Released March 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
The Peter Davison era of Doctor Who saw a subtle shift in the types of stories told to ones featuring slightly higher-concept notions and more cerebral plots than in the past as the programme tried to redefine itself while aiming for a more mature audience that had grown up alongside it. Fitting perfectly into that mould, ‘Zaltys’ concludes the 2017 Big Finish Fifth Doctor trilogy, culminating a successful run of adventures revisiting the early Fifth Doctor TARDIS crew of Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan.
Writer Matthew J Elliott proves that he is unafraid to drench his story with continuity, but he manages to do so without his references ever feeling intrusive or cumbersome while adding depth to the story in the process. Accordingly, the intimate discussions regarding Tegan’s aunt and Adric’s brother make perfect sense as, much to Adric’s amazement given the powers of the TARDIS and what it allows, Tegan continues with her quest to return to Heathrow. These opening scenes recapture the relationship between the two perfectly, and Tegan’s taunting of Adric while having him recall how much happier he was before Nyssa and Tegan joined adequately sets up the complex story as each is quickly sent on his or her own adventure while the Doctor and Nyssa desperately try to find them.
With an apparent asteroid on a collision course and its denizens safely protected in underground hibernation, Zaltys provides an intriguing setting for the story of a seemingly uninhabited world that suddenly takes a much darker turn and delves into the Doctor’s past a la ‘Timelash.’ Indeed, as a seeming friend is revealed to be a traitor and the entire sleeping population unknowingly finds itself facing an entirely more sinister threat, Elliott is able to effortlessly weave the disparate plot strands together into one satisfyingly cohesive whole while making the most of the regulars and managing to portray each in a sympathetic and heroic light as they face their own dangers. Even Nyssa’s latent psychic abilities are referenced, chronologically marking a smooth introduction of that facet of the character without ever betraying what was shown on television.
Brimming with strong characters and concepts, ‘Zaltys’ is incredibly atmospheric and channels its intended era wonderfully while balancing the crowded TARDIS crew well. In fact, the only significant issue is that the story is incredibly reliant on dialogue and exposition to drive it forward, often sacrificing dynamic possibilities and presenting them as more static developments. This fact never deters from the quick pace overall, but the mystery regarding the planet and the impending arrival of a vampiric horde never quite reaches its full dramatic potential while simply being described. As presented, ‘Zaltys’ is a perfectly capable story that plays with expectations and mines the unfamiliarity of inherently familiar notions; however, the multiple dangers at hand could have played out in a more active fashion to really drive home the visual atmosphere and threat.
For fans of continuity, ‘Zaltys’ delivers in spades while crafting an immensely engaging and intelligent story in its own right. Despite its reliance on exposition and dialogue to drive the plot, this is a fine concluding story that exploits the pasts and futures of its leads to great effect, poignantly ending with a subtle reminder that Adric’s end is near.