Face of the Apocalypse

Posted in Audio by - June 02, 2024
Face of the Apocalypse

Released May 2024


When the TARDIS locks onto a strange algorithm and the Doctor finds a high-security bank recognizing the face of River Song as a bypass to all of its security just as River is attempting to dismantle the computer, he quickly suspects that his will-be wife is up to some nefarious deed as her reputation he has read about suggests. However, when the bank’s vaults start filling up with prisoners as River’s face begins to appear all throughout history in the most consequential locales, all of space and time come under threat in Lizzie Hopley’s ‘Face of the Apocalypse.’

Though it’s a shame that the Ninth Doctor’s interactions with River are limited to this one set in isolation rather than having these adventures interspersed with those of other sets to capture the fleeting and happenstance nature of their quasi-relationship at this point, the chemistry between Christopher Eccleston and Alex Kingston is undeniable even as the Doctor initially has little trust or even desire to be around River. Despite knowing that his future self or selves must have a reason for trusting River so much, his inclination to assume she is being less than honourable at the start is perfectly fitting for this scarred incarnation and reasonable given the circumstances and history’s records of this woman. However, an assumed simple theft quickly becomes all the more consequential as they together find that River’s face has somehow become the key to all existence, becoming the subject of the Mona Lisa and inspiring fashion that itself makes so many the unwilling targets of an unexpected pursuer.

Despite River being integral to the unexpectedly immense danger set up, ‘Face of the Apocalypse’ is fairly little disjointed and muddled as it hops through different locales to show the spread of River’s features. Once the story settles down to focus on a real-life Adam and Eve that came to inspire a pacifist movement, however, it does become much more effective. That the Doctor is so wholly enthusiastic about the legend of Spore and Keetree and thinks of them with something approaching adulation is a fascinating turn, but what he sees as the locale and these two heroes do anything but live up to expectations is a dramatic impetus for the Doctor to put right this relationship and ensuing events that are so paramount to the future. With River continuing to drop hints about their own relationship and its ups and downs as River’s face continues to appear in places it should not, the fractured relationship of Spore and Keetree that so clearly has an underlying love to it despite Keetree’s rather overt protestations and shows of disdain is an intriguing highlight that Paul Reynolds and Nadia Albina capture effectively.

Unfortunately, the villain of this story doesn’t quite manage to effectively develop as a wholly coherent individual. The connection to the Matchmaker in the previous story is an intriguing one, but a glitch that has gained sentience and managed to develop a means of using River’s appearance to travel any time and place that she has been or will be in order to wreak further havoc is convoluted and hardly the clearest method of conveying anything approaching love in even the most misguided sense. Even with River’s own claim that love is wholly dedicating oneself to something or someone providing only the narrowest of definitions, the artificial intelligence element ad scheme don’t quite land as intended with the resolution ultimately being far too simple with the Doctor only tangentially involved. There’s no shortage of ambition in this script that introduces an entirely new region of space and religion of sorts as Spore’s all-important drawings ad records must start anew, but ‘Face of the Apocalypse’ is all over the place with its narrative and dramatically and tonally can’t quite reach the intensity of the dangers it presents.

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