Below There

Posted in Audio by - August 04, 2023
Below There

Released August 2023


Working alone to maintain a relay station for a vast interstellar teleportation company in ‘Below There’ by Lauren Mooney and Stewart Pringle, Vyx Leeson has begun to have visions of death and despair in her dreams while strange shapes in the space outside and voices on her communications system amass. Unfortunately for her, the Doctor has arrived and informed her that her nightmares are about to become real.

With the Doctor more of a background presence for the first half of this story as he calls in from afar to glean information from Vyx about who she is, how she feels about being isolated in space even his people have not mapped out, and who she works for and why, the tense atmosphere and Kelly Adams as Vyx are given ample opportunity to shine and develop. Indeed, from the title and the Doctor’s welcome, it’s clear that Charles Dickens’s The Signal-Man serves as an inspiration for the lonely but important life Vyx has chosen to embark upon for the duration of her contract and the ultimate payout promised. The apparition of a figure covering its eyes and focusing beyond Vyx also makes for a haunting visual that expertly amplifies the sense of mystery and danger, and although ‘Below There’ does not commit to introducing an unknown alien species- good or bad- as the Doctor’s statement about this region of being unexplored suggests, the true scope of infinity and the personal ties to Vyx and the company she represents make for a narratively satisfying explanation and hidden truth nonetheless.

‘Below There’ never fully commits to building up the horror-laden atmosphere that it teases initially, but the psychological element of the plot as Vyx comes to terms with working alone without ever sacrificing her own morality by rectifying the onboard computer’s basic assumptions about life and working is a unique angle through which the Doctor can explore this dedicated woman. Yet as she continues her work undaunted, the Doctor implicitly knows that she has not been completely forthright with him given the disparities within the station around him. Indeed, while Vyx is willing to an extent to talk with the Doctor whose communication attempts and later appearance defy the rules of the station, she represents one of the rare people who does not immediately fully trust or disparage the Doctor, instead keeping him at arm’s length and gradually increasing her trust in him as he proves himself to be committed to the common good and averting the tragedy that she has seen. The characterization of the Ninth Doctor in Big Finish’s The Ninth Doctor Adventures has occasionally strayed from what was show on-screen which is understandable to an extent since these stories show the Doctor before his time on screen, but this is a story that perfectly captures his ability to relate to others on a very personal level and to inspire them to take action and be the best version of themselves. Christopher Eccleston is absolutely brilliant as his Doctor continues to nudge Vyx to admit what she suspects to be true about the teleport that the Doctor certainly does not trust, and Adams and he develop a superb chemistry within the closed confines of this station as the importance of family and of workers’ right get deserved attention and exploration.

As it is, however, ‘Below There’ is a story that doesn’t quite reach the highs of other stories that have featured similar elements. Because there is something of a holding pattern as the Doctor repeatedly calls to gather brief spurts of information while making conversation, there isn’t quite enough time for the horror element to truly develop or for the impact of Vyx’s actions at the end to truly be explored beyond briefly mentioning that other relay stations are shutting down. No matter the reason why and despite her visions and suspicions, Vyx held a significant loyalty for her employer, and so it seems somewhat odd that other workers should take her impassioned words and pleas at face value so readily. Nonetheless, there are some immense visuals and character work throughout, and the strong direction and sound design help to ensure that a strong story that clearly has much more unexplored depth is wholly enjoyable and tense from beginning to end.

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