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Caerdroia

Doctor Who: The Big Finish Audio Adventures #63
Eddy Wolverson

“You know Doctor, I admire you… You have courage and integrity; you fight evil fiercely but are capable of mercy. To save a universe you chose permanent exile from everything you knew at the cost of one of your senses. You are truly heroic.” – Kro’ka

“Caerdroia” is in many ways the type of story I thought we’d have seen more of in this pocket universe. Its very surreal and very imaginative, stylistically somewhere between “Scherzo” and a traditional Doctor Who story. Often reminding me of Graham Duff’s first-class season opener “Faith Stealer,” Lloyd Rose’s script is very tongue-in-cheek at times and very tense at others, and this works particularly well with regard to ‘the three Doctors.’ Unlike virtual stand-alone stories “The Natural History of Fear” and “The Twilight Kingdom,” this story is obviously vital to the continuity of the multi-season story arc as it sees the Doctor and his companions regain the TARDIS, but having three distinctly different versions of the same Doctor running about the place also adds to the ‘can’t miss’ feel. However, I feel that it is Stephen Perring as the Kro’ka that really makes the story memorable.

Ever since “The Creed of the Kromon” the Kro’ka has manipulated the Doctor and his companions, leading them where he wanted them to go for his own reasons. Within a few minutes of the story starting, it is evident that something big is happening, as the Kro’ka is unable to get the Doctor to move into the next zone because he’s asleep. The Doctor seizes the opportunity to trap the Kro’ka within his own mind, interrogating him. Such scenes between McGann and Perring are a delight to listen to. Each character pushes the other almost to breaking point, and after all the Kro’ka has put the Doctor through in recent stories you find yourself almost cheering when the Doctor takes the upper hand. When it becomes clear the Kro’ka has not been as competent or as loyal as his masters would have liked, much of the plot cleverly revolves around the premise that the Kro’ka doesn’t believe the Doctor is cruel enough to betray him to them…

Then comes the rub for Kro’ka. As the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz go through the portal to Caerdroia (where they reason the TARDIS will be) the Doctor is split into three. What makes this work so well is that it’s not some contrived multi-Doctor anniversary extravaganza, but a clever and intriguing storytelling device. The three Doctors are physically identical – all superbly played by Paul McGann – but somehow his personality has been divided between the three. The irritable, pragmatic, grumpy and hard-nosed Doctor accompanies Charley for most of the story (much to her chagrin), the “normal” Doctor goes off on his own, and the pensive, naïve, Doctor in an “…abstracted mood…” accompanies C’rizz. This clever move allows the hard-nosed Doctor to put his morality conveniently aside and give the Kro’ka a taste of his own medicine… a taste that leaves him running back to his master with his tail between his legs, and the Doctor back inside his beloved TARDIS.

“I’m home!”

Being the penultimate adventure in an arc of both amazingly good and distinctly average stories, with it’s outrageously silly dialogue, wonderful acting and even the odd poke of fun at itself, “Caerdroia” is an immensely enjoyable affair from start to finish. Aside from the Doctor’s joyous recovery of the TARDIS, the story also has it’s fair share of momentous events – it sees the Doctor realise that welsh words, minotaurs and especially clocks shouldn’t really exist in this universe, and in a brilliant twist the final scenes also reveal the master of the Kro’ka… Rassilon!

Richard Radcliffe

I was delighted upon viewing the CD Box and Inserts to see that this play only featured 4 actors (Paul McGann, India Fisher, Conrad Westmaas and Stephen Perring). Whilst I haven't been totally enthralled with this Divergent Universe the 8th Doctor has been in, I never fell out with the original Characters that went there in the first place. The 8th Doctor and Charley continue to be wonderful characters, even though the stories haven't quite been up to scratch. I was hoping too that the previously disappointing Kroka and C'Rizz, would benefit from greater exposure - and that I would begin to really like these characters.

First a word about the covers. Namely what has happened to the stylish covers Big Finish used to provide? Throughout this Divergent Universe Season the covers have gone worse at an alarming rate - culminating in this Caerdroia cartoony cover, which doesn't do anyone any favours. They seem to be picking up though looking at the ones coming up after this.

