In this anniversary year Big Finish conceded to the inevitable, and produced a multi-Doctor story. There will actually be 2 by the year has ended - with Zagreus promising us all 4 Big Finish Audio Doctors in 1 bumper edition. This combines the most successful audio Doctor with the least successful - and the results really surprised me.
The story opens with the 6th Doctor and Evelyn. It's a direct sequel to Project:Twilight - Scott and Wrights impressive debut for the range. Cassie has been left in the cold wastelands of the North, and the Doctors promise on a quick return are scuppered by an erratic Time Machine. Nimrod makes the most of the Doctors mistakes, and the Forge continues its experimentations.
The first Project tale concerned itself with underworld London, it was full of Vampires and dodgy Cockneys. Here the emphasis is more on isolated bases, of mad scientists and alien involvement. It wasn't at all what I was expecting. The Vampiric villain is hardly mentioned - here he is just a villain - and a rattling good one at that.
Stephen Chance returns as Nimrod - solidifying his reputation as one of the top enemies of the audio series. Rosie Cavaliero as Cassie also returns - but quite different than before. Both characters justify their 2nd outing, and both are big contributors to the success of the whole. The other returnee, besides the Doctor that is, is Evelyn - and Maggie Stables is always wonderful. She's going through hell here again though - and my only gripe is that this a bit too much after her sadness in The Pirates. Hopefully they will lighten things up for her in the future - I hate to see her suffer so! The extra players perform well, but are not really that stand-out-ish. The Forges scientists are put so much in the shadows, thanks to Nimrod and the Doctors, they don't need to be stronger than they are.
The combination of the 6th and 7th Doctor is what distinguishes this play though. With its choice of cover (I got the 7th) this was always going to be about how the 2 interacted, and how the story uses 2 monumental characters within the same story. The 6th starts things off, and there is no sign of the 7th till part 3 - that was another surprise. The 7th then takes over, soon to be joined by the 6th. Writing that it appears that this is primarily a 6th Dr story, but I honestly believe that the 7th comes out of the whole thing better. Things aren't quite what they seem between the Doctors, and I was constantly wondering if they really were who they were supposed to be - there did seem to be a lot of experiments going on, after all.
In this Evelyn gets really cheesed off with the 6th Doctor, and her emotion is justified - he did get things very wrong - and it's quite a change from the all-singing, all-dancing domineering force of previous 6th Doctor plays. The 7th Doctor, by contrast, benefits from the authors decision to place this story just before the TV Movie. This is a Doctor right at the end of his life, the best aspects of this mysterious, dark incarnation to the fore. The 7th Doctor hasn't received quite the standard of excellence that the other 3 Doctors have, and it's ironic that his best story sees him outshining the 6th.
There's the surprise - this is a better story for the 7th Doctor, than it is from the 6th - and this coming from a "6th Doctor is now the best Doctor" opinionator. This is not to say the 6th Doctor struggles, he doesn't, and he's actually rather good - but the 7th Doctor is totally brilliant here. Both Doctors great, 7th a little better.
Scott and Wright make it 3 out 3 successes with Project: Lazarus. A solid story, with a core of brilliant characters and actors. A fine spin too on the dual Doctor stories that many have attempted, but few succeeded with. 8/10
‘Project: Lazarus’ starts off as a sequel to Cavan Scott and Mark Wright’s previous ‘Project: Twilight’ and for the first two episodes feels largely like an exercise in tying up loose ends. By Episode Three however, it becomes something rather different and stands as an impressive example of how to do a multi-Doctor story without resorting to cliché.
The first two episodes of ‘Project: Lazarus’ are very obviously a continuation of ‘Project: Twilight’. Cassie returns, the Doctor having found a cure for the twilight virus, as does Nimrod. The TARDIS materialises in Scandinavia, the Doctor and Evelyn fulfilling their promise to return to Cassie, but arriving too late; it quickly becomes apparent that this is not going to be the happy reunion that Evelyn is hoping for. Unable to return just after they left Cassie, ‘Project: Lazarus’ sees the Doctor and Evelyn finding a Cassie embittered by two years spent scavenging and pursued by Nimrod. Her initial reaction to the presence of Evelyn is hostile, and then she murders Professor Harket; by the end of Episode One it is obvious what is happening, and the listener’s conclusions are confirmed as a force from the Forge lands and Nimrod greets “Artemis”, Cassie having been recruited to his cause. The following episode continues – and ultimately concludes – Cassie’s story, as it becomes obvious that she did not easily agree to work for the mysteriously hospitable Nimrod; it quickly becomes apparent that she has no memory of her son, and shortly after she realises that Nimrod has exerted a far more malevolent influence on her than she guessed,, he kills her.
Cassie’s return and death made the first two episodes of ‘Project: Twilight’ seem like a gratuitous sequel designed to tidy up when I first listened to it, but in actual fact they achieve far more. Most importantly, it further develops the relationship between the Doctor and Evelyn in ways that nobody expected. The opening scenes reaffirm their friendly relationship, as Evelyn tartly offers the Doctor breakfast, complains that it was his turn to make it, and generally gets exasperated. This however barely hides their usual affection, which shines through as they share a meal and make conversation, Evelyn gently teasing her friend with lines such as “That’s not like you. You’ll do anything to avoid doing repairs” when he sets out to mend the TARDIS. This makes what happens later all the more tragic, as we learn Evelyn’s motivation for travelling with the Doctor and witness her distraught reaction to Cassie’s death and the effect that it has on their friendship. The revelation that Evelyn is suffering from a terminal heart condition is totally unexpected, but it makes her willingness to face death with the Doctor believable as she tells Cassie, “Since I’ve met the Doctor, I’ve never felt so alive.” With death an all too present concern whatever she does, her desire to live life to the full makes perfect sense. It also has emotional impact for any listeners who like Evelyn as much as I do, as for the first time since Adric died we are reminded that however indestructible the Doctor may seem, his companions are rather more vulnerable.
