THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Terror Firma

Written by Joseph Lidster Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2005
Continuity After The Telemovie

Starring Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas

Synopsis: Centuries ago on the war-torn planet Skaro, a great scientist created the most evil creatures the Universe would ever know... Daleks. It was at their genesis that the scientist, Davros, first met and was defeated by the Doctor. Over the years and throughout space, they fought, a fight that ended with the Doctor's destruction of Skaro and the Daleks. Except... Davros survived. Alone. In the dark. With only houghts of revenge keeping him alive. The Doctor is back. Davros is waiting. Their destiny is now.


Reviews

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 11/10/05

There seems to be a general feeling amongst fans that Big Finish are tailing off in their story telling. Reviews over the web, ratings given on various websites present the latest offerings as nowhere near as impressive collectively as their previous output. I'm not quite sure of the reason for this (could it be the new series?), but I know what I think, and that is that Big Finish are just as good as they always have been. They are still producing top-notch Doctor Who stories. Their output is supremely varied in its story types, and the performances are consistently excellent. There might the odd story that doesn't quite measure up, but that's true of every era of DW, in any medium. It's a fact though that Big Finish never plunges the depths that TV and books and comics have plunged, and they consistently lead the way in effective and entertaining Doctor Who.

Terror Firma is something of a re-invention for Big Finish. The Alternate Universe Arc of the 8th Doctor/Charley and C'Rizz had to be curtailed because of the new series and the new fans that would bring on board. At the end of The Next Life the Doctor and companions did indeed return to our universe, and were promptly confronted by a load of Daleks - proof that they were indeed back in the traditional Doctor Who, our universe.

The Doctor celebrates this fact, and is gloriously exuberant throughout, despite the apparent trauma he experiences. He comments on how wonderful it is back being a Time Lord in the proper universe. He's rather modern here too, quoting popular sources Buffy-style throughout. Some come off, but some were cringeworthy (the Bond impression). For all his exuberance here though, McGann can still play the key scenes with the right level of intensity - and he bounces off Davros superbly. It's not quite in the Colin Baker league - but it's a good enough performance against one of the greatest DW villains.

Terry Molloy is monumental as Davros again - and no doubt he will be in further productions. He's completely nailed this part - and I find the whole character absorbing and intriguing, because of Molloy's brilliant portrayal. The way he switches from Davros to Dalek and back again is superb - the perfect union of voice artist and audio wizardry.

I expected great things from the Doctor and Davros, and their respective actors. What has surprised me here, and it's a pleasant surprise, is the intensity of C'Rizz (Conrad Westmaas). A violent streak emerges as he struggles to come to terms with our universe and its problems. His demands of Charley also indicate a deeper character than I had previously envisaged. I didn't want C'Rizz to survive the alternate universe - but now I am glad he has. Charley's part unfortunately is diminished as a result of this change of emphasis - let's hope it's only for one story.

Joseph Lidster's story is a strange one. There's so many things it reminds me of. There are echoes of The Rapture - his first Big Finish script. The boozy atmosphere is here, and in the character of Harriet we have another Caitriona. She emerges better, just, by the end. There's also a nod to early Dalek stories with the setting - Folkestone, not Bedfordshire - but similar type of conceit here. There's a stack of quotes from previous stories, and too many "and all that's" by the Doctor for the fans to complete the sentence. Interestingly however, there is also similar ideas to the new TV Series, especially the way the Daleks interact with human beings. Whether this is intentional homage to the Eccleston season I have no idea - but it instantly struck a chord. Maybe Big Finish and the TV series have merged in my own conscience thanks to the brilliant voice power of Nick Briggs.

There's similarities aplenty as well, with the characters of Gemma and Samson. They are supposed to be like Charley and C'Rizz - I think that's the point of it all. Davros' motives here echo another TV story - Evil of the Daleks - as he tries to understand the Doctor's motivations, and why he is so successful in his battles with his Daleks.

