The Holy Terror

Posted in Audio by - February 25, 2016
The Holy Terror

Released November 2000

No discussion about ‘The Holy Terror’ can occur without first mentioning the Sixth Doctor’s companion for this tale, Frobisher. A bit ridiculous in concept and originally created for comics, Frobisher is a shape-shifting alien who prefers spending his time in the guise of a penguin and, when not with the Doctor, acts as a private detective in New York City. Saying that, though, he is the perfect companion for this tale and Robert Jezek does superb work in bringing that strange concept to life.

The Doctor and Frobisher land in an ominous castle during a time of religious upheaval. The two are quickly hailed as messengers from Heaven and become unwillingly embroiled in a resulting power struggle as heretics are murdered and a growing evil lurks in the crypts. Rarely has such a tangible sense of atmosphere and danger been achieved in Big Finish’s audios, yet writer Rob Shearman also manages to weave comic undertones throughout the tale as well that somehow manage to not diminish the scope and function of the main plot.

A subject often overlooked in tales with these settings, ‘The Holy Terror’ takes the time to consider what it means to be in a society whose Emperor is essentially a deity personified. An emperor’s death effectively throws the entire religious spine of the society into flux and chaos with different factions trying to gain control through conflict and dissension. Even more disturbing, however, is the treatment of a child in order to create a more perfect deity. Working under the belief that human language corrupts, the child is raised in isolated silence so that he will create his own language and create a stronger bond with Heaven, a distressing concept with terrifying results.

In an interesting idea, the TARDIS essentially goes on strike and makes demands of the Doctor, stranding him and Frobisher in this heated atmosphere. Only time will tell if that apparent willpower will show up again in the future. In the present, though, the duo is witness to the arcane and lengthy traditions that go with crowning a new emperor after the former one proved that he was, in fact, not a god by committing the sacrilegious act of dying (1/10th of the population is also murdered for worshipping a false god under these circumstances). Some of these rituals are quite humorous, such as proving the new emperor’s divinity, but it’s ultimately an illogical loop that is throttling the society. That is, until the Emperor’s brother Childeric tries to break the cycle with the aforementioned treatment of his child and the shocking results his release produces.

The cast in this story is superb, both the core and guest members. Stefan Atkins as the reluctant new Emperor and Peter Guiness as the conniving Childeric are particular highlights. Frobisher steals most every scene he is in as he causes havoc within the kingdom, and Colin Baker continues his gentler renaissance in the audio medium. Of special note is the combination of reserved fear and determination Baker is able to channel as he confronts the child, knowing that his life may quickly be forfeit.

The combination of a superb script that balances fear and comedy with a cast where each member gives a stellar performance makes Robert Shearman’s ‘The Holy Terror’ a fantastic addition to Big Finish’s library as the company continues to innovate with its Doctor Who license. It may not have the flashiest of titles or a familiar companion, but it certainly hits all of the right notes.

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