Having confronted the listener with this shocking revelation however, Scott and Wright continue to pile on emotional hardship as Nimrod murders Cassie and Evelyn is forced for the first time to really confront the grief that is so often associated with travelling with the Doctor. The ending is heartbreaking, as the distraught Doctor tells his companion, “Evelyn, I’m sorry. I don’t always win.” He offers her chocolate cake in an attempt to reach out to her, but this badly misfires as she mistakes his clumsy attempt to comfort her as callousness and retreats weeping to her room, her faith in the Doctor shattered by events at the Forge. The ending to Episode Two is thus deeply ominous; with the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn taking their leave of the story, the listener is left shaken by tragedy, and later provided with an ominous foreshadowing of things to come as the Seventh Doctor tells his ersatz former incarnation, “Evelyn never forgave you, right up until the end”. Of course, none of this emotional storytelling would work unless the actors involved were up to the task of conveying their characters’ feelings, but Baker excels here as the Doctor faces yet another loss and is utterly shaken by Evelyn’s response to his reaction, which beautifully highlights the regard he feels for Evelyn. As for Maggie Stables, she is magnificent as Evelyn, capturing the character’s usual warmth and optimism early on, her later determination to make the most of her remaining life, and finally her almost palpable grief at Cassie’s death.
Episodes One and Two also work well in terms of other plot aspects and in setting the scene for Episodes Three and Four. The early scenes in Scandinavia as Harket hunts for a mythical creature are wonderfully creepy, and whilst mythical creatures that turn out to be aliens are a familiar story device in Doctor Who, it works as well here as it has done so often before. The legend of the Huldrans is well handled, and adds to the suspense as something lurks unseen in the forest, leaving corpses covered in blue slime. The first two episodes also pave the way for what is to follow as Nimrod, seemingly keen to show off the Forge to his “guests” inevitably turns out to have an ulterior motive for his seeming hospitality, as he tries to add a Time Lord to his collection of alien material and artefacts, and attempts to torture the Doctor to the point of regeneration, which results in Colin Baker putting in an alarmingly convincing agonized performance. The importance of this brutal scene isn’t immediately obvious but still works well in its own right, re-emphasizing Nimrod’s brutality and single-minded purpose and establishing the Forge as a sort of dark reflection of UNIT. My only real criticism of Episodes One and Two of ‘Project: Lazarus’ is that they introduce the Hades Protocols, a self-destruct mechanism for the Forge, which makes the eventual denouement of the story rather obvious.
Episode Three shifts the focus of the story to the Seventh Doctor, the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn having continued on their travels at the end of Episode Two. As such, ‘Project: Lazarus’ is arguably the first Doctor Who story to be so clearly divided into two halves since ‘The Ark’ and is the first to be divided between incarnations in this way. Episode Three opens in the much the same vein as Episode Two left off; the Seventh Doctor is in sombre mood, playing a melancholy refrain on a piano alone in the TARDIS. The inevitable expository dialogue in the form of the Doctor talking to himself/the TARDIS works better than in either ‘Last of the Titans’ or ‘Excelis Decays’, partly due to the script and partly due to McCoy’s performance. The Doctor is frustrated and grumpy, which somehow makes the sound of him moaning at his vehicle more convincing, although the line “Time is falling on itself, ripping apart” is pushing it a bit. McCoy is superb here, delivering lines such as “I’m not as forgiving as my last incarnation” in such a way as to make him seem far more intimidating than the Sixth Doctor and seeming more than a match for Nimrod. McCoy’s performance oozes contempt for the Doctor’s enemy and the Forge’s callous attitude to alien life forms; his best moments however come when he shares the limelight with his predecessor…
When ‘Project: Lazarus’ was first announced, I naturally assumed that it would be a multi-Doctor story in the traditional vein, which given the considerable short comings of ‘The Three Doctors’, ‘The Five Doctors’ and Episode Four of ‘The Sirens of Time’ (and to a lesser extent, ‘The Two Doctors’), did not bode well. Instead, Scott and Wright deliver a story in two halves, but with a twist, as the Seventh Doctor finds a clone of his previous incarnation working as the Forge’s scientific advisor. This works incredibly well, largely due to Baker’s performance; the script signposts early on the fact that the fake Sixth Doctor is not the genuine article. The Seventh Doctor doesn’t remember working for the Forge, and the ersatz Sixth Doctor describes the Huldran as a “horrible thing” and dismisses Nimrod’s slaughter of the creature. More amusingly, the Sixth Doctor has trouble with technobabble and then asks Nimrod of the Seventh Doctor, “I could just kill him now… please?” and Baker conveys the clone’s hesitancy and uncertainty through his vocal inflections, further implying that all is not what it seems. At the end of Episode Three, Nimrod confirms that the Sixth Doctor is a clone by telling the Seventh that he was expendable from the moment he was born, but what really cinches it is the loss of the Sixth Doctor’s arm; it makes it obvious beyond all doubt that he isn’t the genuine article, although Baker’s agonized performance still makes it strangely unsettling to hear “the Doctor” so seriously injured, purely because it subverts the Doctor’s usual indestructibility.
