Psychodrome

Posted in Audio by - June 15, 2016
Psychodrome

Released August 2014

Big Finish has done wonders rehabilitating several of the more maligned or controversial characters of the classic Doctor Who series, Peri, Mel, and even the Sixth Doctor being prime examples. For the first time, though, Matthew Waterhouse makes his return to the Doctor Who universe as possibly the most criticised character of all, the young, cocky mathematician Adric.

In ‘Psychodrome,’ the TARDIS is drawn to a planetoid circling a red dwarf, but it’s not until they land that the Doctor realizes the planetoid is actually a space station with several life forms aboard. As night falls and the characters find themselves separated from each other, each is challenged by their subconscious fears, suspicions, and misgivings. ‘Psychodrome’ is a very early adventure for the TARDIS team of the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric, and the characters are clearly still uncertain about those with whom they find themselves traveling. Logically, the script doesn’t focus so much on an intricately detailed plot so much as the interactions between the characters as they try to form relationships and friendships. The several references to previous adventures may be too detailed for some, but this special box set is certainly tailored more to the hardcore audience and those very familiar with these characters, and for those fans it will be an absolute delight to explore the early thoughts of this new group of companions.

Understandably, the passage of time has caused some changes in the depth of voices and delivery styles, most noticeably for Waterhouse trying to play a teenager. As such, this box set is not necessarily composed of two audios that would fit in seamlessly with the televised era, but the presence of the characters alone as well as the inflections and sentiments that remain true make it just as enjoyable nonetheless if the listener can suspend any disbelief. Wisely, despite Adric’s divisive nature, ‘Psychodrome’ does nothing to try to temper the character, portraying him exactly as the bold and arrogant boy he is, but also paying attention to just how incredibly insecure and yearning of support he is as well. Along the way, Waterhouse is somehow able to exude a sense of empathy into the character that simply was rarely present during the original run.

At the same time, Tegan is much more sarcastic and almost cruel than she is typically written, and while this may turn off some listeners, it is perfectly in line with her circumstances of having the Master kill her aunt and then being taken away by the Doctor and a group of strangers. At this point in her life, she is a young woman who is incredibly afraid but also determined not to show that fear, and Fielding does superb work in that role while also getting a heroic moment of bravery at the end where she is able to prove both to herself and her companions what type of person she is deep down.

With so much focus on the return of Adric, Nyssa, the Big Finish stalwart, is justifiably shuffled to the background a little bit more than usual. She gets some standout scenes as she tries to help the denizens of the space station with a spreading plague, but the inner turmoil she must still be feeling about the death of her father and destruction of her planet is never thoroughly delved into in this release despite being mentioned on multiple occasions. On the other hand, Peter Davison gives one of his most mesmerizing performances as the Fifth Doctor yet, exploring the man who is undoubtedly the Doctor, having faith and confidence in his companions even as he comes to terms with not really knowing them or knowing if he can trust them. There’s a certain blend of confidence and insecurity that he brings out masterfully here, and his reactions to his companions also not knowing if they can trust him are perfect.

Fortunately, despite the characters not fully knowing each other and the psychological aspects of the scripts focusing on the negative attributes of each, the four leads all have a terrific chemistry together that helps the plot flow easily along even as they are sometimes portrayed in a less than flattering light. Even if there’s never really an explanation offered for why the Psychodrome exists, the supporting cast of several characters all played by Robert Whitelock, Phil Mulryne, Bethan Walker, and Camilla Power bring the environment to life wonderfully. Even if there isn’t a villain in the classic sense of the word, Whitelock’s King Magus is a definite antagonistic highlight, playing off the Doctor’s anxieties and his companions’ trepidations, at the end explaining the reason for this story and its supporting characters brilliantly.

‘Psychodrome’ is very much a story that bypasses action for a more emotional and psychological experience, and this TARDIS team is one rich for that type of exploration. By necessity, there are several references to previous adventures which helps to firmly entrench events and give credence to the worries and fears each character expresses. Paired with some nice allusions to future events such as the villain mentioning that Adric will die, Nyssa helping with a plague situation, and even the Doctor saying his famous ‘Brave heart’ line to Tegan, this is a story laden in continuity that will certainly appease long-term fans. With some sterling sound effects that fit in perfectly with the original television era, ‘Psychodrome’ is a fantastic addition to an underexplored area of the Fifth Doctor’s life and a successful return for Matthew Waterhouse’s Adric.

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