Trapping the Fourth Doctor, Ann and K9 in an ill conceived theme park of toothy reptilian predators just as disaster strikes, Planet of the Drashigs takes the listener for a very familiar, but extremely satisfying, thrill ride.
The Drashigs, on the face of it, are an unlikely monster to make a return appearance, especially on audio. Their place in the hearts of Doctor Who fans is based on one television story, 1973’s Carnival of Monsters. And then largely on their visual resemblance, as noted in the extras following Big Finish’s Planet of the Drashigs, to Basil Brush crossed with a crocodile. So they’re not only a very visual monster, but one known for being, well, a bit rubbish.
In which case, does adding an entire planet of them make for a great story? Surprisingly yes, it does. Planet of the Drashigs takes not so much a page as several chapters from Jurassic Park’s book. But it’s more than just a tale of disaster and survival in an ill conceived theme park; DrashigWorld. It also reimagines the Drashigs not as a single species but an entire family of species. Carnival of Monsters introduced the T-Rex of Drashigs, the gigantic and powerful Marshland Drashigs. But they’re featured here alongside their ‘Emerald Drashig’ cousins – the Velociraptors of the Drashig family.
Smaller and more intelligent, the Emeralds are ideal for stalking the corridors of the complex, coordinating their attacks on instruction from the white crested ‘alpha.’ In Robert Holmes’ treatment of them the Drashigs were basically a natural disaster made flesh. They’re a pure force of nature without reason or motive. But Phil Mulryne’s script creates a deeper tension in the cat and mouse game between the Drashigs and their prey.
More than just a galactic Jurassic Park, Planet of the Drashigs adds some imaginative, and very Doctor Who, ideas of its own to the mix
The concept of a raptor Drashig isn’t the only thing borrowed from Jurassic Park, though. There’s Lord Braye (Jeremy Clyde), the wealthy showman who’s conceived the whole insane idea and assembled every species of Drashigs in one place for the benefit of the paying public. There’s the grimly no-nonsense gamekeeper, Trencher (Lizzie Roper) too. Technological expert Vanessa (Fenella Woolgar) falls under suspicion when an apparent systems failure unlocks the Drashigs’ enclosure. There’s even a fussy bureaucrat, there to assess the safety of reopening the park.
Some specific moments are pretty familiar too. Like Emerald Drashigs probing the underside of an air vent as survivors gingerly make their way along it, for instance. There’s a very long tradition of Doctor Who homages to everything from Dr. Syn to Frankenstein to A Christmas Carol, and many more besides. Planet of the Drashigs manages to be a superior example of such stories. But more than that, it underlines just how well judged the concept and rhythms of Steven Spielberg’s original film were.
But there’s so much more on offer here than just a Jurassic Park homage. For a start, teleportation pads, energy fields and telepathic projection all feel distinctly more like Doctor Who. Oh, yes, and the robot dog with battery problems (“I should have left him charging overnight,” sighs the Doctor). There’s also a distinctly clever resolution which gives the Doctor a greater role in actually solving the problem. That resolution is also better, it has to be said, than those of any of the Jurassic Park films.
Phil Mulryne’s script is full to the brim with sparkling dialogue that keeps Tom Baker well supplied with gags worthy of him at his best.
There’s also a nice respect for the power of nature. Lord Braye may be unhealthily obsessed with the Drashigs, but he has genuine respect for them as an animal. Trencher, even in her role as DrashigWorld’s gamekeeper, views them as amoral predators following their nature and is truly remorseful to have to take up arms against them. Meanwhile the Doctor, of course, places the blame squarely on the foolishness of the humans rather than the Drashigs. In particular he has a wonderfully limited sympathy for Lord Braye and the predicament he’s found himself in. “This might be very, very dangerous, Lord Braye. So I think you’d better go first,” he quips at one point.
For all the danger and drama, this is an extremely witty and funny story too. It’s full of sparkling dialogue that keeps Tom Baker supplied with gags aplenty. Indeed, it could sit comfortably alongside Douglas Adams’ best in Season 17 and not looked out of place.
Sarah Jane Smith reimagined, Ann Kelso is already a worthy addition to the Doctor Who family.
Much of the humour flows from the Doctor’s partnership with his new companion, 1970s WPC Ann Kelso (Jane Slavin). An innovation which is turning out to be a very successful experiment indeed. She fills a gap in the Fourth Doctor Adventures many of us didn’t even realize was there. Ann is neither a highly sophisticated Time Lord nor a noble jungle warrior. She’s someone that asks questions, but the same questions you or I might ask. She also has an appropriately skeptical view of the answers given from the Doctor. “I don’t always know what I’m talking about,” she forces him to admit at one point, “these things are relative, you know.”
Stepping out on to her first alien world, and finding it an apparently desolate marshland her first response is to complain “Where’s my advanced civilization?!” Sarah Jane Smith reimagined by way of Donna Noble, and played with the perfect combination of confusion, wonder, humour and strength, Ann Kelso is already a very worthy addition to the Doctor Who companion family.
Planet of the Drashigs is a genuine highlight out of eight seasons of The Fourth Doctor Adventures, and a perfect balance of the danger and wit that makes for the best Doctor Who. It’s proof that the experiment of matching Tom Baker with a new companion has been well worth the effort. Let’s hope for much more from both Ann and writer Phil Mulryne in the future.
When the TARDIS lands on an alien planet, the Doctor’s intentions to show Ann Kelso an advanced future society are thrown into disarray. Because they have arrived on DrashigWorld – a park where every known species of the terrifying predators has been gathered together to entertain and thrill the public. The familiar wetland Drashigs, the albino burrowing Drashigs of the desert, and deadliest of all, the tiny Emerald Drashigs of the rain forests.
And it’s not the best day to have arrived. The park has been shut down due to a visitor fatality. A Galactic Attractions inspector is on site meaning everyone is extremely tense and under pressure.
It’s exactly the right circumstances in which someone might make a mistake. And on Drashigworld, mistakes are deadly.
Written By: Phil Mulryne.
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs.
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Jane Slavin (WPC Ann Kelso), John Leeson (K9), Fenella Woolgar (Vanessa Seaborne), Jeremy Clyde (Lord Braye), Lizzie Roper (Trencher), Andrew Ryan (Titus Wayland)