Despite being a clone of the Doctor rather than the genuine article, the fake Sixth Doctor works extremely well as a character in his own right, moving from dodgy imposter to a figure of sympathy and ultimately to someone who makes a heroic self-sacrifice to defeat Nimrod. Baker packs so much emotion into lines such “I’m his expert. I’m his Lazarus. I’m his friend” when his character realises that his entire existence is a lie and that even this false existence is less than he thought it was. Ultimately, it is hard not to feel sorry for the clone, as he realises that he’s just one more experiment, crying in anguish “I’m nothing. Not even a person.” The scene with the multiple failed cloned Doctors is obviously reminiscent of Alien Resurrection, but it feels justified nonetheless as it reinforces the point that the clone is not just another experiment but a tragic victim of Nimrod.
All of which brings to Nimrod himself. Stephen Chance recaptures the malevolently amused tones he brought to the character in ‘Project: twilight’ perfectly, but gets the chance to be more of a villain here. Despite the fact that he saved Evelyn from the explosion in the Dusk in his debut story, suspicions are still raised when he welcomes the Doctor and Evelyn to the Forge in Episode Two and tells them that they are free to go whenever they please but cordially invites them to stay for the guided tour. It soon becomes clear that he wants something from the Doctor, his prior obsession with vampires having given way to a sadistic curiosity about the Forge’s more alien acquisitions. Chance’s voice drips with malicious glee when Nimrod answers the Doctor’s question of “What are you going to do?” with “Kill you. Or at least, force you to regenerate.” Scott and Wright complete Nimrod’s transition to outright villainy to such an extent that they veer worryingly close to cheesy megalomaniac dialogue, but Chance’s performance means that it carries weight when he snarls “Artemis… you’re fired” just before he kills her.
In addition to the regulars, Cassie and Nimrod, the minor characters are well characterised too. Adam Woodroffe’s Frith initially seems like just another soldier just following questionable orders, but his character is fleshed out to the extent that he becomes sympathetic, especially when he eventually agrees to help the Doctor when Nimrod departs and ultimately saves the Doctor’s life at the cost of his own. Ingrid Evans’ Doctor Crompton also fares well, shifting from a seemingly amoral doctor who is just another henchwoman, but gradually starting to question Nimrod’s judgement and of course eventually going too far and insulting him, after which she doesn’t last long… Overall, ‘Project: Lazarus’ is highly effective, with both acting and production complementing the script, especially the powerful incidental score. My only real criticism is the aforementioned early introduction of the Hades Protocols, especially once the clone boasts that he can impersonate Nimrod’s voice and knows all of his security codes, but this is a relatively minor quibble and is compensated for the ominous ending, as Oracle tells Nimrod, “Forge Beta facility is now operational”, almost demanding another sequel…
The sequel to "Project: Twilight" installs Nimrod and The Forge as major stumbling blocks in the Doctor's way. This is a villain that can't seem to be defeated, and it's nice to have a new recurring enemy. The books currently have Sabbath, but up until now the Big Finish audios have just used the Daleks and Cybermen as major threats. We've had vampires before in the television stories, but suddenly they have become a major concern for the Sixth, and now the Seventh, Doctors.
At the end of "Project: Twilight", Cassie had seemingly escaped the mysterious Nimrod, changed into a vampire, isolated from other humans, and waiting on the Doctor to return with a cure. The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn have caught up with her again now that a cure has been found, but there are complications and the secret experiments of the institution known as the Forge get in the way. The story establishes the underground complex belonging to the Forge for its first two episodes. A major turning point occurs, and the story ends, picked up later by the Seventh Doctor revisiting the same area alone in the TARDIS.
The story is continuity conscious for each Doctor, and has to follow within that framework without letting you know what will eventually happen to Evelyn. We don't yet know how she will leave the Sixth Doctor, and there is something of a loose end there between both Doctors' episodes. Fortunately, the story is a riveting one and successfully navigates this gap before coming to its powerful conclusion.
Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, the writers of "Project: Twilight," were applauded for their first Doctor Who stories grittiness but also questioned for its use of gory violence. That was more of a "vampire" story, however, more of a horror movie than this one. This incorporates the danger of that story but also continues and expands upon it. There is violence, but it has powerful consequences here for the Doctor(s) and Evelyn.
Colin Baker continues to shine and is again called upon to do some character variations with his voice, and Sylvester McCoy convincingly displays traits of the Seventh Doctor we know about from the show and books. Maggie Stables also shows skill in her character's relatable handling of the bizarre and destructive events.
This is a sequel, but it's a further success for Big Finish.
I must admit the format of this story took me pleasantly by surprise. I was expecting this to be either a full-blooded two Doctor team-up or, seeing as it’s a sequel to a 6th Doctor story, to feature the 7th Doctor in only a cameo appearance. In fact it’s a even 50/50 split, as this is in effect two two-parters, one disc per Doctor, and while the second story utilises elements of the first, they’re both surprisingly stand-alone.
In both the story is predominantly set in the headquarters (or one of them) of ‘The Forge’, whose base bears more than a slight resemblance now to a British version of fabled US Hanger 18. This moving away of the emphasis from just vampires to more general alien experimentation is generally successful, but I can’t help but feel at times that the organisation could be readily substituted in these tales for a corrupt UNIT.
