Having just escaped the machinations of the Black Guardian, the Doctor finds himself in unsettled company. Tegan doesn’t trust Turlough, and Turlough is tired of being reminded that Tegan doesn’t trust him. His request to return home meets with the same fate as most requests for specific stops in the TARDIS: instead of going to Turlough’s home, the TARDIS is pulled off course and makes a rough landing on the planet Hellheim, the site of a quarantined genetic engineering facility. To the time travelers’ amazement, someone else is here: Nyssa, now 70 years old, still crusading for the cures to plagues that are ravaging the galaxy. With her security robot, Loki, Nyssa landed at this base to find the cure to a virulent disease, hoping that perhaps the long-dead crew had found a cure before they died. But what the reunited friends find there is far more disturbing: a base crawling with robotic spiders, projected memories of what seem to be the original crew’s grisly deaths, a computer who insists that the Doctor and his friends have been here before… and four decayed bodies, dressed exactly like the TARDIS crew.
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Mark Strickson (Turlough), Helen Griffin (Director Cardell / Ship’s Computer), Raymond Coulthard (Loki / EDGAR / Hawks), Adrian Lukis (Enforcement Officer Bragg), Charlotte Lucas (Bio Technician Valis / Echelon)
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: In 2006, two events tickled the fancy of many a longtime Doctor Who fan: the return of Sarah Jane Smith in the new series, and the return of Tegan Jovanka by way of a one-off Big Finish audio story, The Gathering. Having enjoyed both the recording of that story, and any number of DVD commentaries, Janet Fielding agreed to return to her ’80s Doctor Who character yet again, this time alongside not only Peter Davison but her other co-stars, Sarah Sutton and Mark Strickson. With Strickson and Fielding’s schedules both making it hard to get the full cast together, Big Finish wasted no time in constructing a trilogy “season” of stories around the reunited ’80s cast.
The timing of the adventure is a bit tricky, though: any story with all three characters would fall right in the middle of the 1983 Black Guardian story arc, which saw Turlough under the Black Guardian’s sway, trying to kill the Doctor in a number of almost humorously inept ways. Big Finish sidesteps this problem – and, with it, the necessity to have Turlough trying to off his compatriots – by setting the story between Enlightenment and The King’s Demons, with a future Nyssa. It’s a novel way of revisiting the past without dropping it into the middle of an existing TV story arc that leaves little breathing room for additional adventures (see also: jamming the entire “Perimem” era between Planet Of Fire and Caves Of Androzani).
Revisiting the past has a price, though: you’re revisiting both the good and the bad. After an opening sequence involving Nyssa, we’re straight into a staple of the Davison era – a lengthy scene set aboard the TARDIS in which the regulars bicker with/about one another, which runs on and on until the TARDIS helpfully intervenes by winding up in trouble. Set immediately after Enlightenment, this means that the point of contention is Turlough’s trustworthiness – which remains a point of contention up through his final TV adventure. This also means that Tegan brings this point of contention up every few minutes in part one. There are a few other touches that try to telegraph “1983” to the listener, such as Tegan referring to Nyssa’s robot as a “walking file-o-fax”.
That being said, Cobwebs is a fascinating time paradox story with a cast of guest characters – right down to the unstable/traitorous crew member – worthy of Davison’s era. The story does absolutely ring true to the trying-so-hard-to-be-dark-under-too-many-bright-studio-lights era of Doctor Who that the four regulars starred in. Some elements, such as the cloyingly self-pitying artificial intelligence EDGAR, do come off as very creepy. Cobwebs would’ve been right at home in 1983, and it’si a fun listen now too.