The Rotting Deep

Posted in Audio by - May 22, 2022
The Rotting Deep

Released May 2022

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The Doctor and Mel respond to a mysterious SOS from a North Sea oil rig on which a lethal but unknown menace is slowly killing off the beleaguered crew in Jacqueline Rayner’s ‘The Rotting Deep,’ the opener to the latest Sixth Doctor trilogy from Big Finish, Water Worlds.

Any maritime setting is utterly dependent on its sound design to truly come to life, and Steve Foxon does an immense job both with the background and the immediate noises to make the oil rig and the animals within and around it become distinct characters in their own right. Elevated by this strong work, ‘The Rotting Deep’ is very much a classic Doctor Who story with a base under siege, and the claustrophobic confines that are developed so very well help to amplify the danger while also creating a unique yet familiar set of problems for wheelchair-using marine biologist Hebe Harrison who by story’s end is set to travel aboard the TARDIS.

A fairly traditional story structure is a brilliant decision for a companion’s introduction, truly allowing the character of Hebe herself to come into focus without having to compete with grandiose occurrences behind her. Doctor Who doesn’t necessarily have a long history of positive representation of disabilities, but Big Finish and Ruth Madeley who was born with spina bifida and who has brought a great deal of attention to people with disabilities and the challenges confronted within everyday society look set to change that. To that effect, Hebe makes an instant impact and shows that she, like Mel, will be completely willing to stand up for herself and to the Doctor as required. She is fiercely intelligent and assertive, and she has a streak of anger that makes her drive to succeed all the more visceral. By no means does she see her disability as an excuse even when events conspire against her continued mobility, and her pride and no-nonsense approach should continue to make for a very unique dynamic aboard the TARDIS in subsequent stories.

Although not completely necessary to the story, the distress signal being a means by which to at least briefly revisit the legacy of Dr Evelyn Smythe is a poignant reminder of the incredible journey the Sixth Doctor has been on in the audio medium; more importantly, it serves as an emotional counterbalance to the hysteria and mania that the unseen threat here brings out in those affected. There are shades of ‘The Waters of Mars’ here, but the vocal manifestation here is frequently far too over the top once the desalination process comes into focus and unfortunately does take away from some of the tension that is otherwise built up so well. Still, the ubiquity of plankton within the marine food chain is a genuinely far more frightening source of discussions than the posited alien involvement as the Doctor and Hebe attempt to get to the bottom of this deadly mystery, adding an almost oppressive scale and scope to these confines as oil rigs’ role in the future for both mankind and the environment continue to be decided.

Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford, like always, are on top form, and while a significant portion of this two-part story is rightfully reserved to developing Hebe, the Doctor and Mel are both assertive and compassionate forces who are able to navigate politics, prejudices, and viewpoints to discover the truth. However, as a whole, the shorter running time means that there is little here that has not been done elsewhere and often to better effect. There are certainly strong moments with the plot, but the supporting characters as a whole feel somewhat underdeveloped, meaning that this is a story that very much will be remembered solely for its impactful introduction to Ruth Madeley’s Hebe Harrison.

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