Lloyd Rose is one of those Writers who you simply have to pay attention to. With City of the Dead and Camera Obscura she produced 2 of the best books of the whole Doctor Who catalogue. Algebra of Ice wasn't quite my thing, but I still acknowledge it as a finely written book. She has written for the 8th Doctor better than most, and thankfully Caerdroia continues that trend. Witness the splitting of the Doctor into 4 personalities - each so fundamentally 8th Doctorish, and all wonderfully depicted (both in the script and by Paul McGann).

Paul McGann is a tour de force in this story. Rising the challenge of playing 3 parts (the same, yet different) he completely dominates - and that is wonderful to see so close to passing over the baton to the 9th Doctor. It seems this Doctor is not going out with a whimper (like I stated in a previous review), but in a blaze of glory. What a totally terrific Doctor - one who can stand equal with the rest, thanks to his Big Finish output, and the sterling work of the BBC Book Range.

I love surreal stories. Axis of Insanity is my favourite of this years releases. Caerdroia is along those lines. With its mazes (or labyrinths, I can't remember the difference, but there is one), cuckoo clock entrances, building at the centre (couldn't help but picture the Fiction Factory here from TOTL), the emphasis is on the imagination - and the bizarre things that the mind can conjure up.

It's wonderful to see the Doctor square up to the Kroka, and put him in his place. I'm really looking forward to The Next Life now - and hopefully this confrontation will form the core of that story. Above all though I hope The Next Life continues the impressive story telling that The Last started, and Caerdroia continued with.

I loved Charley in this story. She's always been lively, and a lovely foil for the Doctor. It's nice that she returns to form here - after the varying disappointments of her character in previous plays. I am still not convinced about C'Rizz though. He's here, and he's in it a lot, but I couldn't get that excited about what he was up to - or indeed how his character was progressing. When the Doctor and Charley leave the Divergent Universe (which they surely must) in the Next Life, then it's time to leave C'Rizz there. I really miss the Doctor and Charley - just the Doctor and Charley, with nobody in the way. I propose a swap:- C'Rizz for the TARDIS, for safe passage out of this universe.

Caerdroia is an unusual story - not quite what I expected from Lloyd Rose. But it is very good - particularly in its characterization of the 8th Doctor. I would even go as far to see this is him at his best. It's highly imaginative, and Big Finish sound engineers again weave their magic to really make this bizarre world real.

Nicely done. Very nicely done. 8/10

Paul Clarke

Having penned two generally well-received Eighth Doctor novels, Lloyd Rose gets to actually write for Paul McGann with 'Caerdroia' and the result is superb. Not a lot actually happens in 'Caerdroia', since it primarily exists to set things up for 'The Next Life'; the Doctor finally faces off against Kro'ka, and we find out who he really works for, and the Doctor gets the TARDIS back. What makes 'Caerdroia' such a success however is the journey itself; the story is tremendous fun, and with the Doctor split into three, it feels like the multi-Doctor extravaganza that 'Zagreus' should have been.

Having been lead around the different zones on Bortresoye by the nose, the Doctor finally takes a stand and faces off against the Kro'ka, who becomes the primary antagonist for the first time since he was first introduced in 'The Creed of the Kromon'. Stephen Perring seems to relish the chance to get more to do with the role, and the Kro'ka works extremely well. He's obviously under pressure; when C'rizz realises, "So long as the Doctor sleeps, you can't move us from the Interzone. And I'll bet the people who pull your strings aren't too happy about that", it becomes clear that he's very stressed, as he becomes desperate to please his unseen masters. The Doctor and his companions wind him up and criticize his efficiency, playing on his paranoia, until he finally snarls, "You go too far Doctor." The Doctor goes on the offensive, having tired of playing the Kro'ka's games, and threatens to put himself into a trance, effectively immobilizing himself and his companions in the Interzone. Moreover, the Kro'ka can no longer subject him to the mental assault that he used in 'The Creed of the Kromon', because the Doctor isn't disoriented as he was then. For a moment, it seems that the Kro'ka gets the Doctor at his mercy, and he gloats outrageously, with dialogue including, "How I look forward to shutting your babbling mouth" and the outrageous, "Go into a trance if you will, it will avail you nought, for I have the mind blast!" Perring proves adept at handling such silly dialogue in Rose's decidedly tongue-in-cheek script, and switches from triumphant when the Kro'k gleefully notes, "This is another universe. It contains forces you never dreamed of, never imagined!" to furious and terrified when he subsequently falls into the Doctor's trap. The Doctor corners him in his mind and finally gets to see what he looks like, although in a nice break with audio convention there is no clumsy exposition so we don't find out. Despite his deceitful nature and enmity towards the Doctor, the Kro'ka also remains rather likeable, especially when he grudgingly concedes, "You know Doctor, I admire you… You have courage and integrity, you fight evil fiercely but are capable of mercy. To save a universe you chose permanent exile from everything you knew at the cost of one of your sense. You are truly heroic."