I've rather enjoyed the audios recently featuring Doctors 5, 6 and 7. There seemed to me too many 8th Doctor audios in recent years. There's been a little break now before Terror Firma, and it has done the whole 8th Doctor audios no harm at all. They have come back refreshed, if not as new and inventive as they have been previously.

There's a good Doctor Who story in Terror Firma. But it's a story that has been told before over many stories. Thus Terror Firma feels to me like a mish-mash of previous Davros/Dalek ideas all bunged together to create a reasonable whole. The only startling part is the hokey-cokey antics of the party, dominated by Harriet - and these grate, rather than fit in nicely to the narrative.

I couldn't help but quite like Terror Firma, especially the contributions of Terry Molloy, Paul McGann and Conrad Westmaas. Yet I was also quite disappointed by it, with its lack of originality. I'm convinced this TARDIS team can bring us some classic adventures in the future. The final few minutes of this release really point the way forward to very good times ahead. A restart for the series, yet with so much that is over-familiar. Mixed bag this one. 6/10


Ex-ter-min-ate! by Joe Ford 26/10/05

I cannot decide whether Joseph Lidster is the best of the worst writer on the Big Finish payroll. He displays strengths and weaknesses in abundance and they keep cropping up in every story he writes. He enjoys languishing in dramatic angst and making his characters face terrible choices and look hardat themselves which can result in startling drama (the fascinating second episode of Master) but alternatively can plunge into the depths of embarrassing melodrama (pretty much all of The Rapture). He loves piling on twist after twist until the listener has no idea where the story is going (The Longest Night is a perfect example, with the story beginning with terrible explosions and things only getting worse and worse from then on). And he adores his shock endings (the suicidal ending to his recent Sapphire and Steel play will remain in my mind for a good while). Terror Firma contains all of these characteristics of Lidster's writing and while it remains entertaining throughout it revels in the prime Lidster characteristic (which left me shaking my head with disbelief at lengths he would go to to shock), his lack of subtlety.

Someone turn me into a Dalek would they and then I could exterminate those interminable bores Charley and C'rizz. They really are not interesting; Charley needed to leave ages ago when the character ran out of steam (ooh, about two seasons ago) but she trundles on and on, never having much to contribute beyond the cliched companion hysterics. I have no idea why the character (or the actress) has been kept around for so long unless Gary Russell has some great master plan that will see her go out in a blaze of glory. When she is asked if she wanted to keep travelling at the end I groaned when she said somebody should try and stop her (wish I could). As Terror Firma confirms she really has nothing left to say that's worth listening to and it would make a refreshing change to have somebody else join up with the Doctor. C'rizz is really starting to get on my wick, especially in Terror Firma, which seems to be implying there is something fascinating about the fact that he has the ability to kill people. I can see what Big Finish are trying to do with his character, frighten us to death with this silky voiced murderer but the trouble with C'rizz is that his background and general personality just aren't very interesting. So instead he's just a boring killer. The final scene of this story is quite hilarious (unintentionally, of course) where the chameleonic freak starts chatting away with all the people he has killed (in his head of course, it's not like he's weird or anything) and promises to deal with the Doctor and Charley later... ooohh scary! Why can't the eighth Doctor get some decent companions? You know, a couple of friends who don't break down and cry and tell him they love him or want to kill him... just two nice people who complement him and make his life fun? People like, ooh I don't know, how about Gemma and Samson? Before I go into who they are may I just point out how utterly hysterical it is how much more entertaining these two are when compared to Ms Melodrama (that's Pollard) and Psycho Lizard.

