Surely very few TARDIS travellers have had to endure quite as much as Quadrigger Stoyn. His first encounter with the Doctor and Susan left him stranded alone on the Moon whilst the second occasion saw the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe unwittingly casting him into the unknown, in agony and torment.
And, like a space-based episode of Casualty, one settles down to listen to Luna Romana with some trepidation for his eventual fate, knowing that it’s not going to end well for the poor chap.
This final panel in the Stoyn triptych is framed by Romana (v3, portrayed with just the right mix of hauteur and humour by Juliet Landau), as she takes charge of Gallifrey’s preparations for its “darkest hour”. The battle TARDISes are being readied, with dark implications that the Time War is coming. Reaching Stoyn’s quadrigger station, she reminisces about her encounters with him, during her travels with the fourth Doctor.
Her reverie plays out over four episodes, a complex intersection between the Doctor and Romana (v1) searching ancient Rome for the sixth segment of the Key to Time, and the Doctor and Romana (v2) on their randomised run from the Black Guardian, having landed on the Moon in the middle of a Roman-styled theme park. I won’t attempt to explain the intricacies of the plot, but will confess to having listened to the adventure twice before finally piecing it all together. This is a tale which rewards a return.
Juliet Landau covers narration duties for Romanas 1 and 3, with Lalla Ward also in fine form as Romana 2. Both ramp up the Boom factor when giving voice to the 4th Doctor, choosing not to impersonate Tom Baker (and, really, who could?), but rather to suggest his presence. And thanks to writer Matt Fitton’s crackling dialogue tapping into the playful badinage between the Doctor and Romana circa seasons 16/17, the listener is easily drawn in. There is a sense of poignancy delicately hanging over this tale though, following the sad loss of Mary Tamm. Her portrayal is the subject of a fitting tribute towards the end of the story, leaving this reviewer with a slightly awkward, teary moment on the homeward commuter train.
As always, Big Finish provide an encompassing audio experience, within which the listener becomes immersed. It’s an educational tale too, with much well-placed research spread throughout the ancient Rome portion of the story about Roman theatre, and the plays of Titus Maccius Plautus in particular. The Doctor clearly has a fondness for the period (with this particular tale set just a couple of centuries before his entanglement with Ian, Vicki and Barbara in the intrigue of Emperor Nero’s court) and he and Plautus get on famously. It’s left to Romana 1 to try to locate the missing segment, falling in with Stoyn in the process. It transpires that he’s become splintered thanks to events involving Romana 2, with his doppelgangers taking on the various roles in Plautus’ play.
At first listen, this “play within the play” section of the story felt perhaps a touch self-indulgent on the part of the writer, slowing the pace and diverting from events. However the eventual reveal as to how and why Stoyn became employed as Plautus’ thespian troupe provides a reward for the listener’s persistence. There’s a lot of work for Terry Molloy in this audio, but he rises to the challenge, performing what literally becomes a multi-faceted role.
The Quadrigger’s hatred for the Doctor has developed into such fear and loathing for the chaotic and terrifying universe within which his fellow Time Lord has hurtled that he resolves to “clear up” after him in rather drastic fashion. Our intrepid Time Lord duo eventually win the day and, indeed it doesn’t end well for Stoyn.
A satisfying end however, to an entertaining and pleasingly varied trilogy of adventures. One final plea though – more Juliet Landau please…