By Matt Fitton
Starring Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton,
Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson
Review by Nick Fraser
On the trail of the TARDIS’s stolen interface stabiliser, The Doctor and his friends make an uncontrolled landing on the icy, rugged terrain of Isenfel. There, they find themselves in the relatively unusual position of being welcomed as honoured guests, invited to attend a banquet hosted by the Isenfel royal family.
It soon becomes apparent however that the friendly welcome carries a heavy cost. The Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa discover the royal court exercises a very strict “one in, one out” door policy, when their arrival is marked by four of the local inhabitants requiring to be sacrificed to maintain equilibrium. They quickly discover that the phrase “Isenfel be constant” is more than just a ritual wish.
Our impetuous Time Lord sets about trying to uncover, then deconstruct, the archaic mechanisms upon which centuries of tradition have been layered, resulting in such drastic measures being considered normal. The concept of a society ossified by rituals and beliefs built on long-forgotten foundations is familiar in Doctor Who, and particularly in E-Space (witness the events unfolding in State of Decay and Full Circle). Writer Matt Fitton creates a believable example of a state whose high tech origins lie shrouded in ceremony, and where the leadership makes life or death decisions on a daily basis in the belief they are acting in the common good.
With Big Finish’s customary attention to detail, the audio experience of the cold, snowy surroundings of Isenfel is convincingly realised, and the incidental music subtly emphasises the fairytale nature of the confines of this “snowglobe society”.
Peter Davison and the TARDIS regulars spark off a strong supporting cast. As Queen Carlina and her Lord Balancer Skarsgard, Annette Badland (also known as Margaret Slitheen in the Eccleston era) and Nickolas Grace convincingly portray the roles of Isenfel’s leadership, sincere in their belief they are acting in the best interests of their people. Over the course of the story, they gradually realise, thanks to The Doctor’s intervention, the full import of their actions.
At the heart of the royal palace, the Gallifreyan uncovers evidence of an ancient, long-running experiment, set in motion by long-departed scientists, attempting to provide a microcosm of E-Space and measure the unavoidable effects of entropy on a closed system.
There’s a building sense of impending peril throughout this adventure, as the Time Lord’s initial believing that he has succeeded in hitting the reset button to remove the continuous need for equilibrium to be maintained, discovers that his actions have had a more drastic impact. Davison is as convincing as ever, conveying The Doctor’s growing desperation as he tries to prevent prevent Isenfel and its occupants from being wiped out as its dormant, automated systems reactivate and start shutting down. As events threaten to spiral completely out of control he comes to depend increasingly on Nyssa as a foil, and Fitton writes some nice interactions between them, with the Trakenite providing her friend with a much-needed pep talk.
With time for the story to develop there’s plenty going on. Turlough attracts the attention of the Queen’s daughter, going off on a midnight hunt to capture ferocious, fanged beasts, and Tegan and Nyssa become involved in uncovering secretive goings-on in the royal palace.
In the end, equilibrium is achieved by further sacrifices, and it’s a near-run thing, with roaming, ravaging black monsters and deadly black snow threatening to wipe everyone out. Badland and Grace believably convey the emotional impact events have taken upon their characters, leading the Queen and her Lord Balancer to take drastic steps to save their beloved Isenfel.
In the tumult, events take a very unexpected turn for Tegan, setting things up in intriguing style for the final instalment of this E-Space trilogy…
BLOGTOR RATING 8/10
Thanks to Big Finish
Review by Nick Fraser