Of the two stories the 6th Doctor segment is the direct sequel to Project: Twilight, and is the more successful. Going back to check on Cassie was inevitable, and thankfully my fears about the artificially optimistic ending of Project: Twilight proves unfounded, though Rosie Cavaliero is still guilty of overacting the angst during her big dramatic scenes. Vidar Magnussen’s Professor Harket is also a bit of an annoying creation, though presumably the bizarre accent the actor sports is genuine – indeed there seems to be a bit of a competition in this story to see who can pronounce the word ‘Huldran’ in the most bizarre fashion (Bakers ‘Huuuuewldroon’ probably winning). Where this story really succeeds is in pulling the rug out from Evelyn’s far too comfy ‘hot chocolate and cocoa’ persona, as Evelyn’s uncomfortable ride in Doctor Who and the Pirates is upped again. The more she acts like a real human being, the more I’m interested in her. The only fly in the ointment is Maggie Stables performance, which again is a little over the top during her crying scene, but thankfully it doesn’t quite reach Sirens of Time levels…
The 7th Doctor’s tale is reasonable, but let down by some pacing problems. For all of, oh – 15 seconds – it looks as though this is going to be a 6th and 7th Doctor team-up, but unfortunately Colin Baker is so obviously playing a false clone that any tension is immediately lost ( and the resolution seems to have been lifted stright out of Alien Resurrection as well). The fact that the 7th Doctor is travelling solo also means an overdose of ‘character talking to themselves’ syndrome, which is a little intrusive. As for the Huldran’s – they’re a little too generic to have much impact. It’s not awful, you just feel as though with a little more polishing this segment could have carried a little more weight.
So, a slightly uneven, but still mostly enjoyable sequel, the only trouble is we all know these things come in trilogies, so the middle story always ends up feeling a little like padding…
‘That is the Forge’s brief. To examine, utilise, and master the technology we have here.’
For their third Big Finish Doctor Who script, Project: Lazarus, writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright revisit some of the most interesting characters of their debut story Project: Twilight (2001). There, the brutal yet morally ambiguous, vampire hunter Nimrod was very much a supporting character, a haunting presence lurking in the shadows, waiting for the moment to strike during the final episode. Given the strength of Stephen Chance’s performance in the role combined with the intriguing background to the character, Project: Twilight convinced a lot of listeners that Nimrod was worthy of further exploration as was the mysterious organisation he operated on behalf of, the Forge. But Twilight also produced another character whose open-ended fate commanded interest and that was Cassie, a down of her luck northern lass, appealingly played by Rosie Cavaliero, who found herself blackmailed into spying upon the vampire owners of the casino she worked. It was her tragic fate to succumb to the Twilight virus and become the monster she feared, but unlike contemporary series, Cassie’s transformation into a vampire didn’t turn her into a crazed, evil killer intent on hunting down humans for prey, and it was this idea that she had chosen to turn away from her now inborn instinct to hunt and kill by reason of her own morality that made her a character who was interesting enough to want to see her story continued.
Despite the return of these two characters, Project: Lazarus isn’t really a sequel to Project: Twilight in the strictest sense of the word, but more an expansion and evolution of some of the concepts within - specifically the Forge, which provides the setting for the bulk of the story and their activities are the focal point for Scott and Wright’s investigation. As well as this, Lazarus also has the distinction of being the first story to feature two different Doctors since the inaugural audio release The Sirens Of Time back in 1999. The writing team conjure up perhaps the most novel way of achieving this seen in a performed medium by splitting the story equally between the Sixth and the Seventh Doctor, although it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. Using the first half to tell one story and the second to tell a separate one that examines some unseen consequence isn’t a new technique to Doctor Who as 1966’s William Hartnell plodder The Ark shows. Like that story, Lazarus is essentially two stories with the later Seventh Doctor one being an examination of the implications of aspects of the earlier Sixth Doctor adventure.
It could only be the formidable team of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe who take the lead in the first story, given the way that she related and bonded to Cassie in the earlier adventure. Lazarus opens deep in Norway where Cassie was left by the Doctor to skulk in the darkness until he returned with a cure for her condition, and it appears that she is being hunted down by Vidar Magnussen’s Professor Harket. It’s a suitably atmospheric opening thanks to the sound design which emphasises the starkness of the land and gives a strong impression of the hunter stalking his prey through quick editing between the two perspectives. As the Doctor and Evelyn are brought in, little concession is made to those who haven’t heard the earlier story as he suddenly announces he’s found the cure and they’re off to find where they left her. This is the first of many troublesome points about the development of the plot as the TARDIS conveniently refuses to lock onto Cassie in the timezone they left her and the Doctor is reluctant to push to find the right date. There’s no explanation as to why the TARDIS chose to act strangely, bar Evelyn’s apologetic and unconvincing excuse that ‘the TARDIS got confused’ reasoning, which makes the leap forward two years seem little more than a contrivance to justify the subsequent character progression. It’s understandable why Scott and Wright did this (if the Doctor and Evelyn had turned up ten minutes after they left Cassie there would be no story!) but it isn’t handled well, particularly when contrasted to the credible way that the Seventh Doctor becomes involved later.
After the arrival of the Doctor shows that Harket is not hunting Cassie after all, but something very alien in origin, the narrative reasons for their late arrival become clear as in the intervening years Cassie has become resentful and embittered at her perceived abandonment by the Doctor. Her instincts as a vampire are emphasised well, as she can smell the blood of death nearby showing her differences without being blatant about it. The consequent discovery of a frozen body, who seems to have died horribly, is a confirmation for Harket that the creatures he is hunting, the Huldran, are close by. Unfortunately this leads to some of the most bloated descriptive dialogue seen in a Big Finish play for some considerable time as the Doctor and company examine the body and the strange blue slime around it in lurid detail.
