Big Finish Productions
The Song of Megaptera

Written by Pat Mills Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2010

Starring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant

Synopsis: Deep space in the distant future, and Captain Greeg and his crew are hunting mile-long Space Whales on a vast harvesting ship. By pure accident, they also capture the TARDIS. The Doctor and Peri must use all their wits to survive. But what is the creature running loose in the ship's bowels? And can the Doctor save Megaptera before its song is extinguished forever?


The Space Whale Ecologic Thriller by Jacob Licklider 15/9/22

The Song of the Space Whale began its life as a prospective comic script for Doctor Who Magazine's Fourth Doctor strip before editor of Doctor Who Magazine told Pat Mills and John Wagner to take it to the BBC for an adaptation into a television script. Wagner dropped out of the project and a script was adapted for the Fourth Doctor, but John Nathan-Turner and Christopher H. Bidmead had Mills rework it for the Fifth Doctor. Once that had been done, it had already been decided that Peter Davison would be leaving the show, so Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward asked Mills to readapt the script again for the Sixth Doctor and Peri, this time for Season 23, before the season was dropped and the script forgotten about until it was remembered by David Richardson and John Ainsworth when compiling the scripts for the first season of the Lost Stories with a title change to The Song of Megaptera.

It's an interesting example to study, as the story is a strange case of going through four different sets of adaptation before seeing the light of day, which is a disadvantage to the story going in, as making leaps from medium to medium is already hard enough, but doing it twice is even harder and can often have problems. That's why a lot of movies based off musicals fail, as they go from being adaptations of a staging, which are adaptations of a script, all with often-varying tones. This is mainly where The Song of Megaptera fails; it doesn't know what tone it wants to have. It is a story that has a scene where Peri, who is under the influence of a hallucinogen, sing the Star Spangled Banner while the story tries to be an eco-thriller set on an intergalactic whaling ship.

The premise reveals that this started out as a comic storyline as intergalactic whaling ship capturing whales a mile in length is not something you would normally see on television. Pat Mills is first a comic strip writer, and in the way he plots the story, it really shows, as the cliffhangers work as the bigger reveals for the story. This isn't a bad thing, as the style is able to keep the listener engaged in the story throughout what really is a mediocre plot. It may have worked in the 1980s when whaling was an actual issue, but in 2010 there really isn't much reason to tread that ground except for the ecological messages, but those were done much better in The Green Death and Invasion of the Dinosaurs. There are nice ideas that people are living inside the whales and the Doctor's solution to the computer, played by John Banks, is really funny, but other than that, the story really doesn't have too much going for it.

Nicola Bryant steals the show, as Peri gets to be proactive as the companion and the extras note that Peri was supposed to be the one to shoot the villain. It's an interesting idea, and I could see it working, but as the story is, she still shines more than she ever did on television. Bryant also gets the chance to flex her comedy muscles, as she has to act affected by strong drugs, which is the best scene in the story. Colin Baker is also good as the Doctor, but another flaw in the adaptation is that his actions feel much more like Graham Williams Era Tom Baker. Mills goes into detail that he did rewrite the script with Colin in mind, but that process is rarely perfect and here there are definite moments where the original characterization bleeds through. The Chief Engineer is an interesting character, as she was originally meant to be male, and Mills shoots himself in the foot by admitting this fact. This is a problem because it shows just how much of a stock character she was. Susan Brown can play the character extremely well, but it really isn't the best performance of the story.

John Ainsworth directs this story and made the choice of splitting it up to the original four-part structure, which was the best thing you could do for the story. Ainsworth is able to keep his actors on cue while they are playing multiple roles, which really works. He did make an odd casting choice by having veteran voice actor Toby Longworth in a bit part as a guard, which really doesn't do much service for Longworth who deserves better.

To summarize, The Song of Megaptera is a look at what happens when a Doctor Who story goes through development hell. It is a story routed solidly in the politics of the 1980s and brought into the twenty-first century with several flaws that have to be looked at when determining the quality of the story. The acting and production is still top notch, but it is the writing and adaptation that really lets the story down. 60/100