Doctor Who – “Terror Firma”

“Welcome back, Doctor…”

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 thoughts of revenge keeping him alive. The Doctor is back. Davros is waiting. Their destiny is now.

Paul McGann is the Doctor in Terror Firma

X X X X X

Cast
Paul McGann (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charley Pollard)
Conrad Westmaas(C’Rizz)
Terry Molloy (Davros)
Julia Deakin (Harriet Griffin)
Lee Ingleby (Samson Griffin)
Lizzie Hopley (Gemma Griffin)
Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Voices)

Written By: Joseph Lidster
Directed By: Gary Russell

Trailer – http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/terror-firma-238

X X X X X

During the mid 90’s, I was a huge fan of The X-Files.

My mother and I had radically different tastes when it came to television and movies.  When it came to The X-Files, however, we never missed an episode.  I would pick up any magazine with a blurb about the show on the front cover and buy any “guidebook” to the show, official or unofficial, while she learned how to program our VCR to record the episodes I would miss while at work so we could watch them together.  When I went to college, our weekly phone conversations would always get around to what the Cigarette Smoking Man had been up to in the past episode, while throwing out wild theories about upcoming seasons that turned out to be completely wrong.   We never missed a season, and one of the last mother-son moments we had together before I moved to another city for my new job was watching the series finale together.

The X-Files was one of the first shows I experienced with a “myth arc,” an overarching story line across not only a few episodes, but whole seasons.  Granted, I don’t think I could properly explain what the hell was going on during all nine seasons, but there was always this sense of overall mystery, that any episode could be a game-changer, shaking up the status quo and peeling back the layers of intrigue.  The end of the second season and beginning of the third comprises a three-episode storyline that consisted of boxcars buried in the desert, encrypted tapes, Navajo codebreakers, genetic marking for post-apocalypse corpse identification, Nazi scientists, and alien-human hybrids.  It was a huge moment for the show and one that kept my mother and I talking all summer about what it all could possibly mean.

After the final episode in the storyline, where Mulder knows about the conspiracy and Scully had reaffirmed her belief in the X-Files and wanting to discover the truth, the next episode see the pair going to Oklahoma to investigate a teenager who could control lightning.  No mention of the massive events of the previous episodes, no traumatic dreams, no change in mannerisms.  Just…investigating a kid who could control lightning.  Granted, that particular episode was a very GOOD episode and a personal favorite (D.P.O. for those of you keeping score) and the show would get back to the myth arc later in the season, but the sudden switch in tone and downplaying of urgency was very jarring.

Terror Firma sees the Doctor return home after several adventures in the Divergent Universe.  However, as soon as he steps outside of the TARDIS, he’s met by an old and familiar enemy, an old and familiar race of hostile aliens, and some new friends…friends he SHOULD remember.  On paper, Terror Firma should be a slam-bang masterpiece.  But instead, what listeners get is a minor disappointment, whose faults boil down to two simple points; this writer can’t write an ending to save his life, and he also seems more concerned with making a major impact on “canon” than anything else.

Time flows once again for the Doctor.  Charley is back in her home universe.  C’rizz is in a strange new world.  And waiting for them are none other than the Daleks and their leader…Davros.  Having created a new, strong, superior species of Dalek, Davros has engaged in nothing more than the complete and utter destruction of the Doctor, beginning with the planet he holds most dear to his hearts, Earth, which has been conquered by this new strain of Dalek, save for one small seaside town in England. Charley and C’Rizz are first captured, then separated, then rescued by a pair of wayward siblings, Gemma and Samson, while the Doctor leans that here’s much more in play than the fate of Earth.  Not content with wiping out humanity, Davros has gone one step further, toying with the one thing the Doctor cares for more than Earth…his companions.  But Gemma and Samson have never been the Doctor’s companions…have they?

With the revival of Doctor Who in full swing on the BBC, Terror Firma was released by Big Finish in August of 2005.  It definitively brought to an end the Eighth Doctor’s time in the Divergent Universe by using a setting familiar to fans (Earth), the show’s most iconic aliens (the Daleks), and one of the series’ biggest villains (Davros) to establish the Doctor had returned to the space-time continuum he knows and loves.  The production of Terror Firma was a pivotal moment for Big Finish.  With the Ninth Doctor (and the just-announced Tenth Doctor) off and running on television, here was a chance for Big Finish to firmly establish themselves and their audio line in the minds of the fanbase with a series of classic Doctors and a “new” Doctor who had just as much potential for memorable adventures as any of the others.

But then they handed the scriptwriting duties over to Joseph Lidster.