Of coruse, the Kro'ka's scenes wouldn't work nearly as well if the characterisation of the Doctor didn't hold up, but as it is, he's at his best here and McGann rises to the occasion. Amusingly, the Doctor's mind is full of funfair slides and junk. The Kro'ka knows the Doctor well enough by now to know that he won't betray Kro'ka to his masters and thus get him killed, but to his horror the Doctor cheerfully offers to wipe large chunks of his memory if he doesn't help him, teasingly noting, "Perhaps I wouldn't, but you can't be absolutely sure." Great though his confrontations with Kro'ka are however, they are as nothing to the scenes in the last three episodes after the TARDIS splits the Doctor into three distinct Doctors, which Rose uses to tremendous effect and which gives McGann a chance to show off his acting abilities. From the amusing cliffhanger ending to Episode One when the Doctor confirms, "I'm afraid it's true Charley. There are three of me", we get the sort of inter-Doctor bickering that made 'The Three Doctors' and 'The Five Doctors' at least tolerable. The three have different aspects of the Doctor's personality, the grumpy one noting, "Clearly I have the brains, that one got the brain damage, and what did you get?", prompting the withering response, "The manners." Charley sums up the three Doctors the best, telling one of them, "You're sort of you when you're normal, and this one is you when you're in your abstracted moods, and that other one… he is a bit irritable." Several minutes of Episode Two are spent whilst Charley and C'rizz cope with the sheer ghastliness of their predicament, but the time is well spent because the scene is thoroughly entertaining. Highlights include Charley vainly trying to pick names for the Doctors so that she and C'rizz can differentiate between them; she tells the abstracted Doctor she'll call him Tigger, and he happily (and rather vacuously) replies, "Tigger! Tigger's always my favourite!" She says to the grumpy one, "And you're Eyore", to which he snaps "Are you implying something?"

Having thus divided the Doctor, Rose has one accompany each companion, whilst the most normal one goes off on his own. This provides an opportunity for more amusing banter, especially between Charley and the grumpy Doctor. From the moment she is sent off with him and she mutters "This is going to be fun" and he snaps "What?", the pair snipe at each other constantly. This results in one of India Fisher's best performances, as Charley copes with her bad-tempered Doctor through gritted teeth. In a flash of the emotion that lies at the heart of the Doctor's personality, when she nearly gets killed, he quietly tells her "I'm still me. I still care." Of course, he then berates her "That was an asinine move!" He also moans, "I can't believe the other two tolerate you as a travelling companion. Of course, one of them is balmy", but Rose doesn't use him for purely comic effect; he represents the edge of steal in the Doctor's personality, and unrestrained by the others, he reveals that he's the Doctor's nasty part and bullies and tortures the Kro'ka into submission. As a result, McGann gets to play tough and does it very well.

C'rizz meanwhile gets sent off with the abstracted Doctor, and his happy, curious persona is almost a simpleton. He laughs happily throughout, marveling at trivialities, and bubbling with enthusiasm, most notably when he proclaims, "The garden of curiosities! Great!" and tells C'rizz "I've never seen anything like it! You don't know how rarely that happens to me!" Conrad Westmaas is great at suggesting that C'rizz is struggling to be diplomatic purely though his vocal inflections, such as when C'rizz notes, "This aspect of you is very cheerful Doctor." In another subversion of the conventions of the format, when the Obolat chases the pair, C'rizz hints at how dangerous it is with lines like, "It won't eat you… something much worse" but he can't explain what the Obolat actually is or what it looks like, much to the curious Doctor's frustration.

