Simon Barnard and Paul Morris wrote Aquitaine, the 290th main range release from Big Finish. This is a fifth Doctor (Davison) story with Nyssa (Sutton) and Tegan (Fielding) as companions. This may be the latest in a long line of releases, but for writers Barnard and Morris it is their first in this particular series. How well did they do?
The story starts with the musings of Hargreaves (Cottle), the on-board consciousness of the spaceship Aquitaine, who spends much of his time in the body of a robot focussed on keeping the ship in tip top shape, polishing the cutlery and serving meals nobody will eat. The crew of the Aquitaine are missing. This is no cosy retelling in space of the mystery of the Marie Celeste; as the TARDIS appears and the crew explore (and endure many offers of tea from Hargreaves) they find the ship is in orbit around a black hole, and something untoward is happening in the botanical section. Nyssa and Tegan will each face challenges before the end, as long as the ship’s ghosts don’t stop them!
At its heart, what this story does well is split the TARDIS crew apart in a natural way, adding to the storytelling and allowing the companions (and Tegan in particular) to explore their characters. It also sets out in Hargreaves (brilliantly realised by Cottle) a new character who might just be at the heart of the resolution to the problem of the missing crew. As for the crew themselves, they are enough of a presence to make the story work, and manage in relatively few scenes to come across as complex individuals. The story blends in some temporal shenanigans without letting that dominate an interesting story with a wonderful soundscape.
As ever Ken Bentley directs the cast with aplomb and brings all the parts to life. The plot allows for plenty of use of sound to set scenes, and the whole story is a joy from the first scene to the final.
Sometimes a Doctor Who story manages to balance character, setting, plot, science, humour and emotion without losing sight of the need to entertain. Aquitaine does all this, and more.
AQUITAINE (DOCTOR WHO) / AUTHORS: SIMON BARNARD, PAUL MORRIS / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: PETER DAVISON, SARAH SUTTON, JANET FIELDING, MATTHEW COTTLE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW