The Pyralis Effect

Posted in Audio by - March 26, 2019
The Pyralis Effect

Released October 2009

When the TARDIS arrives on the starship Myriad, the Doctor and Romana soon find themselves embroiled in the desperate affairs of the few remaining survivors of the planet Pavonis IV as they search for the fabled Doctor who saved their world once before so long ago. With their goal finally in reach, however, their artificial intelligence CAIN has lost control and an ancient force is about to be unleashed upon the galaxy in George Mann’s ‘The Pyralis Effect.’

Romana is a tough character to reliably use as a narrator in The Companion Chronicles simply because her typical intelligence and haughtiness cannot shine through as much as they otherwise might while the danger and mystery unfold around her. There are, of course, a few ways to circumvent the potential of her beginning to sound like a human companion experiencing the unknown for the first time, but the combination of exposition she provides in some areas and frustrating silence she retains in others while deciding which knowledge to provide the audience does not necessarily make for the most seamless story. This latter aspect is particularly maddening because the titular Pyralis remain thoroughly underdeveloped throughout the entirety of the tale. Setting this story within the constellation of Kasterborous is a masterstroke that taps into Romana’s past and her desire to remain off of Gallifrey given everything she has seen and experienced, but while the setup of an ancient Time Lord artefact being found and inadvertently setting free the imprisoned multitudes of Pyralis is filled with narrative potential reaching back to the heart of Gallifrey’s history, the threat of these photonic mimics that can adapt to any environment and mount devastating invasions is never meaningfully developed beyond the stated fact that so many are now free and their ominous declarations of intent to illuminate everyone.

In a first episode that sees the Doctor disappear and Romana herself become lost amidst the ship’s corridors, Mann tries to further intensify the atmosphere with the inclusion of a murder mystery to complement the presence of the Pyralis alongside them. Unfortunately, while the notion of a fungoid hybrid itself is quite intriguing, little is done to draw attention away from the fact that the AI is clearly a red herring given just how much attention it initially receives. Lalla Ward does her best to inject a genuine sense of drama into these affairs, but the somewhat disjointed tones of the story and the Doctor that try to capture both the humour of season seventeen and the earnestness of season eighteen makes even these attempts resonate a bit less than usual.  

Although there is nothing implicitly bad about ‘The Pyralis Effect’ even as the hunt for CAIN boils down to it going to the same place it always goes and the characters seeming rather unaffected when the Pyralis destroy a planet, it simply fails to do anything truly meaningful with its fascinating component parts. With Romana herself not quite at her Time Lady best in order to provide the plot with a semblance of wonder and danger and none of the guest characters springing to life like the best installments of this audio range have effortlessly achieved, the straightforward nature and ponderous plotting of the story along with the unfulfilled potential of the Pyralis and CAIN are all the more overt and thus create an experience that hardly exemplifies the danger that Romana insists was present.

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