Monday, 28 September 2015

Main Range 015b. Last of the Titans by Nicholas Briggs (January 2001)

Before the Eighth Doctor appears in the Big Finish studios, let’s have a half-hour jaunt with his diminutive, brooding predecessor. There are many things that set aside Last of the Titans as being a product of Big Finish’s early years – for one, there is the lack of the Seventh Doctor’s proper theme tune (although in this instance, it’s not the mid-70s version that replaces it, but rather a totally new arrangement I urge you all to seek out if you can, especially if you’re a theme tune completist). There is the fact that this is so early in the day that The Shadow of the Scourge is given its working title, The Summoning of the Scourge, on the audio trailer. Then there is the fact that this story was based on an old Audio Visuals tale, much like Sword of Orion and Minuet in Hell, although it genuinely feels better adapted than either of them. And finally, the story is reasonably minimalist and sparsely effective when it comes to sound design.

This is a strong early showing for Sylvester, and the story has an interesting structure whereby his Doctor narrates quite a bit of the action from a later standpoint (as a child I loved his audio work narrating Philip Ardagh’s book series and playing Reepicheep in the CS Lewis novel adaptations, so I’m quite used to hearing him on tape!). This means that he has a touch too much exposition and audio-clunky dialogue, of course, but that’s forgivable. Very quickly he’s separated from the TARDIS, it having toppled into the ship’s furnace, and this gives the character a good, definable mission for the story’s start. I like that the bomb defusing is rather skipped over as a matter of course, an undramatic scene as Briggs takes us to the story’s character meat. His sigh and melancholic cup of tea at the end, and his rather forced repetition to “look on the bright side”, make me think this is toward the end of his seventh life (perhaps the breaking china is a reference to The TV Movie’s beginning?).

Last of the Titans sees the Doctor land on a rusty old spaceship and encounter Vilgreth, another great monster voice added to Nicholas Briggs’ repertoire. This lonely alien engineer, with his “darlings”, the boilers of the spaceship, is a faintly tragi-comic figure, lumbering, hulky, faintly dim-witted yet defensive (and he comes from Devon, apparently, in the story’s funniest moment). He has a surprisingly good rapport with the Seventh Doctor, and you almost wish for more stories between these two – although I think, 14 years on, that boat has likely sailed. “Resurrection of Vilgreth” won’t be hitting the main range any time soon, I imagine. But they make a touching odd couple, and a good example of how the Doctor is keen to protect all kinds of bizarre life, however unappealing the noises its vocal chords make. His past gets a reasonable amount of exploration for such a short piece, too, and there’s a nicely done shade of grey around the various moral perspectives.

This is a quirky, offbeat story – Who played as an idiosyncratic oddity rather than a crowd-pleaser. It has more effort put into it by actors, writer and director alike than it has any right to and is one of my favourites of these short freebies. A good use of half an hour.

Other things:
“It’s at times like this I start to worry about that word: technically.”
The Doctor leaves chalk arrows as he explores? He should do stuff like this more often, particularly in his Peter Capaldi incarnation.
“Why are you here? You better not have come to blow me up!”
“Chalk? This is no time for food!”
“Both Professor Trethui and Vilgreth had just been true to their nature, to the understanding and knowledge each could possess. The unfolding of time had done the rest.”

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