Maelstrom

Posted in Audio by - May 24, 2022
Maelstrom

Released May 2022

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Centuries after the denizens of Veludia took to giant boats to survive the great flood that has yet to recede, the three remaining survivors now face their race’s ultimate extinction as their bodies wear thin. On this world beset by electromagnetic storms, the vessel’s mind drive that allows the stored consciousnesses of others to be downloaded into these bodies to utilize their specific skills and knowledge as required is all that is keeping them afloat, and the prospect of three new bodies that have arrived in the TARDIS is far too tempting to simply ignore in Jonathan Morris’s ‘Maelstrom.’

‘Maelstrom’ is the first story with Hebe that doesn’t in any way revolve around her, hinting at what future stories with this lead trio may be like. Indeed, aside from a brief moment during which she mentions having wondered what it would be like to be in another’s body previously but now understanding how great she is as an individual and what she would have to sacrifice to do so, Hebe is very much just another companion on equal footing here, and Ruth Madeley continues to impress even in a more supporting role as Hebe comes to understand the lengths being gone to in order to ensure survival. Unfortunately, aside from the justified outrage from the Doctor and Hebe at using Mel as a host for another’s consciousness without her permission, there is hardly any discussion about the profound ethical conundrums presented here. Even if everyone is willing accept that slowly degrading copies of consciousnesses count as living souls, there is no reason that the Doctor and his friends should so cavalierly gloss over the shocking decision to test local wildlife as potential hosts for downloaded minds and the horrifying decision to simply cast away the inevitable failures to die. Obviously, the intent is to showcase the moral and ethical corruption of a scientist pushed to the brink and facing mortality, but while nothing can change past actions, this is absolutely a plot point that needs to be explored in much more detail to really showcase the fierce integrity of the leads.

Strangely, ‘Maelstrom’ seems content to wade in a sort of moral ambiguity with the Doctor overall, and while Colin Baker is incredibly energetic and engaging as always, the story tries but ultimately fails to pose the Doctor’s outlandish solution for these people as compassionate. Rarely has the Doctor in any incarnation done something quite so brazen despite the immense power as a Time Lord that he holds, and it’s an odd note to end on even if the inclusion of a discussion about fixed points in time is a nice nod to the modern series. It’s a divisive choice, to be sure, but it’s quite fatalistic in its approach and instills little optimism or genuine sense of closure to the story itself. To be fair, there is a discussion about why the Doctor should help these people at all given everything they have done, and though it’s nice to see that Mel is leading the charge by refusing to bear a grudge, the ending is simply too disjointed from the main plot to fully round out a cohesive package. Of course, the segue into the next story in which Hebe seems all too eager to ignore her friend and another SOS sent to Evelyn is even more awkward even if the Doctor eventually proclaims that they are heading somewhere all too familiar, a very odd note for Hebe as a character who has already softened and undergone such development through three stories.

‘Maelstrom’ is not without its strong points and features an immersive sound design and brilliant double performance from Bonnie Langford; however, its refusal to fully engage in any sort of moral debate and its disjointed ending for the remaining Veludians along with an oddly written and portrayed ending scene with Hebe make this an odd experience that never manages to reach its full potential given the immense drama present within its unique setting.

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