The Stealers from Saiph

Posted in Audio by - March 08, 2019
The Stealers from Saiph

Released June 2009

To close out the third series of The Companion Chronicles, Mary Tamm returns to her incredibly impactful but brief role as the first incarnation of Romana in Nigel Robinson’s ‘The Stealers from Saiph.’ As the Doctor and she relax in 1929 Antibes, ominous warnings from astrologer Madame Arcana threaten their idyllic respite, and stolen items and strange behaviour from her new acquaintances hint at a danger that threatens all of Earth.

There is arguably no setting more fitting for this more aristocratic companion than 1920s high society, and Tamm does superb work reacting to the strange accumulation of people and activities around her with an outsider’s curiosity and at times ridicule. Given the large number of supporting characters with unique accents present and the fact that hers is the only voice in the entire production, it’s truly a testament to her powerful abilities that she is able to maintain a narrative flow without any confusion as the settings continue to change and the danger continues to escalate, all while exuding the more elitist sensibilities of everyone throughout. Unfortunately, ‘The Stealers from Saiph’ offers relatively little insight into this particular incarnation of Romana who has remained such a mystery due to so little material featuring her over the preceding decades, and her more polite mannerisms are strangely more appropriate for Lalla Ward’s incarnation than her own. It’s interesting to note that Romana is using this break to study Terran fauna to include as a case study in her thesis on the Doctor, but otherwise this story actually does very little to distinguish this incarnation and becomes only a tease of the greater and more personal stories she might yet tell.

Sadly, the plot itself doesn’t manage to overcome the lack of exploration of its lead, and the bountiful clichés that fill its running time do little to inspire any imagination. Each of the characters, male and female alike, fits a distinct stereotype, and there is little sense of urgency as several very disparate scenes unfold with little reason to suspect they are related except for being in the same story. Indeed, as Madame Arcana continues to insist that the stars are wrong and the Doctor continues to find new ways to avoid spending time with her, there’s an unavoidable feeling that the story is simply stalling since the answers would otherwise be provided right from the start. Unfortunately, avoiding this woman preoccupies the Doctor so much that even intriguing clues scattered throughout fail to gain his interest, though it’s sadly also telling that instances such as seeing animals from Saiph painted on a cave wall get little payoff in the end anyway. There is at least a certain charm and panache to the setup work of the first episode, but the explanations and linking facts provided in the second are simply too tortuous and the loss of so many lives too underwhelming because of the scant amount of time afforded each of them to develop.

It’s not that ‘The Stealers from Saiph’ necessarily has a bad plot given its component pieces and fascinating setting, but its utter predictability and liberal use of clichés hardly highlight the incredible potential that so many of the stories within this range have already reached. This is worth listening to for a masterful performance from Mary Tamm alone, but this is unfortunately not the welcome back to the franchise that she deserved.

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