Soon after this, the Forge is introduced through an incoming message which indicates that their agent, Artemis, has confirmed contact with Lazarus. As this obviously relates to what has already been played out, there are only two plausible possibilities as to who Lazarus is (the Doctor or the Huldran) which means that one of the two new characters introduced so far must be Artemis. Having already cast suspicion on Harket during the opening scenes only to find him totally innocent of hunting Cassie, it seems incredulous that he is the one sending encoded communications to the Forge, leaving only the aggrieved vampire as the logical candidate. This realisation deflates much of the tension from what’s left of the episode as it becomes a question of waiting for Cassie’s new allegiances to be exposed, but when she does show what flag she’s flying it is in a shocking manner. Almost all of Project: Twilight’s brutal and uncompromising violence was committed by unsympathetic characters such as Reggie as Amelia, so it comes as a jolt to hear Cassie dispatch Harket in a sickening display of cruelty although it does have the effect of showing just how far her priorities have changed. Harket’s death comes perilously close to being gratuitous violence but it’s there to show that by being left alone for so long she’s had to resort to her demonic desire to kill in order to survive however she can.
Cavaliero’s evil turn lacks panache, and at times borders on going over the top, but from the perspective of her character she is angry and irrational towards the people who abandoned her so it makes sense for her to try and show just how ‘bad’ she is now and that it’s all their fault for leaving her to an uncertain fate. Her only way to survive was to escape a life of scavenging was to join with Nimrod, a man who had already done terrible things to her in the past in the pursuit of his goals. His introduction at the close of the episode, signals a change in direction, as the captured Huldran is taken back to the Forge along with the Doctor and Evelyn.
Stephan Chance possesses the ability to impose himself totally on the drama with his menacing and commanding voice as Nimrod. While the effect used to modulate his voice is much smoother here than in the earlier story, it still gives him the impression of being a real power. Sadly, Nimrod is less interesting here than he was in Project: Twilight due to the fact that Scott and Wright define him much more clearly. In Twilight, he was an ambiguous figure as while he acted brutally it was directed against the vampires who themselves were engaged in nefarious activities of torturing and killing. This gave Nimrod a moral authority over the vampires, but it wasn’t until the very end of the story that you knew where he ultimately stood. In this second appearances, though he’s painted much more clear-cut as the villain from the outset particularly since his arrogance is directed towards the Doctor in his scheme to control and exploit alien technology.
Once the drama shifts to the Forge, where its subterranean nature is very successfully realised by Gareth Jenkins’ sound design, the pace of this first story picks up considerably as the unhurried approach of episode one is dropped in favour of a frantic race towards the end, albeit at the expense of any real plot development. While we discover more about the Forge itself and how successful they have been at acquiring alien samples for their archive, there’s no sense of scale of the facility so, despite some post production work to imply a greater number in the background at times, the impression is that the Forge is run by three people and a computer.
Nimrod’s plan for the Doctor, when revealed, is monstrous in the extreme and it soon shows the aptness of the title of the story. Despite the fact that Nimrod justifies his actions in the name of scientific progress, you can sense he is feeding off the idea of watching an individual die over and over again until he has the secrets of what he wants. The result of this is a particularly disturbing scene where the Doctor is tortured until he is on the brink of regeneration…
While this is going on, Cassie has reluctantly taken Evelyn to find some refreshment as the journey from Norway to Dartmoor has taken its toll upon her. This gives Scott and Wright the chance to examine the changes to Cassie’s character by putting her with the person who grew to know her best in Project: Twilight through her motherly bond. Cassie is a much harder and resentful person here, viewing her life in two phases – viewing herself as weak for letting anyone walk all over her until she became Artemis who she is adamant is stronger than that. Cavaliero finds a good level of conviction in these scenes as she diverts Evelyn’s attention away from questions about Cassie’s son by taunting her over the fact that she has been concealing from the Doctor her weak heart. Cavaliero balances out her cynicism and malice for her jibes to cut deep into Evelyn and there is the sense that Cassie’s intent is a way to get back at her over the abandonment. While the revelation of her frailty is an interesting character development for Evelyn, it doesn’t make much sense in context as given the things she’s experienced in her time in the TARDIS, including exposure to the Cybermen conversion process in Real Time (which this story surely takes place after given Nimrod’s reference to the Doctor’s changed coat as seen on one of the story’s two covers), then these heart problems should perhaps have been seen before for them to be plausible.
Cassie is a very tragic figure and these scenes with Evelyn form the catalyst for her redemption, but the problem with this is the way that her change of perspective is brought about doesn’t convince. Nimrod sees Artemis as his natural successor as she has already become the Forge’s primary European field agent, taking his place, so she has become subsumed within the organisation to the extent that Nimrod is secure enough to trust her with this responsibility. To allow her that much power, he must be secure in his belief that she will not turn or break the conditioning she has been exposed to yet Evelyn is able to get through her knowledge of Cassie’s son Tommy remarkably easy. Evelyn is a perceptive woman, and given her past relationship with Cassie it isn’t unreasonable to believe she could communicate with the real Cassie, but the quickness that this develops here pushes credibility to the point where it snaps. To make this more believable, it needed to play out over an extended period of time and the speed at which Cassie switches sides again undermines the impact of what is to come because it is based upon a tenuous premise. This is merely symptomatic of the inherent problem with Project: Lazarus in that two part stories do not have sufficient time to develop fully, meaning they can come across as insubstantial and unsatisfying which is certainly true of the first half of this story.