The Doctors' best scenes however occur when they are together; highlights include the curious Doctor proclaiming "String! I have some string!" to which the grumpy Doctor sarcastically replies, "We're all very happy for you." The abstracted Doctor clearly annoys his short-tempered alter ego, who constantly snaps at him with lines like, "It is not a paradox! It is a dilemma. And I wish you would all shut up!" Indeed Rose's grasp of the Doctor's character throughout is splendid, and he gets some very whimsical dialogue that recalls the best examples of Tom Baker's performance, such as when he tells Kro'ka, "I may talk like a fool, but I always know what I'm talking like a fool about." At the end, as the trio are recombined, there is a great parody of multi-Doctor stories, as the three Doctors say goodbye to everyone.

Light-hearted though 'Caerdroia' is, it also sets things up for the finale to the Divergents arc. With clocks and imagery from Earth, Rose has great fun introducing the trappings of our universe into the Divergent universe, with tongue-in-cheek references to the fact that the universe isn't very alien anyway, which is one of the main reasons that I've found the entire arc rather disappointing and something of wasted opportunity. As the Doctor remarks, "There are minutes and they do tick by, even in a universe that can't tell the time." Later, he finds a clock ("It can't be, not in this universe") and on learning that the Divergents run things from a planet called Caedroia the Doctor realises that this is a Welsh word. Later, in the labyrinth, he ponders that the monster "can hardly be a Minotaur in this universe", which of course it is. On the one hand this advances the plot as he gradually realises that the endless castle is actually his TARDIS, but on the other it pokes fun at the fact that pretty much every story set in the Divergent universe could very easily have been set in the Doctor's native universe. Which is a shame, because the result is that the entire feels like the E-Space trilogy writ large, but without the novelty value because we've seen it before. But to single out Big Finish is unfair; Rose pokes fun at the conventions of Doctor Who as a whole, with ironic lines such as, "Isn't this the part where someone with a gun appears and explains everything?" the disguised Kro'ka's very clichéd story about his creation (the maze) being misused by aliens who offered technology in return for calcium with which to power their ships.

I could praise 'Caerdroia' for hours, but I'd better stop soon. Other noteworthy features include the dour Welsh receptionists, one of whom jabbers a string of intelligible directions. The identical second Welshman wraps the Doctor up in bureaucracy, responding to enquiries with the unhelpful, "That question must be referred to the rhetorical or genuine questions department for a decision." Obediently, the Doctor asks one of his fellows, "Is this the rhetorical or genuine questions department?" and gets the equally unhelpful reply, "That depends… on whether that is a rhetorical or genuine question."

By the end of 'Caerdroia', the listener has been treated to a welcome dose of comedy, during which several important events occur. During Episode Three when the disguised Kro'ka tries to trick a pair of Doctors, the grumpy Doctor realises, "This nitwit is trying to get us to break into our own TARDIS." By the end of the story he gets his ship back, McGann packing a tremendous amount of elation into the simple line, "I'm home!" After the low point he reached in 'The Last', his sheer delight is very welcome, and he's clearly ready for the season finale, as he tells his companions, "With the TARDIS back I can elude them until I'm ready to face them on my own terms". He has more than one "them" to face; as the TARDIS materialises, the power behind the Kro'ka is revealed as Don Warrington's velvet tones inform him, "You've broken our contract, spoiled our plans." Rassilon is back, and the end is in sight…

Lawrence Conquest

When the Doctor and Charley were exiled to another universe at the end of Zagreus we were promised new realms of adventure. Following the initial weirdness of Scherzo however, the Doctors adventures have settled down into a formulaic trudge during his quest to be re-united with the TARDIS, with every story book-ended by scenes of the Doctor being harangued by the Kro’ka in the mysterious Interzone that divides the planet he happens to be trapped on. If Caerdroia has one thing in it’s favour, it’s that it finally breaks this format open, with the Doctor finally confronting the Kro’ka instead of jumping through hoops for him, and finally winning back the TARDIS. As such then, Caerdroia should be a crucial moment in the Doctor’s ‘Divergent’ arc, and indeed it by its very nature it’s so dependent on what comes before and after that it is quite unlistenable as a stand-alone story and yet, curiously, we ultimately learn almost nothing about the Kro’ka, the Interzone or anything else by the stories end.

