Excelis Dawns

Posted in Audio by - October 20, 2017
Excelis Dawns

Released February 2002

Doctor Who has featured many sequels, prequels, and progressive arcs over the years, but Big Finish is taking advantage of its concurrent roster of past actors to have played the Doctor to create the Excelis Saga, a sprawling epic over three releases spanning three incarnations while also tying in the spin-off Bernice Summerfield range with a fourth instalment. Once the Fifth Doctor and the brutal warlord Grayvorn discover the transdimensional adventuress Iris Wildthyme locked in a nunnery upon the savage world of Artaris, they soon find themselves on a quest for a mysterious holy relic that pits them against a horde of flesh-eating zombies, all while the enigmatic Mother Superior looks on knowingly.

It’s clear from the beginning that writer Paul Magrs has a very firm grasp on the characterization of the Fifth Doctor, and Peter Davison easily imbues the sense of weariness and introspection that became more common as his incarnation progressed and strayed farther from the initial enthusiastic romantic who believed everything was good and right. Unsurprisingly, Magrs’s beloved character of Iris Wildthyme provides the perfect foil for the Fifth Doctor, in a sense reminding him of his own past with her continued desire to travel about randomly with reckless abandon and enthusiasm. Katy Manning is superb as the de facto companion for the story, and she manages to bring just enough humanity and emotion to the role to keep Iris’s bluster and overbearing humour from ever becoming tiresome or unwelcome.

‘Excelis Dawns’ is very much a character piece, but it’s still surprising just how light the actual plot is, taken as part of a larger arc or independently. Surprisingly for a Magrs story, there isn’t too much detail about the setting either, an area where he normally excels. Instead, much of this exposition and world-building is handled through narration and simple dialogue, a choice that takes away from the usual flourish of description that he usually manages to include. Indeed, the quest itself is limited to only the first location visited where the relic happens to be, again minimizing the world as a whole being explored. While it is intriguing to discuss the ramifications of the relic, a handbag previously left behind by Iris which allows control of the afterlife, the entire quest is rather rushed and undeveloped, leaving the brief scenes with the zombies as the only noteworthy plot scenes before Grayvorn and the Mother Superior tussle and fall into the handbag at the climax.

Naturally, Grayvorn is the other major character here, and Anthony Stewart Head is an inspired choice to bring the warlord to life. At least here there’s not a tremendous amount of depth to the character, but Head is admirably enthusiastic in his brutish delivery of lines, and hopefully Grayvorn will develop into something a bit more nuanced and developed as the arc progresses. Truthfully, that’s a sentiment that extends to the story as a beginning and as a whole, though. Excelis Dawns has plenty of interesting moments, but its actual plot and sound design are beneath what Big Finish typically offers, leaving the superb character work to carry the story while leaving hope that ideas introduced here will help to create a more satisfying overall experience for what is yet to come.

  • Release Date: 2/2002
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