London Orbital

Posted in Audio by - November 10, 2022
London Orbital

Released November 2022


Dropped off from their travels in the TARDIS several decades after their own time, Harry Sullivan and Naomi Cross have made a life for themselves and continue to adapt to the new world around them while helping Kate Stewart’s UNIT. When a very different incarnation of the Doctor than they traveled with shows up, however, peril once more follows in his wake as he tries to make amends to his former companions in the latest release of The Seventh Doctor Adventures, Sullivan and Cross – AWOL.

Of course, Big Finish is using an immensely intriguing and somewhat risky strategy with the pairing of Harry and Naomi, their initial adventures alongside the Fourth Doctor not releasing until 2024 but having already made their audio debut in the UNIT: Nemesis series and now meeting a second incarnation of the Time Lord with full knowledge of everything they experienced alongside the first. Narratively, this approach is fascinating as the Seventh Doctor must accept his own previous shortcomings while all three characters must tap into a deep and established relationship of which- especially regarding Naomi- listeners are mostly unaware; however, it also implicitly requires direct and somewhat oblique references to previous adventures that will assuredly gain context in the future but that fall somewhat flat here without the Fourth Doctor’s role yet released. In many ways, this story is presented like part of a continuing series in which every listener is joining partway through without any possibility of understanding the full history beforehand, but in ‘London Orbital’ writer John Dorney manages to walk that tightrope fairly well to avoid alienating the audience even if he by necessity cannot delve too much into the events that led to the companions’ departure from the TARDIS and the lingering sentiments they have about being so far displaced from their own times.

Doctor Who doesn’t too often go into the realms of fantasy, but the notion of another London housing elves and magic that can only sometimes be perceived is a brilliant and engaging one that allows Harry to recount and further explore the massacre at Foxworth Drive he witnessed so long ago that drove him to join UNIT. The elven culture presented here is one based on several myths, but the surprisingly political nature of the drama much more thoroughly fleshes out the story of the Ljósálfar Light Elves and the Dökkálfar Dark Elves than a simple animosity or blood feud between the two would have allowed. With the threat of a war that could bleed into this world looming large, the deception of Ljósálfar Prince Keryth is slowly uncovered with Harry’s earlier heroic actions integral to the truth becoming known. Keryth’s brother’s son, Balmaris, once led a delegation to negotiate peace between the two elven species, but Keryth in his quest for power has committed egregious acts and played both sides to continue to stoke the flames of hatred and distrust between them. The elvish characters themselves are fairly cliched in a type of story that has been done several times before, but their emotions and unique powers nonetheless impress throughout. Even with the overt misstep of not allowing exploration of the king’s emotions following his learning the truth about his son he had thought dead for so long, such a story with an increasing desperation resulting as long-standing lies are revealed and questioned must be anchored by a strong villainous core, and Hywel Morgan and Candida Gubbins imbue an extreme cruelness and haughtiness to their performances to make the conflict truly palpable and resonant.

The Doctor himself does seem somewhat detached from affairs, living up to the enigmatic reputation Naomi knows this incarnation has as he subtly drops vital hints to his former companions about the elves and their magic while more or less pushing them to discover the truth and put the pieces together by themselves. Sylvester McCoy is quite convincing with this facet of his Doctor, but he is perhaps even more impressive when delving into the remorse his character feels for the inadvertent trouble he created for his friends as well as the pride the Doctor has in who Harry and Naomi are as people and what they are capable of achieving. Though Harry proclaims that he would rather be a coward than a dead hero, his fortitude and determination and never in question, and Christopher Naylor once again excels as he further defines this beloved companion from the classic era within a modern context. And although Naomi is still something of an unknown quantity and certainly a bit too condescending and unwilling to believe in an alien influence here, Eleanor Crooks is quickly proving why Naomi should be seen and remembered as a no-nonsense and direct companion who is more than willing to stand up to any injustice and to steadfastly support her friends.

The fantastical nature of this script relies on an immense amount of imagery and the sterling sound design and music of Steve Foxon to fully develop, and the end result is an impressively immersive experience that evokes the essence of the trap streets in ‘Face the Raven’ given the contemporary setting but that is rather unique to anything Doctor Who has yet done. The timing of this release without the companions’ context is undoubtedly strange and somewhat jarring at this point, but ‘London Orbital’ manages to touch upon that past while boldly looking to the future with this trio reunited as Harry truly takes centre stage and more of his own experiences before joining UNIT become known.

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