THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Caerdroia

Written by Lloyd Rose Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2004
Continuity After The Telemovie.

Starring Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas

Synopsis: Self-exiled to a new universe, separated from his TARDIS, opposed and manipulated by the Divergence and their agent the Kro'ka, the Doctor has been struggling to work out the nature of the cosmic game in which he's an unwilling pawn. Now, at last, he has a chance to find the answer - and regain the TARDIS!


Reviews

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 18/12/04

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 Kro'ka 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 two 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 four 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 three 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 Kro'ka, 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


The Doctor Strikes Back by Kathryn Young 19/12/04

In case anyone is wondering its "care" + "droid" (but without the final "d") and "ah" (as in "ah! Of course I had no idea when I made that joke that your mother had in fact been savaged to death by rabid goats"). However if Sir Paul calls it Corduroy, it's ok by me.

I'm the only Time Lord in this universe

Excuse the Little Britain references, but I am starting to notice something odd about this spooky universe. There are inordinate amounts of Welsh people in it. I don't know if this a Big Finish thing or wot:

Gary: After Zagreus I see the Doctor thrust into a spooky weird universe populated by strange unfathomable beings...

Jason: What - hideous blobbie creatures with eight arms, no concept of space or time and the ability to suck peoples' minds out through their ears?

Gary: No Jason, the Welsh.

And I have it on good authority that Caerdroia - is an old Welsh word meaning "Buy this audio or we send Colin Baker round to break your legs". So quite frankly I don't think the evil mastermind behind this whole divergent arcie thing is "you know who" but Charlotte Church.

To quote Charles Daniels...

Goofs: Paul McGann appeared awake for most of this story.
Obviously the director had been prodding Paul with a sharp stick when ever he drifted off or they scheduled the recording for after lunch or fed him lots and lots of coffee because he actually acts (or should that be actively engages with the script... gives a damn... doesn't sound hung over... thinking about if he has put enough money in the parking meter - take your pick).

But then again who could not help but get carried away and enjoy themselves when they are coping with Kro'ka's shockingly (and deliberately bad) kitsch dialogue as he alternates between insane master villain and sniveling little git depending on the circumstances:

"Now I have you in my power "DOC'TOR". Ahh now I have a silly voice you fear me... TIME... LORD. You will suffer unimaginable pain and all sorts of horribleness. Mwa ha ha ha."
Who wrote this script? Lloyd Rose or Mark Gatiss!

C'rizz

Lordie be he is a dull fellow isn't he. Someone at BF really should have told the writers that when they said the character was a chameleon and could blend in with the background that they didn't mean it quite so literally. Although in this story he did step up a notch in my estimation from "aural wallpaper" to "not quite such a total twonker".

Cr'izz - is like the designated driver of these spooky universe audios. [Although personally I hope that one day someone spikes his drink. I would love to see him running naked down the street pretending to be a teapot.] He is like the Christian guy at school, your local MP, that nice, slightly overweight bloke who wears singlets under his K Mart business shirts and gives you a lift home every so often. He is sensible, dull, and of course - inside - totally angst ridden (a fact that only comes out when they find all that internet porn in his computer and he blames it on the fact that he is 45 and still lives with his mother) - but unfortunately you just don't like him enough to give a damn.

How many times have I not sympathized with the fact that Cr'izz's girlfriend was turned into a giant slug and how upset he was because he had to gun her down in a fit of wangst - made all the more poignant because he is in fact a monk of some wanky spooky universe church that abhors violence. Blah blah blah! Get over it and talk to the hand. Actually I think his girlfriend was lucky. Just imagine living your entire life with Cr'izz? It would be like being married to Nick Ross from Crimewatch only slightly less interesting.

And in this audio he is starting to behave more and more like a disgruntled designated driver at a really good party: standing around nursing both a grudge and a tepid glass of lemonade while the Doctor gets to snort cocaine through hundred dollar bills off a prostitute's tits and dance on the furniture.

Well I don't blame Cr'izz. The Doctor gets to have all the fun in this story - all three of him. Yes boys and girls - what is more fun that one Doctor? Three Doctors. In this story we have "stoned Paul" (did anyone else start getting Withnail and I flashbacks?), "slightly cranky for no apparent or even vaguely fathomable reason Paul" and "sensible Paul". This allowed Paul McGann's versatile acting range to really shine as he rocketed from completely normal (Paul on the way to the pub), stoned (Paul on the way home from the pub) and slightly cranky (the morning after). However I am not going to complain as "stoned Paul" did make a pleasant change from "stone cold reading the script Paul".

Cri'zz and the cows:

When you get to the end of the audio all is revealed. However at one point I was seriously wondering exactly why Cri'zz was so attractive to cows. I am sorry - it may be just me, but I was.

Infusion - and I don't mean a cup nice cup of tea!

This entire episode seems to be infused with a sort of excitement and underlying tension. For ages now the Doc and co have been bouncing around different zones like those ping pong ball things in a lotto draw: energetically bouncing around the big glass globe, but ultimately pointless and slightly irritating - unless your number comes up (is that an accurate description of some of the divergent universe stories or wot?).

But now finally we are getting somewhere. The Doc is getting close to unraveling the secret of the spooky universe and the importance of this story really comes across. Finally the Doctor's fortunes are beginning to turn. In this story the Doc is on top and has the advantage (and take the advantage he does):

"Yes Bob. You can take the Time Lord out of the universe, but you can't take the Doctorishness out of the Doctor. Here we see the slow motion action replay of Caerdroia... Kro'ka's clumsy right cross was easily deflected and the Doctor retaliates with a nasty sucker punch - ohh that must of hurt. And it looks like he's not going to let Kro'ka get a moment's rest as he goes in with a very nasty groin kick. Not exactly good manners, but what do you expect? You can only push someone so far and we knew it was only a matter of time before the Doctor got tired of being on the ropes. Well Bob, that certainly was revenge for all that Interzone rubbish wasn't it?"

