Audio Visuals
Connection 13

Synopsis: Some aliens want to invade the Earth. The connection of 13 satellites could signal doom for humanity.


Triskaidekaphobia by Matthew Harris 22/6/07

On the face of it, this is exactly what was advertised: a simple, simplistic even, Pertwee-era romp o' aliens and shootouts and last minute countdowns. And for most of its run it stays that way.

And then it kills a companion.

To be sure, this is three years after Earthshock. And I might be reading more into what may have been a simple behind-the-scenes reshuffle, but on listening now it feels like the equivalent of Lisa Faulkner in Spooks or Doyle in Angel.

Up to then it's actually an enjoyable, ultra-trad story (set in 1990, which is fantastic in itself), the kind which you have to make a conscious effort of will to avoid the word "romp" when discussing. Aliens show up, attempt to take over the world for no reason at all, and are defeated. The scheme involving a chain of satellites is ingenious without being original, and the entire cast are clearly having a ball reenacting the UNIT era. The script, by Stuart Palmer (I may be mistaken, but he seems to be the first A/V writer to be credited under his own name), is classic Doctor Who in excelsis, full of evil alien invaders with names like Talvar (played by none other than Tim Keable, artist on Jim Mortimore's Blood Heat and Campaign) and lines like " I could so easily allow the drill head to make contact with the female's flesh." That's part of a genuinely disturbing cliffhanger, which actually has the neck to follow through in the resolution.

And then comes the ending, which is the really important thing about this. In essence it's not really any different from 1001 other examples of "heroic self-sacrifice to end the story" in Doctor Who... except that it's a companion, Nadia, who sacrifices herself (in quite brutal fashion, which also seems to be a theme with dead companions - they either die in the vacuum of space, get aged to death or are atomised in a collision with the Earth. They don't simply get exterminated, and heaven forfend any of them die in their beds).

The reason this is important is that it shows the guys are suddenly thinking relatively big. It seems like a small thing now, but this represents a big step forward for the concept of fan productions. It's worth remembering that Big Finish Productions are just fan productions with a licence and a budget, which is not to denigrate them - quite the contrary - but simply to define them. With Nadia's death in Connection 13, which was completely unannounced and out of the blue, the Audio Visuals team signified that they weren't just going to make their own Doctor Who stories, they were going to make their own Doctor Who series, and they weren't afraid to confound expectations to do it.

I should probably reiterate that the decision might just have been caused by a wish on Sally Baggs' part not to do it anymore, or something innocuous like that, but all the same... the real series would have just married her off (or at least they would a year or two earlier - this was the dawn of the Colin Baker era, and of course soon after this first season of A/V productions came out they "killed" Peri). It signifies ambition, intended or not, and that's why Connection 13 is another huge step in the development of the fan production.

Also it's a damn good alien invasion story. Could have done without five minutes of ambient soundscaping at the end to mark Nadia's passing, though. It's very nice, but it does go on.