The Interzone is a fearsome nether-world protecting a zone ruled by the Kromon. Theirs is an arid land of dust and dying trees. Across the landscape are spheres that look like giant anthills. The Doctor believes that within one of these structures lie the clues that will lead him to his lost TARDIS.
The spheres are ruled by the insect-like Kromon who covet the TARDIS. When Charley is captured she is forced to metamorphosise into a hybrid-insect Queen and so to save her, the Doctor must barter his knowledge of space-travel technology, all the while knowing that he risks opening up all the realms of space to a rapacious race whose creed is not to create, only to plunder.
Paul McGann is the Doctor in The Creed of the Kromon
Paul McGann (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charley Pollard)
Brian Cobby (The Oroog)
Stephen Perring (The Kro’ka/Kromon Voice)
Jane Hills (L’da)
Daniel Hogarth (Kromon Voice)
Written By: Philip Martin
Directed By: Gary Russell
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Vengeance on Varos. Some say it’s a classic!
All kidding aside, Vengeance on Varos is considered by many to be the Sixth Doctor’s best televised story. Seeking fuel for the TARDIS, the Doctor and Peri land on Varos, a planet where voting is mandatory and executions pass as entertainment. The Doctor becomes involved with a group of rebels seeking to overthrow the government, while Peri is kidnapped and turned into a parrot.
Yes, I know how that sounds.
Luckily, in the end, Peri is returned to normal, the Doctor topples the corrupt government, and he leaves Varos in the hands of a population who isn’t quite sure what to do next. Vengeance on Varos is remembered for a great bad guy, the greedy mining representative and giant slug Sil, a tightly wound script, and a plot that’s more relevant today than ever. It also has gratuitous shirtlessness, Peri shrieking, being useless, and transformed into some kind of human-bird hybrid, and the Sixth Doctor flippantly telling a pair of guards that had just fallen into an acid bath, “you’ll forgive me if I don’t join you.” So when Big Finish hired the writer of Vengeance on Varos to pen an original story for Big Finish, what’s the result?
Second verse, same at the first, a little bit louder and a whole lot worse.
The Creed of the Kromon is the second story in the Eighth Doctor’s Divergent Universe arc. In the grand scheme of things, the serial is notable for the introduction of a new companion. It’s also notable for moving with a speed that would impress a glacier, dialogue that barely passes muster, and for treating the female companion in an absolutely horrid and repulsive manner.
After breaking free from captivity at the end of Scherzo, the Doctor and Charley find themselves trapped by some sort of constructed barrier. Their imprisonment comes at the hands of the Kro’ka, the guardian of the space knows as the Interzone, a nether-world surrounding various protected landscapes and civilizations. After probing their memories and discovering the concept of the TARDIS, the Kro’ka allows them entry into the next zone, a blasted landscape of dust and dead trees, covered with giant anthill-like spheres. While approaching one of the spheres, the Doctor and Charley discover a fugitive from the rulers of the zone; C’rizz, a native of the zone whose people have fallen to slavery until the insect-like Kromon. Breaking into the sphere, the Doctor and his companions find that C’rizz’s lover has been subjected to a fate worse than death…and if the Kromon have their way, Charley will take her place!
The Creed of the Kromon introduces three central concepts to the Divergent Universe arc. First, time and space travel are unknown to its citizens. Second, the Universe, or at least this portion, is divided into various “zones,” almost like bio-domes, separated by a series of barriers called the “Interzone” that are almost impossible to penetrate. And third, a mysterious, mind-reading being called the Kro’ka controls passage through the Interzone. But these alien concepts of the Divergent Universe are laid out within the first ten minutes of the story’s opening episode before Creed turns into a story that could have been told (and in a way, WAS told) in the mid 80’s. The termite-esque Kromon are a race that learned about the values of corporation and profit from a company that stripped their homeworld bare, using the company’s own philosophy to rise up and defeat the oppressors, before turning right around and oppressing the people of this particular zone. The parallels to Sil in Vengeance on Varos couldn’t be any clearer. Perhaps the biggest offense, however, is that the script really doesn’t NEEDED to be set in the Divergent Universe. Once you get past the first ten minutes, The Creed of the Kromon could have been set in the “normal” universe without changing anything other than a few lines about the Kromon’s interest in space travel. The opportunity to build upon what Robert Shearman did with the script for Scherzo is wasted, giving the listener just another “old fashioned monster romp.”