While it goes without saying that Cassie’s attitude change comes just in time for her to save the Doctor, it heralds the best scenes in the first Project: Lazarus story. For a story that has been so obvious in its development, the scenes detailing the Doctor and Evelyn’s escape and the consequences pack a real emotional punch, as Cassie’s tragic life reaches its end. It’s fitting that Cavaliero gets her best moments in this story here, as she shows power in her emotional reaction to what she has become and her intense desire to make amends. The conviction she shows here shows what a waste her underwritten role here has been because it has failed to capitalise on the potential in bringing her back as these final scenes ably demonstrate. As there is only a superficial depth given to Cassie’s characterisation here, much of the emotional impact of her demise comes from the listener’s knowledge of who she was in Project: Twilight and as a result, if you haven’t heard that, these scenes are likely to be less powerful.
Episode two closes with the best scenes of this first half of Lazarus as it portrays a very moving and very real reaction by the Doctor and Evelyn to the news of their friend’s death. It’s becoming a recurring theme for people Evelyn meets and becomes attached to in her travels to suffer horrible deaths (indeed dealing with grief in this manner was one of the main themes of her last appearance in Doctor Who And The Pirates) but this is perhaps the first time we get to hear it played out in all its raw intensity in the immediate aftermath. Evelyn’s assertion that “you can’t always make everything better with a cup of cocoa and a slice of cake” shows her growth as a character since her inception as a companion, and her unashamed display of anguish contrasts the Doctor’s attitude of trying to move on brilliantly. The conflict between them with Evelyn’s anger at his lack of expressive remorse is an interesting way to leave these two characters because it adds a touch of uncertainty about where they can go from here and whether their relationship will ever be the same again, an idea which is emphasised further in the second half of the story) and both Colin Baker and Maggie Stables perform superbly in conveying this through the fervour of their display.
The Sixth Doctor’s half of Project: Lazarus is too predictable and comes off as being unsatisfying because what little plot there is isn’t developed sufficiently and as a result much of it comes across as being contrived. When it does gather pace in its final moments, this phase of the story is disappointingly over before it really began. But with the start of episode three, there is a change in Doctor, theme music and most importantly a significant upturn in the quality of the storyline. These later episodes succeed in building upon a couple of seemingly insignificant details from the first half of the drama and by examining their implications and their consequences.
The utter contrast between Keff McCulloch’s arrangement of the Doctor Who theme and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata is an incredibly effective way of immediately changing the drama’s tone, showing that this is essentially a different – but ultimately linked – story to the one that concluded in the preceding episode. The sombre tones as the Seventh Doctor indulges his musical side (and no, it’s not played on the spoons!) reflect his current mood as this story is set close to the 1996 Television Movie where the Doctor was a melancholy and contemplative character, rather than the more manipulative individual seen in the later stories of season 26 and the New Adventures. The Doctor’s companionless state does unfortunately bring with it the annoying tendency to have him talking to himself, or ostensibly the TARDIS, which is a necessary evil when he’s the only character about, but it still feels slightly stilted and unnatural – if Big Finish are going to continue to feature this version of the Seventh Doctor in future stories, and there’s no reason not to given his best performances of later have either been in this or the earlier madcap season 24 style, then he really does need someone with him to bounce the dialogue off. All the other Big Finish Doctors’ have benefited from new blood in their companions and the Seventh seems left out!
This half is set several years after the Doctor and Evelyn’s tragic trip to the Forge and sees the Seventh Doctor surprised to be returning there after detecting it as the focus for a disturbance within the vortex .Scott and Wright show how different some of the Forge characters are now as they are under pressure from a force of invaders to their base, and the fact that these characters seem different too helps to emphasise the passage of time whilst demonstrating the danger they, and by implication, the Doctor is facing too.
The Doctor’s initial meeting with Nimrod shows the difference between him and his previous incarnation, as he is much less forgiving of Nimrod’s past demeanours and is uninterested in trading pleasantries. The structure of the story, with the use of the different themes in particular, helps to conceal the story’s biggest surprise which is the presence of the Sixth Doctor in the Seventh Doctor’s half. Scott and Wright show some subtly and good use of the audio medium to keep his identity secret until they are ready, by having him feature initially in the presence of Doctor Crumpton, so while Nimrod refers to a Doctor, it’s easy to infer he’s talking about her.
Despite some very authentic banter between these two Doctors upon their first meeting, it soon becomes clear that there is something amiss as the combination of hearing Colin Baker playing a Doctor who is often less assured than usual and some obvious dialogue, such as the Seventh Doctor saying that he has no memory of ever working for the Forge with Nimrod, tends to put the listener on alert to the fact that not everything is what is seems. By laying down the clues here about the truth behind the Sixth Doctor’s presence at the Forge, Scott and Wright tip their hands too early and it closes down the other opportunities for what the reason really is too soon, regardless of claims that the Seventh Doctor could be from an aberrant timeline which just ring hollow.
While the Huldran were largely superfluous to the plot of the first half of Project: Lazarus, the Forge’s actions towards their captured quarry has consequences which are shown here with their attacks upon the facility. As the Doctor sets about helping his other self to deal with this problem, Sylvester McCoy is very good at showing his Doctor’s shrewdness because his delivery conveys well the fact that he’s ahead of the game and is already suspicious of the veracity of what he has been told and he’s seeking to confirm his reservations for himself.
While the revelation regarding the Sixth Doctor of these last episodes is telegraphed too strongly, which lessens its impact upon the listener, it does enable Baker to act in a very different manner than his character would usually and as he discovers his true nature, the listener cannot help but be moved by the poignancy of his reaction. The finale to the story seems to go on longer than it should without any real incident as the Doctor moves throughout the Forge with little hindrance, which again adds to the idea that there isn’t enough realisation of the size of the staff at the facility, but as with all race-against-time elements of stories when done well, it’s easy to feel the tension building particularly as the Doctor tries valiantly to escape and thanks to some clever use of ambiguous sound design, it’s unclear as to whether he’s made it or not, which accentuates the tension further.
