Valhalla

June 8, 2016

Released June 2007

Marc Platt returns to the world of Doctor Who with another strong output in ‘Valhalla’ after already making a tremendous name for himself in various formats, just a small sampling being ‘Ghost Light’ for the television series, Lungbarrow for The New Adventures novels, and ‘Spare Parts’ for Big Finish. Here he once more explores an older Seventh Doctor, weary of traveling and exploring and ready to settle down and help others who come to him, and Sylvester McCoy offers one of his strongest performances yet in support.

The titular Valhalla is a mining colony on Callisto, a place where absolutely anything can be bought and sold. Once its resources were depleted, Valhalla was granted independence from Earth, of course meaning that it was abandoned and has been struggling to maintain its existence ever since. The result is a very controlled atmosphere where everyone is barcoded and their talents listed and where riots are scheduled and armaments provided for the colonists to let out their primal urges. Yet while the Doctor’s inherent distrust and dislike of bureaucracy does show up, it’s the unseen force deep in the planet that has its eyes on Valhalla’s citizens and is fighting its way to the surface that becomes the central focus.

Describing the alien menace as termites doesn’t do the foes justice, but Platt does a superb job in clearly demonstrating just how dangerous they are, able to pick up entire buildings and move them across the city on their backs as well as to chew through literally anything to get at their victims. The introduction of the queen, known as Our Mother, also works exceedingly well, Susannah York giving an inspired performance as she determinedly uses capitalism to ensure her species’s survival. The revelation that Our Mother is also the city’s Registry computer adds to the threat as she is able to easily track the Doctor and his friends while blocking any and all means of escape to lure the Doctor to her. Her argument that Earth gave up on Valhalla, thus giving her the right to do with Earth’s leftovers as she pleased, holds some degree of weight, and Our Mother certainly proves herself to be a worthy menace in a very short period. Once they kick in, the TARDIS’s translation circuits do effectively take away from some of the general termites’ menace as they are reduced to joking buffoons, but before that point they would have made for a welcome recurring enemy.

As mentioned, Sylvester McCoy gives one of his strongest performances for Big Finish in ‘Valhalla.’ He captures the weariness of the Seventh Doctor nearing the end of his days perfectly, and though he still values human life and his morals, he exudes a more subdued response to the government and to yet another antagonist bent on genocide, as if he is begrudgingly forcing himself to intervene when all he wants to do is sit back and let other people come to him. There has been quite a lot of discussion in Doctor Who in general about what happens to the Doctor without a companion, and this is a fascinating turn for the Seventh Doctor who also has an offer he makes to a potential companion spurned and rejected, and the despair in his voice throughout is chilling.

Without a companion, it’s up to the guest cast to carry the weight of the episode and, Susannah York’s brilliance aside, each member does a suitable job in his or her role. The standouts are easily Phillip Jackson’s administrator Laxton, who proves that he only has the colony’s best interest as heart, and Michelle Gomez’s technician Jevvan, who finally gets the chance to save her friends with the help of the Doctor. Gomez fills the role of temporary companion perfectly, showing how brave and resourceful she can be while still exuding a sense of fear at the bigger situation around her.

The third episode does suffer from padding with minimal actual advancement of the plot; likewise, the resolution of having the Doctor lie to the termites over the colony’s public adderss systems rings a little hollow and convenient. Otherwise, though, this is a superb piece of work from both Big Finish and Marc Platt. Either condensing the story into the newly conceived three-part format or else expanding time with the climax and downfall of the Queen rather than with the army members could have further elevated this already enjoyable tale. Buoyed by some excellent sound design as the termites take over the city and cocoon the humans, ‘Valhalla’ is a resounding success in an infrequently explored area of the Seventh Doctor’s life.

Wrap Up

Valhalla

Pros

  • + McCoy absolutely superb as an older, wearier Seventh Doctor
  • Susannah York and Michelle Gomez excellent in their guest roles
  • + Strong sound design brings the colony and termites to life

Cons

  • - Convenient ending and some padding to extend the running time
  • - TARDIS translation circuits take away from the menace of the termite army

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