Vanguard

Posted in Audio by - November 17, 2018
Vanguard

Released November 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following an incredibly successful reintroduction to Virgin’s The New Adventures trio of the Seventh Doctor and Adjudicators Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej in ‘The Trial of a Time Machine,’ the TARDIS next arrives on the ravaged planet of Vanguard in Steve Jordan’s ‘Vanguard.’ As robotic titans stalk the devastation of war, looking for survivors in order to end the conflict once and for all, old feelings die hard while hope springs anew with every life at stake.

‘Vanguard’ is a very busy tale as no fewer than three camps come into focus along with the leads, giving the war and its continuing aftereffects an immense degree of scope and weight that delve into the history and sentiments that created this bleak landscape. By far the most developed of any single character is Sara Powell’s Contessa, an extremely charismatic figure who rescues Chris Cwej from certain death and actually pieces him back together while crafting him a new arm entirely. However, it soon becomes apparent that her motivations are not entirely benevolent as she makes it clear that she will do anything to escape this world, seeing the TARDIS as her salvation and turning her focus to finding the Doctor with no qualms about torturing Chris to get what she wants.

Indeed, it’s the control panel she holds that proves to be the crux of the story on this world where weaponised bacteria known as Takers ravaged both the Dauntless and Intrepid populations. Using that panel, she managed to reprogram the bacteria to save herself after all of her comrades had fallen, and Powell does well to at times imbue a sense of guilt and remorse to this woman who believes herself to be the last of her race. Unknown to her, however, a small group of children from both sides fled their warring parents, a group that still hides away from the seeking Keepers and that has branded Contessa as the spy who ended the world. This group doesn’t get quite as much time to feature while the Doctor enters a state of suspended animation to commune with the Takers after he quickly falls victim to their effects, but the interpersonal dynamic between Olivia Morris’s Green who wishes to take the more diplomatic approach and Connor Calland’s Blue who is unafraid of taking more extreme measures is a standout that already hints at the burgeoning new society that will one day take hold on the planet.

With these two important groups taking precedence, it’s all but inevitable that Roz and her time with the logical Intrepid Keepers becomes the least developed plot aspect. Nonetheless, the union of all three storylines makes for a fitting climax in which the fate of Contessa hangs in the balance after she admits to having taken the Intrepid Takers in an act of war and then turning them on the Intrepid people with the control deck as an act of revenge after the bacteria killed her own people. It’s through the raw emotion on display from all involved that this scene truly shines, and hope for a better tomorrow despite the harrowing past offers the chance for redemption and a positive ending for a story steeped in so much pain, misery, and animosity. Jordan is wise enough to include sentiments that suggest this transition will not be easy, but all of the pieces are at least in place for a unified effort with every chance of success going forward.

Taken as a given that Big Finish can’t truly take this Seventh Doctor to the darker extremes of the novels for fear of alienating its audience, it’s only because of the allotted running time for ‘Vanguard’ that the story doesn’t quite reach its full potential. Every second of this story is used to its maximum, and yet there simply isn’t enough time for all of the nuances of this fractured world to truly develop. Likewise, the resolution is a bit too easy without fully explaining just why one final act of destruction stops the Taker menace even if doing so makes perfect sense. If ever there were an audio story begging for the full three or four parts of the McCoy televised era, ‘Vanguard’ is it, but its broad strokes with occasional moments of incredible depth still offers a satisfying look at a complicated backdrop.

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