Both Doctors are fairly evenly matched with Colin Baker slightly taking the edge over Sylvester McCoy due to his impressive display during the last two episodes, although he does suffer in his own half because of the Doctor’s ineffectiveness during episode two. McCoy seems to enjoy his Doctor being broody and reflective and he brings this to Project: Lazarus skilfully, making his Doctor a much more forceful presence than his earlier, domineering incarnation and it is this that ensures the Seventh Doctor is more than a match for Nimrod and in this respect, it’s particularly interesting to see how effective the two Doctors’ approaches are in dealing with him and the Forge in their outcomes.
Maggie Stables delivers a dependably excellent performance as Evelyn, as usual, but her role disappoints slightly because she’s not as actively involved in the story as this listener would have liked. The development of the character through her newly revealed condition is cautiously welcomed as it is something that will need to be explored further, but knowing this does help to end her involvement in the story on a powerful note which is emphasised strongly by the assurance of Stables’ performance as she mourns the senseless loss of life.
Stephen Chance shows a more evil side to Nimrod here and while he does it superbly with his wonderfully malevolent voice being a menacing presence, the fact that the character is written in a very black and white manner rather than the appealing shades of grey that made up his first appearance mean that while it’s a good performance, it’s less effective in making the character stand out, which was the overriding impression he made in Project: Twilight.
Rosie Cavaliero’s return provokes mixed feelings as when she’s on form with her emotionally charged scenes with Evelyn and her confrontation with Nimrod she’s stunningly powerful, but when she’s playing the villain she veers too closely to going over the top that her shouting isn’t convincing as genuine rage. While the script short-changes Cassie over the way she regains her senses and breaks away from Nimrod’s influence, it does give Cavaliero the chance to send off the character magnificently. It’s a pity that as this is almost certainly her last appearance in character that it wasn’t a more substantial and satisfying part.
Of the rest of the cast, Vidar Magnussen makes the biggest impression as the likeable Professor Harket, dedicated to finding his mythical creature, and his demise is shocking because of this. In some respects, Magnussen is almost too good at making his character congenial as once the listener has gotten to know him, it’s difficult to believe the suspicion the script tries to throw upon him. Ingrid Evans, so memorable in Sarah Jane Smith: Ghost Town, does well as Professor Crumpton in an underwritten role because she conveys persuasively the evolution of the character from a scientist obsessed with the pursuit of technological and biological advances to someone who can recognise that her work at the Forge is ethically wrong and it’s compelling to hear her rediscovering her beliefs and standing up for them, despite knowing the consequences. Adam Woodroffe is convincing too as his character Frifth goes through a similar evolution in outlook as he grows to see that to Nimrod all the employees of the Forge are people to be used and discarded when they have outlived their usefulness.
Like the last Project: story, Lazarus ends in an open-ended fashion which leaves the door open for another Forge follow up, but unlike Twilight where it felt as if there was still unfinished business to conclude, the coda here seems to have been added out of expectation to enable the Forge scenario to be used again in the future. As an experimental approach to how stories featuring more than one Doctor are done, Project: Lazarus is certainly novel in utilising the two part per Doctor structure but because each is essentially their own story, it comes across as being something of a gimmick because the complexity of the plot is sacrificed in order to utilise both Doctors. The Doctor Who Magazine preview of this story implies that the original idea was to have each of the two Lazarus halves as two separate full stories which would have probably have been more satisfying because it could have added the much needed depth to both sides and reduced the impression that everything was being hurried unnecessarily. Despite being heavily flawed, Project: Lazarus is very easy to listen to but despite occasional flashes of inspiration and a good overall performance from the cast, it’s all a bit too obvious and ultimately rather hollow.
Project: Lazarus is the third Big Finish Doctor Who release from the writing team of Mark Wright and Cavan Scott. Like their two previous stories, Project: Twilight and The Church and the Crown, there is a verve to their storytelling that keeps the adventure running at a brisk pace, never slowing down. Like the other two, there are scenes of wonderful character interaction spliced with tense action sequences. This writing duo are quickly becoming one my favorites because, like their first two outings, Project: Lazarus is excellent and memorable as well as raising the bar as to what can be done in Doctor Who.
That said, I don't feel that Project: Lazarus is as successful as the other two releases simply because I feel that it tries to do too much over the course of its four episodes. There are so many storylines demanding our attention, and I feel that none of them are really given the chance to develop as much as they should be. This has the advantage of making Project: Lazarus lightning-paced and never padded. It has the disadvantage of leaving me hungry for more, wishing to see certain plot points addressed. The details in the booklet and DWM preview suggest that it might have once been two separate stories, which would make sense. The first disc is effectively a 6th Doctor/Evelyn two parter, while the second disc is effectively a McCoy two parter featuring the appearance of the sixth Doctor. While neither disc's storyline would have needed four episodes, I think two episodes each is too slim. Perhaps three episodes each? Or a longer running time such as what was allotted to The Holy Terror might have been enough. Of course, we might have lost the great pacing that exists. However, there are a bit too many competing story elements: the return of Nimrod, the continuation of Cassie's story, Evelyn's secret, the nature of Project: Lazarus itself, the threat of the Huldran, the interaction between the sixth and seventh Doctors, and the work of the Forge. Each storyline is good in and of itself, but some aren't as developed as they could be. (More of this in the SPOILER section that follows).