"Yes indeed Terry. You just don't mess steal someone's TARDIS and expect to get away with it. And I don't think Kro'ka's manager is going to be all that happy with his performance in this story. It could be curtains for Kro'ka's professional career."

Charley Charley Charley:

Everyone seems to complain that Charley has lost her oompahchah lately and all she does is hang around the Doctor! And yes I would have to agree that all the "holy shoot Doctor - you have totally buggered up the web of time stuff by saving her" thing was really cool. However considering she isn't even in that universe any more (and considering how everyone got all shirty that she was the focus of Zagreus) can't she just get on and be a normal companion. Leela didn't have much emotional baggage or wangsty back stories about how she was tearing the fabric of time apart and I don't see people complaining about Leela all that much. But then again Leela didn't have all that many clothes, which may account for a lot of things.

I just adored this story and highly recommend that you go around and kidnap the entire cast and make them reenact it for you live in your living room at gun point (but don't forget to bring a sharp stick and a cup of coffee for Paul).


Have a little faith, look where it gets you... by Joe Ford 27/1/05

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 divergent universe 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 the disappointment. 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 nowhere 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 Kro'ka 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 before. 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 downfall 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? Four 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. More interesting companions.
  4. No more ARCS!
Oh and better covers too, Caerdroia's is the worst I've seen in yonks!


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 1/4/05

Lloyd Rose's Doctor Who audio debut answers a lot of the questions the Divergent arc offers, featuring as it does just four characters. The fantastical realm within which the bulk of the story takes place lends itself well to audio, offering intrigue, confusion, complexity and a demand for relistening that makes this a highly enjoyable tale.

The cast are particularly strong, India Fisher is the duracell bunny of old as opposed to the lacklustre Charley from The Last and her optimism is a clever contrast to Conrad Westmaas and his sarcastic approach to C'rizz, making him feel like a seasoned companion. Once more the Krol'ka reappears and Stephen Perring imbues him with the sort of moriarty qualities that make his interactions with Paul McGann a joy to listen to. McGann himself gets to play three different versions of the Doctor, his personality traits differing enough to offer variety yet to show the relish with which Paul McGann takes on the role.

Performances asides, this also sets things up to come in The Next Life nicely, so credit to Lloyd Rose in this regard for providing such an entertaining tale.


A Review by Charles Berman 29/1/14

With Caerdroia, we are approaching the end of the Divergent Universe story-arc. I don't know for sure whether at this point the Big Finish producers were certain that they would be ending the arc early due to the impending premiere of the Ninth Doctor on television, but signs of of a wrapup are starting to appear. The Doctor spends a good amount of time verbally sparring with the Kro'ka, and these conversations are pitched at good level between mysterious and revelatory of some secrets about the nature of the Kro'ka and the Divergents that had been obscure for some time.

These sparring matches are mainly longish two-hander scenes, and they are entertaining in large part because dialogue seems to be one of the main strengths of Lloyd Rose. A much-praised prose writer whose novels I haven't had the chance to read yet, Lloyd Rose has written only this one audio script. She seems adept at giving the regulars witty banter and lines ("I may talk like a fool, but I always know what I'm talking like a fool about," for instance), which on its own makes this a fun listen. Semi-playfully exchanging barbs with Charley as the two wander around the setting of this story, C'rizz finally starts to seem likable and distinct as a character. That took way too long, but I give Lloyd Rose the credit for doing it.

This wit extends somewhat into the setting where our heroes find themselves, the Doctor at one point having found himself in an apparent satire of bureaucracy with clones manning every desk, asks for an "Office for Assistance in Swallowing, Liquids Subdivision" so he can take some aspirin, and is deadpannedly directed to the water cooler down the hall.

From these amusing exchanges, the world of Caerdroia does not eventually end up being fully developed much beyond the notion that it is a surreal place without any internal consistency. This makes for interesting and unusual scenery, if nothing else, and it becomes more forgivable (if reminiscent of the also similarly-named Castrovalva) when it is revealed that the place's unfinished nature is relevant to the plot.

Said plot involves the Doctor splitting into three versions of himself, for some reason that is not fully explained to do with crossing into a part of the divergent universe where time actually does exist. Here again, though, entertainment value trumps the making of thorough sense. The three versions, a Grumpy One, a Silly One and a Reasonable One, are all written with the same wit as the rest of the story. And, more notably, their existence gives yet another showcase for Paul McGann's acting range: all three Doctors are the same actor playing substantially the same character, but McGann's inflections make it never the least bit unclear which one is speaking. It's clear he enjoyed this script and took some time preparing his performance.

If there is a complaint to be made, it's that Caerdroia is light on actual plot. Take out the Doctor-Kro'ka scenes and the whole story is basically, "The Doctor has split into three. He, Charley and C'rizz are on a strange planet that doesn't make logical sense." The only real characters are the recurring ones of the Doctor, his companions and the Kro'ka. That's not quite enough plotting for the four episodes, without the complete virtuosity that Ron Shearman displayed in Scherzo.

Very recommendable, though, and if outside of its arc revelations it's not the most substantial of storylines, that is well overshadowed by the verve and humor of the dialogue and set pieces that the Doctor and friends are given to play with.