Once the Doctor decides to rebel against the Kro’ka, the story settles down into one of those extended fantasy dreamscape stories, a la The Mind Robber, Castrovalva, The Deadly Assassin part 3, and, only a few months old, The Axis of Insanity. The Doctor, Charley and C’rizz wander around in circles – splitting up, meeting up, splitting up - facing a Minotaur, a giant cuckoo clock, a garden and err…bureaucracy. For the most part this is entirely shallow material, with the story dependant on flashy visuals – which makes this odd, considering it’s an audio. Rose tries to be clever about some of this, with the TARDIS team menaced by a monster that no-one can quite get round to describing for the listener but, like the never described Kro’ka, it just frankly doesn’t work. The Kro’ka himself doesn’t really convince either in his battle of wills with the Doctor – Stephen Perring does a decent performance, but the Kro’ka is taken down a peg here, transformed from the big controlling entity into a sneaky underling, and the fact that we learn so little about him during what should be his main story is disappointing: the Doctor makes several guesses about what the Kro’ka is, but we never really get to find out.

So far, so disappointing – but is there anything good about Caerdroia? Thankfully yes – it’s the regulars to the rescue. This story features good performances from both Conrad Westmaas and India Fisher (thankfully sounding less bored than she was in The Last) but the real star of the show here is Paul McGann, in what may well be his best ever performance as the Doctor. What makes his performance so enjoyable is the fact that the Doctor is split into three distinct personalities at the stories beginning, so there are three versions of him running around in the manner of The Three Doctors. It’s not hugely convincing when the final explanation comes as to why this actually happened, but it does allow McGann to give three wildly different performances as both the ‘normal’ Doctor, the overly-optimistic ‘Tigger’ Doctor (which brings to mind the bouncing-for-joy idiot of the early BBC novels) and a more moody character. Charmingly, as with The Three Doctors they all bicker away with each other and, naturally, link minds for the finale.

As a light romp parodying The Three Doctors Caerdroia is great fun, but as a crucial episode in the Divergent series this is a major disappointment. Take your pick.

John Hoyle

How does one go about reviewing this eclectic oddity? It’s so difficult to know what to think of it. Most memorable and exciting of all are the tete-a-tetes between Stephen Perring’s excellent Kro’ka and McGann’s forever cheeky Doctor. As we know that we’re not far from the arc’s conclusion, the feeling that we’re getting closer and closer to answers creates an often unbearable tension. We desperately ache for the Kro’ka to give in to the Doctor’s will, as snippets of new information leak out under the pressure he faces.

The remainder of the story is certainly unusual to say the least. Flashes of The Mind Robber and Castrovalva abound, this adventure could be set in the land of fiction itself. The problem is, however, that the enjoyment of such a world is dependent on visuals. Admittedly, writer Lloyd Rose manages to sufficiently side-step the trap of characters explaining what’s in front of them, but there are so many ideas in Caerdroia that demand a visual spectacle. Giant rabbits, clocks, balls of string weaving their way through a city’s streets, a minotaur running through a wall, the list is almost endless. Clever sound design saves the story from becoming confusing and the problem becomes a more minor one. However, these visual spectacles, although clues, aren’t really interacted with by the characters. We just get the sense that the characters are milling around this world with little aim, and there is little drive or energy pushing their movements. When, at the end of part two, they meet, nothing much has happened save from some corridor walking (which in Dr Who terms I suppose is quite acceptable).

There is much more to enjoy in the four actors’ performances. The TARDIS crew are now really beginning to work well together, although Charley is beginning to seem a little insubstantial, having lost her defining enthusiasm she once had in abundance. Conrad Westmaas’ performance has reached a much higher level than in his early stories. His tendencies to over-act have been toned down enormously. Best of all though, is Paul McGann, giving his best showing for what seems like ages and being split into three personas is a great way of giving McGann something to get his teeth into and of course, allowing the narrative more characters to play with. The hyperactive Doctor is a little too hyper sometimes but the nasty Doctor hits just the right spot, and is much funnier if you’ve a bleak sense of humour. Of course, these two extremities help to highlight the character of the Doctor McGann has forged over the past few years, a subtle, earnest Doctor with that perfect flash of childish zeal. Quite why the Doctor splits in three however is a mystery to me, despite a vague explanation.

What remains unclear is exactly how the TARDIS has found its way to Caerdroia. Having apparently split up Mind Robber style, it seems unlikely that the TARDIS is simply lying around on another planet, having reconstituted itself.

Caerdroia is, all in all, an enjoyable, fantastical romp. It just about gets away with the reliance on visuals not least due to the superb sound design and clever writing and one comes to await the next unusual image rather than be put off by it. The acting is quite tremendous throughout. Stephen Perring is just as brilliant as he always is, and is finally given something to do, with the climax of part three one of the highlights of the play.

