The Dead Star

Posted in Audio by - January 12, 2023
The Dead Star

Released January 2023


Following 1989’s ‘Survival’ when the continuing saga of Doctor Who was told primarily through the written medium, Kate Orman quickly established herself as one of the definitive writers in both the Virgin and BBC lines of novels. With incredible ambition and superb characterization to create vividly dynamic and breathing worlds, Orman consistently delivered evocative tales that helped to sustain the viability of the franchise while exploring wholly new avenues for the series that remained true to the beloved characters at their core. Now returning to Doctor Who novelizations nearly two decades after her last was published, Orman brilliantly returns to the fore with her first dip into the Second Doctor era with ‘The Dead Star.’

From the start, it’s clear that Orman has a firm grasp on the Patrick Troughton era, combining a certain familiarity and intimacy that blossoms into something altogether more imaginative and ambitious to present the Doctor with arguably his biggest challenge yet. Representing an era in which more contemporary stories would become more common, ‘The Dead Star’ evocatively begins with a race to flee a lifeless London folding in upon itself and the Doctor trying to discover the truth behind a mysterious time corridor and the warning this locale represents. Escaping to 1968 that for Polly and Ben is so tantalizingly close to home, the trio discovers that Earth has only one month to live as a primordial black hole zeroes in on its target. In an effort to avert this assured catastrophe from misuse of terrifyingly advanced technology, the Doctor and his friends undertake a series of covert missions and ultimately take their efforts far into the future and space with one of the more surreal and awe-inspiring final settings the series has ever offered.

Indeed, although ‘The Dead Star’ does not overly complicatedly delve into the science of black holes, their cause and effect are very much front and centre throughout. From the event horizon to the inescapably destructive prowess and resulting time dilations, the power and mystique of these celestial bodies is never far from the surface once a more scientific plot is introduced. However, Orman wondrously fuses in a very modern and contemporary discussion of black holes with the retrospectively limited capabilities of the most advanced equipment of the 1960s to truly make the Earthbound segments of the tale sparkle. Amid hunts for shrouded planets lay conspiracies and remarkably advanced thought processes, the latter being balanced by a secretive society dedicated to studying physical and existential threats to the Earth and how to ensure that life continues on as normally as possible without actually affecting change or alerting the public. As the very vivid destruction of the solar system’s bodies approaches Earth with even the Moon succumbing, the wildly different approaches to accepting or denying the possibility of a black hole in any form and of any size so close to Earth are frighteningly prescient and representative of ingrained attitudes and variable open-mindedness on any topic within society at large no matter how severe.

Naturally, the Doctor has plenty of opportunities to showcase his own knowledge while ingratiating himself to the scientific elite looking out to the stars, in the process uncovering the presence of another off-worlder who knows far more than she rightfully should. Indeed, amidst Earthlings who more or less simply serve a narrative purpose to advance the plot, it’s a Uranian who quickly becomes a standout supporting character with a massive knowledge and personality holding very familiar motivations and conflicted thoughts. Within the perceived context of those around this being, male or female has little meaning beyond what others want to consider, and this particular alien brilliantly helps to guide the plot by bringing together the very disparate settings into a cohesive whole as even the Doctor must begrudgingly admit that he may never understand the truth behind the black hole they have encountered, entered, and even interacted with while considering the possibility of long-lost advanced civilizations or even other-dimensional beings. It’s rare that the Doctor does not have all of the answers at hand, and that sense of wonder, mystique, and undoubted danger lends a wholly satisfying angle to this plot that reminds everyone of just how limited anyone’s understanding in a universe of infinite possibilities truly is.

The Second Doctor has featured more infrequently than any other classic iteration of the Doctor for Big Finish, but this era has always been one treated with obvious respect and love with Patrick Troughton himself gaining a second life through the immense vocal talents of Frazer Hines for so long and more recently Michael Troughton. Here, Troughton gives an immense performance as the voice of the narrator and so many supporting characters in addition to the Doctor, Ben, and Polly, and the simultaneous whimsy and weightiness he imbues to the Doctor perfectly encapsulates everything that continues to make his father’s work so beloved. While he by no means attempts to do straight impersonations of Michael Craze or Anneke Wills, he respectfully inserts a slight Cockney edge to Ben and a much lighter tone for Polly, both of whom are given ample opportunity to highlight their own resourcefulness, dedication, and compassion as they likewise attempt to discover the truth and scope of the situation before them. As a companion who did not always get the most satisfying narrative roles on television, Polly in particular truly proves her mettle even as the situation threatens to overwhelm her on more than one occasion. There are certainly times in which a certain whininess and even helplessness do creep into her characterization which is somewhat surprising given the focus she receives, but whether through their own natural actions and reactions or via temporarily enhanced capabilities in a couple of key segments, both Ben and she shine at most points of this six-part saga. Troughton deftly switches between characters and keeps a natural flow throughout, impressively carrying this massive narrative with a freely flowing energy that perfectly captures the pacing and tone of 1960s Doctor Who even as the narrative far surpasses anything that the budget of the era would have allowed on television. Realistically, ‘The Dead Star’ likely could have been condensed to four parts without suffering any narrative setback, but as a whole it proves again just why these enhanced audio novelizations have proven to be so successful by allowing for a very deep and thorough exploration of the characters, settings, and ideas on display that typical full-cast audios simply do not allow. Hopefully this is only the beginning of Kate Orman’s contributions to feature-length Big Finish Doctor Who given this indisputable proof that her talents can seamlessly translate to audio, in the process showing yet again why the Second Doctor era deserves to be a very prominent point of focus.

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