We're back in revisionist territory here but this time Big Finish is playing about with its own history, a somewhat new spin on what has become a very tiresome idea. I rather enjoyed the sudden reveal that the eighth Doctor had companions before Charley who we have never heard about and Joe Lidster brilliantly constructs a history between Samson and Gemma and the Doctor (including when they first met and many of their adventures). They have a very relaxed chemistry together and sound as they have been travelling together for ages, which certainly help to pull of this intriguing concept. What I didn't buy was the second twist that Davros has been watching the Doctor's adventures ever since he abducted Samson and operated on him. While this does explain the "Doctor we have been waiting for you! Ahahahahahahaha!" cliffhanger (still one of the worst moments in Big Finish history, the point where they genuinely sold out) it seems bizarre that Davros would go to such extraordinary lengths to hurt the Doctor by meddling with his favourite planet whilst he's away in the Divergent universe when he could just have killed him before he met Charley. What if the Doctor was murdered in the Divergent Universe and never got to see Davros'revenge plan? Davros would be watching through Samson and go "Oh bugger, and I've gone to all that trouble of turning the human race into Daleks and now he'll never see it! Dagnabbit!" So big thumbs up for Lidster suggesting a history for the eighth Doctor that we never knew about but thumbs down for him trying to fuck about with it the second we learn about it. What's this? Davros has turned the entire human race into Daleks! Oh yes and he's giggling about it like a madman! One thing this audio does put across very well is how much Davros hates the Doctor and when you see the lengths he has gone to to hurt him it reminds you of how deeply deranged Davros actually is. During several tense and frightening scenes the Doctor and Davros discuss their troubled history and it is astonishing to be reminded of the ground they have covered and the electrifying emotions brewed between them. What should have been a terrifying reminder of his absence from our universe is embarrassingly skipped over when the Doctor leaves the Earth at the end of the story satisfied that a handful of humans can sort out the horror Davros has done to the Earth (he converted billions of humans into Daleks!). It's another example of the story not thinking through its ideas (which are pretty good overall) but Lidster seems to be much more interested in hopping to the next twist rather than deal with the one he has just set up.

Another silly twist comes at the end of episode three where the Daleks are revealed to be the French resistance we have been hearing about for the first three quarters of the story. The Daleks have turned against Davros because he is mad? It never stopped them before! I refuse to believe the Daleks would skulk about having secret meetings to try and overthrow their dictator, more like they would swoop in en masse and kill him outright. Equally bizarre is their acceptance of Davros the second he drops his humanity and embraces his Emperor personality at the end of the story... a personality shift that actually isn't that significant. And yet the Daleks suddenly accept him, despite the fact that they were plotting his downfall just seconds before. And what on Earth is all this madness about C'rizz becoming Emperor of the Daleks just because he has taken a life? Couldn't they have just chosen any casual murderer? Ideas, ideas, ideas... no follow through. It is where a decent script-editor is required but that position has been vacant (or it seems that way) for far too long now.

Another annoying feature of this story is the amount of shouting every character has to do. Charley is shouting about an Earth ruled by Daleks. C'rizz is shouting about his dead missus (again). The Doctor is shouting at Davros. Davros always shouts but he gets more than his average number of melodramatic rants here. The Daleks can't help but shout. Nobody seems to be able to communicate unless they are splitting glass with their voices. The supposition seems to be that shouting equals drama. But, not unlike The Rapture, shouting simply equals a big headache. Whilst it is nice to have a story that pretends it is important and has some amount of relevance on the Doctor Who universe (unlike the rest of BF's output this year) it would be nice if everyone could just calm down a bit and deal with the dramatic plot without bursting my eardrums. I blame the director.

Paul McGann seems to appreciate the meaty dialogue offered to him and gives his all round best performance since... Neverland! It's like this Divergent Universe thing never happened (hurrah!). It is nice to see Big Finish capitalise on the unexplained time between the TV Movie and Storm Warning and flesh out his era a bit more. If only they would do the same thing with his current timeline, booting out his two tedious companions and giving him something interesting to do we'll be laughing.

It is a story that is far too interested in making a point to make a point. I did enjoy the story because there were a lot of clever ideas going on in there but I just wish there could have been a few less and the ones chosen could have been treated more sensitively and in greater depth. This is perfectly entertaining shock Doctor Who and pleasingly full of important moments but it is still a long way from being excellent, primarily because of the lack of subtlety.

With one or two re-drafts to iron out the rough edges this could have been something really special.