On the acting front, Project: Lazarus works very well. Rosie Cavaliero and Stephen Chance are superb as Cassie and Nimrod, and it's easy to see why, with quality such as theirs, a sequel was arranged. The other guest stars do a good job, but nothing particularly memorable. Dr. Crompton, though ably played, is very much the traditional scientist in the military establishment character we've seen countless times. Sgt. Frith is equally a familiar type, the hard soldier who doesn't quite like his job. Maggie Stables manages to top her wonderful performance as Evelyn last seen in Doctor Who and the Pirates and give us her probably most moving and powerful performance yet. And the two Doctor's positively shine. Much has been said about Big Finish's rehabilitation of Colin Baker, and it's still true here. He's simply astounding in both sections. One controversial point may be when the Doctor uses the word "damn", but it's done with such conviction and feels so right in the moment, that it's brilliant. Now, while not to the extent of Colin Baker's, I believe Sylvester McCoy's Doctor has also been improved with Big Finish. I love the sad, lonely portrayal that he gives, reminiscent of the beginning of the TV movie. He's getting better at handling the emotions. I always have felt that McCoy is the weakest of the actors who played the Doctor, but he's very true and believable in this, which adds to my enjoyment immensely.
As usual, Big Finish have delivered the goods in terms of production values. The sound effects and music do a good job of portraying location and the passage of time. There are some suitably grisly sound effects that benefit the emotional punch and horror of this particular story. Big Finish always do a very good job in this aspect of their work.
Now, here comes the part of the review where I spoil things...and I mean SPOIL. As in there will be SPOILERS! And I'm talking HUGE ones here.
Spoilers. You have been warned. Stop reading. I mean it!
Okay, now for the spoilers, and there are plenty of them. As mentioned earlier, Project: Lazarus juggles many different plotlines and not all of them are equally successful, as they all feel truncated a bit.
The plotline with Cassie works very well. The twist that she's been in the employ of Nimrod comes across as a surprise, but like all good twists, it's the sort of one that seems so obvious in retrospect. The scenes with Cassie and Evelyn, as Cassie confronts her past are superb and are probably my favorite bits of the story. That said, given that Cassie is now "Artemis" and working for Nimrod, her sudden memory of her son Tommy seems to happen too soon. She fights with Evelyn, denying Tommy's existence...she then flashes back, remembers being brainwashed, and all of a sudden she's good again. While it's believable that this would happen, I feel that it does happen too quickly, and probably should have been a more gradual shift. Of course, as soon as Cassie decided to help Evelyn and the Doctor escape, I knew what was going to happen. It just seemed inevitable that she would die. That she dies in a way she expressly wished not to makes her death even more poignant. I cried. Yes. I cried. Cassie is one of the most tragic characters to ever have been in Doctor Who. Did the poor girl ever get a decent break in life?
Evelyn's reaction to Cassie's death marks another major turning point for her character. In Project: Lazarus, we discover that Evelyn has had a serious heart condition, even before traveling with the Doctor. She's weak, she's getting older, yet she doesn't want to "retire" as she feels so alive with the Doctor. It is implied that Evelyn has suffered another mild heart attack at the end of Project: Lazarus and I'm quite worried about her, especially as the seventh Doctor says of her later, "She never did forgive you, up until the very end". And while I assume she's in the upcoming Zagreus, the earliest we'll see another 6th/Evelyn adventure will be in April of 2004. I hope that the issue of Evelyn's heart, as well as her anger at the Doctor will be addressed. The poor woman has been through too much in her recent stories...I hope she finds happiness soon.
The Huldran are perhaps the least successful plotline of the story. We never find out what they were doing on Earth in the first place, nor why the one Huldran killed the Norwegian boy. Indeed, according to Harket, the Huldran have been sighted for years, assuming it's the same creature. If so, why are these aliens on Earth? Why are they killing Norwegian boys in the snow? We never learn of this. We do learn that Nimrod and his guys at the Forge are risking an angry Huldran invasion force because they kidnapped the Huldran. However, as despicable as Nimrod and his associates are, they can't entirely be blamed for the Huldran invasion force as the Doctor implies. True, the Huldran would be understandably hostile after one of their own was killed. However, that one Huldran seems to have been the first to commit a hostile act when he killed the Norwegian boy. This is never developed. Not only are there unanswered questions surrounding the Huldran, but they seem like a distraction to the main plot of the Forge's work on Project: Lazarus.
And that's a great part of the story. The Lazarus Project is, basically, the attempt by the Forge and Nimrod to harness Time Lord regenerative properties. They've been cloning the sixth Doctor, and the big twist is that the 6th Doctor doesn't meet the 7th Doctor at all in this story. Rather, a clone of the 6th Doctor does. While I think this storyline is very good at being creepy and doing new things with the Doctor Who format, it is also very reminiscent of Alien: Resurrection, particularly the scene where the sixth "Doctor" realizes he's a clone and discovers a room full of mutated versions of himself. This echoes the scene in Alien: Resurrection so closely, that as good as it is, it almost feels like a rip-off. However, it's a very effective twist on the mult-Doctor story, and I found it refreshingly original in that regard.
Overall, Project: Lazarus is an excellent production and a powerful story. It does try to juggle a few too many plotlines (I think maybe the Huldran should have been dropped in favor of more exploration of Cassie and the clones of the 6th Doctor, but that is also retrospect). It moves along at a great speed and has quite a few jaw-dropping moments that are among the most haunting ever in the history of Doctor Who. I look forward to the next adventure from Mark Wright and Cavan Scott.