Lidster is a name well known to Big Finish fans for his divisive audios. With two more to come after Terror Firma, by this point Lidster had penned The Rapture and Master. The Rapture was a “don’t do drugs, kids” screed mixed with angels and rave music, while Master a three-episode meditation on the nature of personal evil absolutely ruined by the introduction of Death as a character in the fourth episode in an attempt to completely re-write the relationship between the Master and the Doctor. There are a variety of concerns I have with Lidster’s script, beginning with its all-over-the-place presentation. In many ways, Terror Firma reminded me a classic television episode of Doctor Who, with the Doctor and companion(s) split up over a variety of locations experiencing different aspects of the overall plot before being brought back together for the big finale. From the very beginning, the Doctor is confronted with Davros, Charley ends up with Samson and his mother in the last pub on Earth, and C’rizz is led by Gemma through the Chunnel towards the base of the French resistance. While moving back and forth between this different scenes keeps the plot moving, the transition between scenes becomes very jarring very quickly. The background noise alone for each setting goes a long way to setting the mood; the electrical hum of Davros’ laboratory/throne room, the clinking of glasses Charley hears in the pub, and the dripping echoes in the Chunnel as C’rizz passes through. But Lidster insists on overusing a literary device, where the last word a character speaks in a scene is instead the first work spoken by a different character in a new scene. This specific transition happens a LOT in Terror Firma, and instead of being a pertinent moment or even quirky, it quickly comes off as annoying. Lidster also uses what should be this absolutely huge, crushing event as nothing more than background dressing. In terms of Davros’ timeline, this story takes place directly after the destruction of Skaro at the indirect hands of the Doctor in Remembrance of the Daleks. Davros’ revenge against the Doctor is to create a brand new strain of Daleks from human beings in the process of conquering the Earth. The actual plan itself isn’t a surprise…although I do wonder how this jibes with The Dalek Invasion of Earth…but having Earth invaded and destroyed twice by different Dalek invasion would be in line with the absolute misery conga Lidster puts the cast of Terror Firma through.

All three main characters get put through the wringer in this story. India Fisher does a great job selling the horror of Charley finding out their her home planet has been destroyed and her species turned into Daleks and the determination in somehow fighting back against the Daleks and rescuing the Doctor, but Charley’s importance to the story is minimal at best, serving mainly as the “companion on the scene” in the last pub on Earth, where the remnants of Britain drink and party away because there’s no point in anything else. Finally free of the Divergent Universe, C’rizz gets some nice character development as the stranger in a stranger land, desperate to protect Charley, as well as keep her as his friend, because she’s the only focal point in this entire universe. It’s in this story that listeners finally see how alien C’rizz truly is, with Conrad Westmaas mixing confusion, determination, and mental anguish as he’s mentally assaulted by one of Davros’ creations. The end of Terror Firma sees C’rizz attempting to rest, with the various voices of his victims (and some assorted others) asking him if he’ll “save” the Doctor and Charley. It’s what I hope is the beginning of a potential “not-quite-good companion in the TARDIS” storyline, ala Turlough, and I keep my fingers crossed that Big Finish follows up on it in future audios.

As for the Doctor…I couldn’t put quite put my finger on Paul McGann’s performance in this story. For a Time Lord who has come home and can once again sense the passage of time, McGann’s performance is very subdued. Listeners know just how passionate and excitable the Eighth Doctor can be. But when confronted with the Daleks and Davros, the Doctor is just “ah. I am home.” And then, the Doctor gets put through Lidster’s misery wringer, once AGAIN inflicted with amnesia as its slowly revealed how badly Davros has played him. For a huge homecoming episode where the Doctor’s return is immediately impacted by one of his most hated enemies, upon finding out the fate of the Earth, McGann’s delivery of the below line should convey something other than sheer boredom.

Doctor: Davros?

Davros: Yes, Doctor?

Doctor: I am going to kill you.

I’ll touch upon the Doctor’s torture in a bit, because I want to highlight Terry Malloy’s performance as Davros. Appearing as Davros for the last time in the main range until 2012’s The Curse of Davros, Malloy does what he does best and makes Davros a figure to be respected, feared, and pitied. Slowly going insane after being forced to become the Dalek Emperor by his new breed of Daleks, Davros seeks the Doctor’s help in transferring his consciousness to a new clone body (one that might or might not look like Davros, as he is old enough that he no longer knows…or cares) so he can be free of the Daleks and travel among the stars. It’s standard Davros; a brilliant man who constantly tries to break away from the Daleks, only to find himself creating a new and “better” breed of them, either by choice or by force. Malloy both begs for the Doctor’s assistance and gloats about how he has messed with the Doctor’s mind on a level no one else ever has, in the very end pleading for the Doctor to kill him as the Daleks force him to truly become the Dalek Emperor. Malloy is fantastic as Davros, simply fantastic, and easily the high point of Terror Firma.

And, of course, Nicholas Briggs is absolutely and metallically evil as the voice of the Daleks.