Most exciting of all though, is the feeling that this is all coming to an end and one spends much of Caerdroia thinking about what the clues we have been given mean in relation to the upcoming finale. Rassilon’s cameo at the conclusion of the tale is menacing and frightening and looms over the unusual, up-beat last scene, promising what we know is impossible to achieve now.

Joe Ford

If it hadn’t been for the last few seconds I would have striked Caerdroia as I total disaster but those few precious seconds of optimism almost, ALMOST make the four episodes worthwhile. Although I can think of a million ways it could have been achieved better.

Lloyd Rose wrote this? Get off! Rose is responsible for two of the very best eighth Doctor adventures and a very good seventh Doctor PDA, her credentials are extremely impressive. For the first time in about three years I was genuinely eager to hear an eighth Doctor audio, her understanding of the character is second to none. Plus all the rumours that it would start to draw this pathetic divergent universe arc to a sort of conclusion was something to be praised as this stress on arc stories has grown tiresome of late.

Reading DWM issue 350 I was not at all surprised to hear Gary Russell moaning about the reviews his eighth Doctor series three, who wouldn’t be upset at such a venomous reaction to their work? He also states that he is disappointed that people did not have faith that after six years at Big Finish’s helm the creators might have been leading up to something special. Coming from a man who used to review for DWM and slaughter people’s work who had worked on Doctor Who longer than he has that is something of a cheek. What Gary fails to understand is it is possible to please fans with both individual stories and story arcs, maybe this divergents storyline was building up to something truly spectacular but that doesn’t mean we have to put up with sub-standard storytelling until we get there. Some of the best ever Doctor Who writers have contributed to this arc and have delivered their least interesting work and the strangling arc has been a large factor in this disappointments. Zagreus (Alan Barnes) was far, far too long and loaded with bad revisionist ideas, Creed of the Kromon (Vengeance on Varos’ Philip Martin) lacked any kind of drama, was hugely padded and introduced one of the most dull companions ever, The Natural History of Fear (the brilliant Jim Mortimore) did try to deliver something really fresh but in doing so confused me totally, a story with layer after layer that peels away a hundred times until you are never sure what the hell it is about, The Twilight Kingdom drowned its potential in traditional Doctor Who elements and failed miserably to bring the aimless season to any sort of climax. At this point it really felt as if Gary had lost the plot because it really was no-where to be seen. A mention that the Doctor is looking for Rassilon is not enough pay off for a season that promised to take us to new and exciting places.

This season has seen some improvement; at least on the individual story level with Faith Stealer opening the season impressively, the most fun eighth Doctor story since Seasons of Fear. Still no sign of a running story though, except that the silky voiced is moving the Doctor from story to story. The Last sees the quality plummet; potentially the best eighth Doctor story ever with its doomy atmosphere and shock twists but spoilt by the Voyager reset button.

Caerdroia convinces me of the weakness of this divergent story arc because it does tie up some hanging threads but does so by running around in circles for four episodes of surreal nonsense. There is some real development of Kro’ka, the Doctor gets his TARDIS and personality back (hurrah!) and Rassilon shows his slimy head again (yaaawn). So we are getting back on the right road but the story is such a confusing mess, some marvellous ideas that seem totally out of place because of the restraints this silly arc places on them. Caerdroia is the Big Finish equivalent of Timeless from BBC Books, the book before the finale, which sets up the last tale and brings the elements of the arc into focus. But whereas Timeless bothered to tell a riveting character drama, Caerdroia seems content to let the Doctor, the Doctor, the Doctor (don’t ask!), Charley and C’rizz stumble around some bizarre fantasy landscape, keep running into each other and finally stumble across the TARDIS. The end. Honestly, they just walk around a bit, meet up, split up, meet up again, split up, meet up and leave in the TARDIS. That’s the whole story.

Had Rose been given free reign to tell a fresh tale free from this horrid arc she could have produced magic out of these ideas, the Doctor splitting into three, the universe without time, the cows! Her dialogue is truly excellent, that I will never deny and I feel she has an excellent grasp of audio, the interaction between the characters is fun and lively, certainly the three regulars haven’t been this entertaining ever. If there had been some sign of a plot that isn’t signposted at every level, if the story had led up to something tangible (okay they get the TARDIS back but the entire story seems to be leading up to a confrontation with the divergents who fail to appear), if that bastard Rassilon hadn’t just shown up for an annoyingly cryptic comment about the great plan…it might have been worth buying. But in my mind it is time to skip back into the usual universe and get back to having some laughs and ignore this story building rubbish. If I never see an arc again it will be too soon!

