AUDIO REVIEW: THE HIGHEST SCIENCE (DOCTOR WHO) / AUTHOR: GARETH ROBERTS, JACQUELINE RAYNER / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: SYLVESTER MCCOY, LISA BOWEMAN, SINEAD KEENAN, DANIEL BROCKLEBANK, SARAH OVENS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Back in 1993, Gareth Roberts wrote The Highest Science, a story for the Seventh Doctor with archaeologist Professor Bernice Summerfield as his assistant. Big Finish has released this as a two-disc audio with Sylvester McCoy and Lisa Bowerman in the main roles and Jacqueline Rayner doing the honours with the adaptation.
The plot is rich: the ancient planet Sakrat has passed into legend, its inhabitants destroyed by their own technology (all very Forbidden Planet). The Doctor and Bernice arrive on a barren world, in search of a strange temporal anomaly called a Fortean Fluctuation. This brings them into conflict with the Chelonians, a race of cyborg tortoises who are fearsome destroyers of so-called Parasites (aka human beings). The Chelonians have their own problems with an all-powerful group called the 8-12. If that wasn’t enough there is a spaceship approaching on-board which is an evil villain named Sheldukher (Brocklebank) and the mysterious, telepathic brain called The Cell (Ovens)
All this may be enough for two novels, but there are also the mystic prog-rock lyrics that predict Bernice’s arrival on Sakrat, the mystery of the origin of the 8-12 and much manipulation and Machiavellian shenanigans (and several interesting characters fall by the wayside as the action unfolds). Against this background the Doctor and Bernice have to impose their characters on a rich collection of well-realised characters and more challenges than would fill an average story. There is also a lot of Douglas Adams-style humour and plenty of dry one-liners for Lisa Bowerman to deliver – it should be noted that Jac Rayner is very familiar with writing for Bernice and this adds to the rhythm of the storytelling. This is all backed up with the usual high standards of sound, giving plenty of atmosphere.
All this is a lot to pack into two discs and there is an argument that says more time might have helped the various elements develop properly; it might also be argued more could have been trimmed to fit the time available. The challenge here is what would be left out. The ending feels untidy as well – perhaps we have been spoiled with too many tidy conclusions elsewhere. Life isn’t always straightforward.
In conclusion, The Highest Science is a diverting tale, and if you just want to be entertained you could do a whole lot worse.
Big Finish released Highest Science on December 12th, with full details are available on their website.
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