Heart of Orion

Posted in Audio by - February 10, 2022
Heart of Orion

Released January 2022

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

‘Sword of Orion’ is a hugely consequential entry in Big Finish’s catalogue, representing not only the first trip off of Earth for the Eighth Doctor and Charley together but also the introduction of the Cybermen to the audio medium. Over twenty years on from that release and fittingly chosen to close out this return journey to Charlotte Pollard’s time aboard the TARDIS, Nicholas Briggs once again visits the conflict within the Garazone System in the aftermath of that terrifying encounter with the Cybermen with ‘Heart of Orion.’

Although there would have been a natural excitement to once more hear this dynamic leading duo confront the Cybermen, Briggs makes the wise choice to instead focus on the inherent conflict that still exists between humans and androids at this time. Here, the Doctor and Charley intercept a distress signal that could have only come from one source, Deeva Jansen, the android double agent who was captain of the Vanguard previously and who ultimately sacrificed herself to save Charley. While the story does spend far too long espousing exposition before finally revealing Deeva’s presence at the cliffhanger, the mystery behind the sudden disappearances of people followed by reappearances with unexplained slight changes in personality is an intriguing one that certainly provides an engaging entry point as Dakota Bly’s own investigations go nowhere.

Michelle Livingstone perfectly recaptures the stylings of Jansen as if no time has passed at all, and the intriguing hook of a foe-turned-friend asking the Doctor to help her avoid doing something unspeakable is a fascinating turn for the character to take that likewise adds an extra element to the poignant discussions and thoughts about sense of self that pervade this script. In every respect, the androids of this System are alive, and while there is certainly an element of programming and control weighing on them, the conscious decisions they make and the dark horror behind the duplicates that have been placed is a natural extension of what ‘Sword of Orion’ put in motion so long ago. All of this, again, is filled with uncharacteristically blunt lengths of expository dialogue, but the underlying themes on display are all too relevant and important and also brings Charley to the forefront wonderfully even if the story naturally cannot commit to her fate it so directly suggests.

‘Heart of Orion’ likely isn’t the sequel fans of the original would have hoped to receive after so long, but by dropping the horror of the Cybermen that the original played up so well, it allows the genuine essence of humanity to come to the forefront as the Turing Test proves to be nothing of consequence. The themes on display here have naturally been explored in many stories inside and outside of Doctor Who before, but the familiar backdrop of the Garazone system allows for an extension and development of previous events to naturally form in the heightened conflict pervading everyday life here. Paul McGann and India Fischer once more- and as expected- give wholly enthralling performances that foreshadow events and sentiments that will come to feature later in their characters’ chronology, and the heart and charm on display with the Eighth Doctor and Charley together continues to be a winning combination even more than twenty years later.

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