The Invention of Death

Posted in Audio by - July 30, 2018
The Invention of Death

Released July 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The resounding success of David Bradley as William Hartnell and then as the First Doctor in An Adventure in Time and Space and ‘Twice Upon a Time,’ respectively, practically demanded that he be allowed to more thoroughly explore this character and his many nuances in further stories. With The First Doctor Adventures Volume One, Big Finish masterfully proved that this reimagined earliest era of Doctor Who still holds immense dramatic potential, not necessarily attempting to capture the exact sounds of the expanded first TARDIS roster but expertly recapturing the sense of wonder and exploration that so pervaded those adventures, and the second volume looks to build upon that immensely successful foundation.

Following an experimental temporal slingshot manoeuvre to return Ian and Barbara to Earth, the TARDIS instead materialises on a planet where even the travelers’ most basic preconceptions are tested as a terrifying discovery is about to be made in ‘The Invention of Death.’ Writer John Dorney recaptures the more deliberate pacing of many early Hartnell serials to remarkable effect as the Doctor and Ian as well as Susan and Barbara independently step out of the TARDIS to revel in the wonder of exploring the unknown. However, happening upon sentient but completely unique entities that Ian compares to androgenous anthropoid amoeba marks only the most superficial difference between the travelers and the denizens of this world known as Ashtallah.

This society is one that has forever existed alone, and Ian is initially shocked that no sense of fear which he feels is essential to survival has developed. Instead, these beings are all too friendly and all too keen to invite these strangers into their game of catch featuring sharpened poles to make the game more difficult, but when Barbara reacts to an errant throw differently than any Ashtallan ever has, this idyllic paradise is forever shattered as the concepts of harm and death are introduced in this world of immortals who have never had reason to even consider such ideas. Even before this momentous event, it’s fascinating to realise how much knowledge humanity takes for granted and how much the Doctor’s communication across time and space relies on shared perceptions and concepts with other races, but a world completely without an understanding of death, love, fear, and even shelter and machinery presents a completely unique environment in which even the most basic communication is troublesome. This world is simultaneously an anthropologist’s dream and nightmare scenario, and just how quickly outside concepts are introduced and begin to influence events is shocking to behold but utterly engrossing and effective.

Surprisingly but wholly effectively, Ashtallah is brought to life through only members of the species, Sharlan and Brenna who have both begun to ask questions of their world as they invent and begin to formulate means of making their gaming projectiles go farther and faster. Though difficult notions of love and death certainly become the driving force of the story in general, the more difficult prospect introduced is that science and the asking of questions have the potential to break apart a society by themselves, especially when something far more fundamental to human life but so intrinsically alien to this culture is inadvertently introduced in a moment of panic. While maintaining an emotionless element given this race’s foundation, Tracy Wiles is quite engrossing as Sharlan who looks around at her society that has remained the same forever after seeing the wonders that these mortals have accomplished and realises that she can help bring about a better way of life for her people. Using the evidence before her eyes when the Doctor uses the healing and regrowth capabilities of her people to heal Barbara, Sharlan takes the next logical step a scientist would consider and comes to realise on a personal level just how quickly things can utterly change forever as one action continues to ripple.

For a story that begins so innocuously, “The invention of Death’ delivers a profound amount of emotion as a morbid curiosity with the finality of death despite no concept whatsoever of what that actually means gives way to the first true love story that Ashtallah has ever witnessed. This race is easily amongst the most fascinating that the Doctor has ever encountered, and even the proud first incarnation is willing to accept that he does not know everything even if he refuses to admit that he could ever be wrong as moral dilemmas abound. With so much mystery surrounding how this race that has kept its population numerically and individually steady forever came to be and how it will fully carry on following this well-intentioned but disastrous interlude from outsiders that paved a new way to the future, this is absolutely a locale worthy of several more visits. With the unstated love between Ian and Barbara subtly taking centre stage in the most unexpected fashion and with each of the TARDIS members brought to life spectacularly as the four fight to disprove coincidence and put right what has gone wrong as best they can, ‘The Invention of Death’ is a masterpiece in every sense of the word and expertly recaptures the sheer wonder of its intended era when everything was so incredibly new to everyone involved, unequivocally proving just why a universal non-intervention policy may be best in the process.

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