I was one step ahead of the regulars at every stage of the story which made me feel super smart and made them all look really dim. Who couldn’t spot how the world they were on was constructed? Who didn’t know where the planet was all along? Who didn’t realise that the Kro’ka was not as in control as he appeared? And the answer to how time was being leaked into the divergent universe…come on that was easy peesy! I laughed several times when the characters made these amazing discoveries and their stupidity added to my frustration.

Another way this story was similar to Timeless was in the central baddie of the series being betrayed by the higher powers that they work for. Sabbath had been well set up as an arrogant bully, ruthlessly intelligent and sarcastic so his down fall was satisfying and entertaining but the downfall of Kro’ka was less enthralling because he has had such little development. We know so little about him and care even less so when it is revealed he is trying to keep the Doctor from the divergents because of various mistakes on his part so it is hard to work up any sympathy for him. Whilst it was enjoyable to see the Doctor getting some revenge on the creep in the later stages of Caerdroia his eventual fate is as inconclusive and unsatisfying as the main plot of the story. A shame that he should fizzle out like this because Stephen Perring gives his best performance in Caerdroia, panicked, desperate and scared, he makes a far more interesting character when he is not just goading melodramatically all the time. Hopefully he will show up again in The Next Life and give Rassilon and the divergents what for but given the strength of this arc I should imagine this pathetic climax to his story is all he’ll get. All that build up…for this?

Another way this story reminds me of the EDAs is with its companions. You have one companion (Charley/Fitz) who has been around for yonks, way before all the arc nonsense showed up and one who has shown up much more recently (C’rizz/Trix) and had to catch up with what has been going on. Fitz and Charley were both affected deeply by the traumatic events of recent years whilst both Trix and C’rizz have been introduced with little personality to stamp them out. Fortunately Fitz has been freed from the doldrums and livened up considerably since the alternative universe arc ended and Trix has had her layers peeled away to reveal a fascinating and trouble young woman underneath. Unfortunately Charley and C’rizz have not been treated to the same luxurious development. They are good mates, she loves the Doctor, he killed his missus, which is still as far as we have come with them. There is no purpose to their relationship, no interesting developments; they’re just there.

Caerdroia goes some way to convince they are both fun to be around (thanks to some bouncy dialogue) but I’m not fooled for a second. Charley gets to swing about in a huge clock and C’rizz gets chased about by a big scary monster, silly, funny events to be sure but I still have no idea who they are and why they hang together. The events of stories drive their characters rather than their characters driving the stories. Frankly they don’t have strength to do it or the producers don’t have the bravery to let them (they came close to some development in The Last until the big reset button was jabbed!). Charley mentions (again) that she loves the Doctor and C’rizz mentions Lyda (again). Will we ever learn anything else about C’rizz and is there anything else interesting to say about Charley? I live in hope…

But one character who benefits from Rose’s skill is the Doctor who is ingeniously split into three, the nasty, the cheerful and the inquisitive. Seeing these three parts of the Doctor alone proves what a multi-faceted character he is and how much McGann brings to the role (when he can be arsed). He is fabulous here, one of his best ever performances, creating three distinctly different aspects of the Doctor, so good that you know exactly which of them is talking even when the three Doctor’s are all chatting together. One scene in episode four where nasty Doctor skips into Kro’ka’s mind and threatens to hurt him was especially good, McGann a frightening presence to behold.

I am sick of being so dismissive of this eighth Doctor plays because there is so much talent being poured into them. India Fisher is a brilliant actress. The music is always exceptional. The soundscapes convince you that you are there. Conrad Westmaas has a wonderfully soothing voice, perfect for audio. Guest actors are giving memorable performances. Hell the dialogue is usually pretty sharp too. How can a story arc drag it down so much? Three things need to change big time before I start to recommend them again….

1) A variety of directors
2) Shorter stories, nearly every eighth Doctor audio in the past two years has been stuffed with padding
3) No more ARCS.

Oh and better covers too, Caerdroia’s is the worst I’ve seen in yonks!