In Master, Lidster “revealed” that when they were childhood friends on Gallifrey, the Doctor killed a bully and pleaded with Death herself to make the Master pay for it instead. In The Rapture, Ace finds out that she has a younger brother. Both of these concepts are NEVER mentioned again anywhere in Big Finish continuity. Ace never contacts her biological brother again, instead forming a bond with new companion Hex, and the deal the Doctor made with death is never brought up again. Lidster’s works within the audio continuity seem intent on making a huge splash by changing the game, adding a new wrinkle to the Doctor’s history, or affecting the life of his companions on a huge scale. While there have been huge slam bang events in the audio line (Spare Parts and Neverland) come to mind, those events feel “earned.” Lidster’s work feels more like fan fiction than an attempt to simply tell a story featuring the Doctor and his friends. The entire landscape is supposedly changed…but nothing ever happens going forward in the future.

In Terror Firma, it turns out that before the Doctor met Charley during the events of Storm Warning, the Doctor had a pair of companions, a brother and sister duo named Samson and Gemma Griffin. The third episode has brief snippets of their “adventures,” as well as several other moments and mentions spread out through the story, and the chemistry between McGann and the two actors (Lee Ingleby and Lizzie Hopley) is apparent. I could buy them as companions to the Doctor for the purposes of this story. But, it turns out that the pair stumble upon Davros while exploring a derelict timeship in the Vortex. Davros captures them and turns them against the Doctor, and after Samson and Gemma lead Davros inside the TARDIS, Samson knocks out the Doctor…

…and Davros uses Samson to reprogram the TARDIS, wiping any trace of the brother and sister from the ship’s memory banks, planting a tracking device that allows Davros to keep tabs on the TARDIS and the Doctor, before performing surgery on the Time Lord’s brain to remove any memories of his companions, and then sending him on his merry way across time and space.

Ok, on one hand, Davros indulging in an overly complicated plan to gain revenge against the Doctor instead of killing the Time Lord when he has the chance makes perfect sense. And that’s where it ends. The idea of the Doctor having companions that he himself doesn’t know about is an intriguing one..

(Let me pause here for a moment…SCREW YOU RUSSELL T DAVIES FOR WHAT YOU DID TO DONNA NOBLE, YOU WELSH HACK! By the way, love Cucumber/Banana)

…but the fact that Gemma and Samson were former companions has NO IMPACT on the events of Terror Firma. The pair could have simply been survivors of the Dalek invasion of Earth and nothing would have change in terms of story. But Lidster HAS to insert that plot twist. Lidster screws with the Doctor’s mind, erases memories of some near and dear friends of the Doctor’s, but the Doctor has what’s best described as a “intense shrug of the shoulders” at the news. Maybe the Doctor’s just broken after coming home to a destroyed Earth, but the fact that there are these new “old” companions are at the Doctor’s side means nothing in the long term, OR short term. Samson and Gemma do show up in a few Short Trips fiction anthologies from Big Finish, but that’s it. And then there’s the fact that Davros tracked the Doctor into the Divergent Universe and knew when and where he’d return to this one…so therefore, there was an open signal between universes, meaning the Doctor or Rassilon could have found the breach and made their way home easier…or Davros could have realized there was universe out there with no Doctor, no Time Lord, and no defenses against the Daleks…or Davros could have realized that, since Samson could reprogram the TARDIS, Davros could have piloted the TARDIS and had access to ALL the Time Lords’ secrets, as well as his OWN FREAKING TIME MACHINE…but instead, this all was solely to make the Doctor miserable and upset, a series of events and tragedies that are compounded and compiled upon him.

I mentioned earlier that Lidster can’t write an ending to save his life. The Rapture had its big climax at the beginning of the fourth episode, leaving 20 minutes of closure. Master completely fell apart in the fourth episode with a complete tonal switch. The ending to Terror Firma is completely rushed. The Doctor breaks away from the resistance and makes a deal with the Daleks. The Daleks rescue C’rizz from becoming the Dalek Emperor. The Doctor convinces the Daleks to take Davros and leave Earth thanks to a virus that Davros created and gave to the Doctor earlier in the story. This all happens in about three minutes of on-screen time and a whole bunch of off-screen time. It’s incredibly compressed and is done with little fanfare, emotion, or thought given to the consequences. Yes, the Daleks have left Earth, but almost the entire human race has been turned into Daleks and damn near the whole surface of the Earth is covered by metal plates. But hey, the survivors mention a few groups elsewhere on the planet, and the Doctor takes Charley and C’rizz to Blackpool for some rest and relaxation.

I was really looking forward to this story. The Eighth Doctor is “my” Doctor and his return to the main universe should been a huge event…or at least a well-written one. But instead, Joseph Lidster focuses more on “his” companions than the Doctor’s return, and the result is a parade of misery that winds and meanders its way along and squanders a golden opportunity to provide a fresh start and a vital imprint for the Eighth Doctor.

Synopsis – Terry Malloy shines, but Terror Firma is nothing more than a mix of misery porn and fan fiction that ruins the Eighth Doctor’s return from the Divergent Universe. 2/5

Next up – Three years after Világ was all but laid waste by the Killorans, the Doctor is back alongside a different companion. And a lot has changed…

Colin Baker is the Doctor in…Thicker than Water

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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