Big Finish Productions
Gallifrey: Pandora

Written by Justin Richards Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2005

Starring Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson and John Leeson

Synopsis: A rogue TARDIS that should not exist... A mutilated, comatose Time Lord who cannot be identified... A new Castellan desperate to make his mark... Evils of the past, events of the present, and echoes of the future conspire to destroy the very heart of Gallifrey's civilisation.


A Review by Joe Ford 24/9/05

There is a twist in Pandora that I didn't see coming for the life of me despite the fact that it was so OBVIOUS. Anyone who has read the Virgin New Adventures could spot it. Anyone currently immersed in the audio world of Bernice Summerfield should spot it. Anyone technically playing attention should spot it. But since I am an idiot I enjoyed that moment of surprise and was pleased that the Gallifrey series not only set up The Braxiatel Collection but also sent him on his way too. Brax is Justin Richards' character so it is nice to see him give the character some history and this is the ideal platform to explain away why he spends so much of his time away from Gallifrey.

Hang on! Wasn't I just dissing Gary Russell the other week for doing the same thing with Romana? Didn't I use unflattering comments like "It is a pointless addition to the mythology of the series and supremely irritating." Unfortunately this is where the difference between the books and the TV series divide. With the show, there is a rather sacred writ of what you see is what you get and there is no reason to add to the pre-set mythology unless you really know what you're doing or you've got a bloody good excuse. With the books however, they have only been published in the last few years and were mostly written by fans anyway so further fan development of characters from that series is okay, as long as it adds depth and further interest to their previous adventures and doesn't contradict them. Besides, as I have mentioned, Justin created Brax and is a superior writer, this is how to add twists and quirks to previously known characters without it seeming like you are inserting a huge crowbar into their pasts and slipping in the words CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT.

Pandora is hardly the fastest-moving Gallifrey CD but I found myself captivated anyway. It's one thing I've noticed about all of Justin's audio, stretching right back to Whispers of Terror; he's not really interested to transplanting a four part action adventure from the series across to audio... what would be the point? He constantly seems to want to challenge the audio audience, Whispers was probably his best script because he was working with a story that work primarily in the audio medium (with a creature made of pure sound) but his subsequent scripts have all featured a clever hook that made them work on audio (Red Dawn features an array of stunning ideas that could never have been created convincingly on TV, Time of the Daleks features the marvellous conceit of Daleks quoting Shakespeare...). His Gallifrey CDs have been little puzzle episodes, setting up lots of intriguing mysteries and then going about explaining them in that clever Richardsian manner of his. They are explorations of dialogue and plotting, not for thrill-seekers but for those who simply enjoy good writing. Pandora is a mostly quiet example of how to tell a good story on Gallifrey with the characters so well defined they practically write themselves but in the hands of a craftsman like Richards, they shine.

The Inquisitor comes into her own here and emerges as the real Kai Winn of the series. Kai Winn, for those not in the know, was a character from Star Trek: DS9 who was a glorious political backstabber (literally in one episode!), one who would speak to you with smiles and kind words but would be plotting your downfall at the same time. That is who Darkel is, a devious schemer with firm ideas about how Gallifrey should be run and how it should be seen by outsiders. She slithers her way through Pandora like a snake, having a word here, a suggestion there, clearly playing a complex game and ready to bring down Romana when the time is right. The story always lights up when Darkel is around because she is so transparent, I love it when she is feeding Wynter's ego and offering friendly advice to Romana because it is obvious that it is a load of bollocks but she delivers it with such conviction. Lynda Bellingham is clearly having a ball with this mischievous character and I hope we continue to see more of her.

Wynter's naivete finally brings him down in this story as the regular cast is pruned even more. Ian Hallard's excellent turn as the Castellan is brought to a wonderfully dramatic end as he is forced to make a touch decision in order to protect Gallifrey. We get to hear his scene in the laboratory three times over, each time gathering more information, each time growing more disturbing. Hallard's hand-crushing acting is agonisingly good and provides some good old fashioned violence in the midst of all the political wrangling.

It was nice to see Leela and Andred reunited too. In one very well played scene between Louise Jameson and Andy Coleman we finally get to see Leela's grief and anger surface towards the man who betrayed her. It is further proof of how good these actors are because I could imagine this scene being horridly overdone in the hands of lesser performers. Andred's quiet "I did it for you" proves he still cares a great deal about her and I hope it will be followed up later on. Considering how much I hated Leela's sudden decision to leave in The Invasion of Time they are managing to milk the drama of the situation pretty well and now I want to see her get a happy ending with Andred! My how things change...

The direction by Gary Russell was pretty good, not his absolute best because this story was all about the characters and thus belonged to the actors, no set pieces or directional flourishes were really required. But all the same it was perfectly serviceable, assembling the mystery with some panache and providing some dramatic scenes in the second half.

I sat outside in the middle of the great June heat wave and listened to Pandora and it is a testament to its entertainment that I now have a terribly sunburnt face! I listened to it straight through and thoroughly enjoyed it, it might be business as usual for Gallifrey but considering how much I liked it proves how that damn planet's fortunes have reversed.

Big up to Big Finish, they've given Gallifrey a jolly good spring clean and it's so much the better for it.