In Creed, we have a story where the Doctor and his companions are separated, reunited, captured, escape from captivity, find out a vital plot point before being captured again, have the bad guys spill their secrets to them, and use that knowledge to one again escape and save the day, defeating the bad guys in the process. It’s a formula Doctor Who has utilized time and again, but in order for the formula to work, the dialogue and the action have to hold the listener’s attention. There has to be some unique developments or an interesting set of villains for the listener to invest their time and effort in to make the payoff worthwhile. Unfortunately, the dialogue and characterization in this story simply DRAGS. The Kromon are an insect race with a corporate structure, but nothing is ever really done with the idea other than “here’s the hierarchy and order of rank that’s coming to steal your water.” More importantly, Martin deviates between writing them as a serious, monolithic threat and a Douglas Adams style comedy of procedural errors. He doesn’t punctuate moments of fear with a bit of comedic relief, but bounces back and forth in the very same scene between the two extremes. Are the Kromon deadly, or absurd? For the human characters, the dialogue is as dry as the landscape. The characters spend most of the time describing what they are seeing in a manner that is very “tell, don’t show.” We hear all about the Kromon’s history, society, religion, diet, and breeding practices, but instead of as part of the story, it comes off as some sort of nature documentary. It’s exposition at its absolute worst, especially since the story moves at a snail’s pace once the Doctor and companions enter the Kromon’s lair. It’s all more technobabble and hand-wringing than actual plot development.
After a great performance in Scherzo, I think Paul McGann took one look at this script and decided to save the good stuff for the upcoming stories The Natural History of Fear and The Twilight Kingdom. Paul McGann plays the Doctor in this story…and that’s about it. A chance to show how the Doctor copes with the strangeness of the Divergent Universe is wasted as he does what he always does. For such a bland and slow-moving story, there should have been plenty of room for a bit of character growth, especially considering the Doctor’s cautious but eager state at the end of Scherzo. Instead, we have a Doctor who’s bouncing like Tigger, loyal to his friends, outsmarts the bad guys after toying with them, and vows to save lives no matter what. McGann’s performance is decidedly average here, but comes off as lackluster due to the circumstances surrounding him with the story and script.
I’m going to save Charley for last, so let’s mention C’rizz. C’rizz is an Eutermesan, the original inhabitants of the zone who are now enslaved by the Kromon. That’s the most likeable thing about him. Based on this story alone (and the next one as well), I really don’t see why anyone considered C’rizz as companion material! I’m not attempting to sleight Conrad Westmaas, because C’rizz’s shortcomings in Creed come about at the result of Martin’s writing. He’s charmless, he’s wishy washy, and the bulk of his screen time in the third and fourth episodes consist of him telling the Doctor that he needs to put Charley out of her misery, that there is no other option. Most of all, C’rizz is just…bland. Much like how Paul McGann was the Doctor in this story, Conrad Westmaas is C’rizz. For his debut story, we learn incredibly little about him, but it’s not in the “this character has a mysterious aura about him” vein. It’s in the “he doesn’t do anything” type of vein. Well, he kills his former lover and whines about it for the rest of the story. Normally, a companion’s debut story established a good bit about their character and background, but C’rizz gets very little of either in this story.
Charley. Oh, boy. Not since the attempted rape of Erimem in Nekromanteia has a female companion been absolutely marginalized in such a cringeworthy manner. Where Martin turned Peri in Vengeance on Varos into nothing more than a shrieking violet waiting to be rescued, whimpering and sarcastic, he inflicts the same fate upon Charley in The Creed of the Kromon. Fisher gets saddled with the thankless task of stating, once again, she’s a rebellious spirit and is afraid of what would have happened to her had she stayed on the R 101 in a bit of unnecessary exposition. And that’s before she’s kidnapped and put through the ringer of being turned into a huge insect.
Yep. The Kromon go through the process of turning her into one of their queens, complete with her limbs becoming spindly and double-jointed like insect legs. On one hand, it’s horrific. On the other hand, it’s done in such a boring and second-handed manner, another case of “tell don’t show.” We get Charley acting delirious while her Kromon handlers describe the process. The body horror in Scherzo came about in a natural and disturbing manner, played completely straight by Shearman’s writing. Here, the body horror comes off almost as a fetish on the part of the writer. The listener can’t get invested because of the way it’s presented to them, and then add to it the way Charley was written before the metamorphosis began. It’s just bad, bad, bad writing and doesn’t do Charlotte Pollard any justice. In fact, dare I say, it reduces her as the sole female lead to a completely worthless appendage to the whole story, and if there is one thing India Fisher doesn’t deserve, it’s to have her character marginalized…especially when the whole thing is handwaved away at the very end!
The only positive that I can take away from The Creed of the Kromon is the sound work. One again, Big Finish does it right. The wind scraping across the blasted landscape, the sounds of food being regurgitated, running water throughout the entire compound, and just thinking about the sounds of the Kromon Queen and subsequent changes is making my upper back crawl. But the sound work is absolutely wasted here, and that’s a damn shame. The sound crew…hell, everyone involved with this serial, save Philip Martin, deserve better.
Synopsis – The Creed of the Kromon is slow, dry, boring, repetitive, and tedious, and that’s before a listener get to the repulsive and unnecessary plight of Charley. 1/5.
Next up – IT IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE TO COPY OR ATTEMPT TO COPY ANY PERSONALITY OR MEMORY-RELATED ARTICLE SHOWN OR DISPLAYED IN THIS PUBLIC THEATRE, INCLUDING THIS WARNING….
Paul McGann is the Doctor in…The Natural History of Fear.