Pursuit of the Nightjar

Posted in Audio by - September 07, 2023
Pursuit of the Nightjar

Released September 2023


Named for the first bird that defied nature and expectations to adapt and thrive when taken offworld, the Nightjar piloted by the legendary Captain Goben on a multi-year mission of mercy to deliver medical supplies to a distant colony ravaged by war has inspired generations. The Doctor, who has likewise found inspiration in these events and used them as something of a mission statement with a model of the Nightjar from Susan serving as a constant reminder, suddenly finds himself in the presence of his idol during the final lengths of his journey with the dogged chase from Captain Eslo aboard the Nemesis looking to stop him in ‘Pursuit of the Nightjar’ by Tim Foley.

In the vast expanse of space, the Nightjar represents a very confined setting, the ship’s deteriorating conditions along with the dangerous black hole-like micro-structures along the ship’s path creating a palpable sense of danger as Goben relentlessly continues his journey against all odds. To make matters worse, strange scorch marks and damage throughout the ship away from quarters suggest a dangerous presence onboard while Eslo looks to prevent this mission’s success from afar. The story itself and the heroic imagery of a man who persisted alone for so long to deliver aid to a colony so desperately in need is truly epic in scale, and the bravery that triggered the end of a war that to that point seemed endless deservedly earns the Doctor’s admiration. Wisely, though, he is somewhat wary of meeting his hero when the TARDIS arrives on this famed ship, and amid the Doctor’s fervent recounting of events that will play out and that culminate with the Nemesis exploding and then Goben’s sad demise just weeks after completion due to lengthy exposure to harmful elements in space, it’s all too clear that history doesn’t quite have the whole story correct.

Paul Thornley is tremendous as Goben, highlighting the fortitude, determination, and ultimate kindness that any hero should possess. He’s understandably wary of the three strangers who have appeared out of nowhere aboard his ship, but he’s open-minded and trusting enough to realize that not everybody is inherently his enemy even as his surroundings both in and outside of the ship suggest that he is the target of ire and attacks. Surprisingly, through both recordings and conversations, Foley reveals a burgeoning relationship of respect and even friendship between Goben and Eslo despite the obvious differences in their stated intents, and when the unexpected happens and Goben fails to see his mission through despite future history’s records, the true strength of that mutual respect comes to the fore as the Nightjar continues to deteriorate and is threatened with total loss and destruction. While the characterization is somewhat uneven to mirror the internal conflict that Eslo must be feeling as her time conversing with Goben comes to create a direct conflict with her mission as the Doctor invokes the memory and inspiration of the fallen great captain, Fenella Woolgar gives a commanding and at-times sensitive performance as Eslo that comes to form the true backbone of the unexpected perseverance of Goben’s intent.

Of course, in such a confined setting with such a small cast, the three leads are given ample opportunity to shine, and while it is known that none can succumb to the incredible perils present here, Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, and Janet Fielding all expertly convey the sense of encroaching danger as hope seems all but lost. This sequence and unexpected loss hits the Doctor particularly hard, and while he never stops trying to find a solution to the status of the Nightjar and to appeal to Eslo’s better nature, even he has moments of desolation and desperation that more than try his perpetual optimism. Notably, both Nyssa and Tegan serve as sources of inspiration for the Doctor as they ensure that the loss of Goben does not come to consume events, and while Tegan is faced with the very real prospect of her own mortality, their refusal to accept the fate that seems preordained for them is a testament to both and serves as a catalyst to openly bring this team all that much closer together. There isn’t quite enough plot material to fill out the entirety of four parts without some padding, and although the somewhat acerbic look at the influence of fans on famed figures perhaps takes away from a more momentous threat in pursuit of a unique and justified angle, ‘Pursuit of the Nightjar’ is a brilliantly visual and emotional addition to The Fifth Doctor Adventures that makes the most of its characters and setting.

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