the use of the Doctor’s heart is somewhat convoluted.
‘The Entropy Composition’ by Rick Briggs features the fascinating concept of Concordum, what amounts to a planetary MP3 player housing music from the beginning of time. Yet one piece of music is somehow destroying the others, so dangerous that it can literally rip skin from bone. Events soon take on a much more cosmic scale as it is revealed that an entropy siren is the cause. Unable to live in this universe without chaos to feed on since more ordered creation took hold, the siren utilized composer Geoff Cooper to compose the destructive work. The Doctor always remains one step ahead as he learns first where the music ended up and then where it came from, and the solution is ingeniously simple. The production values and sound design help this story steeped in audio come to life wonderfully, and it’s quite touching that the adventure begins with the Doctor wanting to show Nyssa a lost composition from Traken.
William Gallagher’s ‘Doing Time’ is the third story, intriguingly seeing the Doctor trapped in prison trying to warn Folly’s Governor Chaplin of an explosion that will occur in six months. Personal time is slowed down within the field around the prison, but Gallaher respects the fact that the Doctor losing so much of his personal lifespan relative to the universe in general means less to him than it would to anyone else. The Doctor inadvertently causes the explosion with the alien Jabreth starship engines being used in the time field, but the script is tightly packed with clever twists as the Doctor manages to outsmart the politically motivated Governor while becoming a hero to the other prisoners. Though Nyssa doesn’t undergo an incredible amount of personal change or growth over the lengthy course of the Doctor’s imprisonment, her failed attempts to get arrested are certainly memorable and form just another component of what is overall a very enjoyable short tale.
Unquestionably, though, John Dorney’s ‘Special Features’ is the highlight of this anthology release. With the cult classic Doctor Demonic’s Tales of Terror being slated for a DVD release, ‘Special Features’ is actually a commentary track featuring the lead actors Sir Jack Merrivale and Johanna Burke, the director Martin Ashcroft, and the mysterious historical advisor Doctor John Smith. Those involved with the movie are hilariously self-congratulating and complimentary to their peers as in most bonus features, and Johann interrupting the Doctor’s attempts to explain the myth behind the curse to point out herself is superb. With Merrivale so clearly bored by everyone but himself, it’s refreshing to hear a cast admit that the plot of their movie doesn’t actually make sense, and it’s worth noting that Nyssa got her part in the film simply by stumbling into the wrong office. As the presence of the Rast mental parasite eating away its host mind as it prepares to spread to other minds becomes known, the extent of Jerome’s involvement to ensure that the proper props were included and the proper words said is impressive and terrifying. Destroying the pertinent original footage that would allow dissemination of the parasite, the Doctor has amusingly created his own version in which his own pictogram’s replace the Rasts’s. ‘Special Features’ is a near-perfect one-part story that packs plenty of twists and turns, and the presence of an actual film playing for the actors to talk over is wonderfully bizarre.
Each of the four tales gets successively stronger, but the true strength of these anthology releases is seeing in short order how different authors bring out different aspects of the same characters to varying extents. While ultimately nothing truly revolutionary is done with the Doctor or Nyssa, Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton both offer very strong performances throughout that evoke the fullest range of emotions along the way.