The Doctor, Charley and C’rizz arrive in Light City, a self-contained biodome whose citizens happily toil for – and all but worship – the State. State-approved broadcasts outline the approved behavior of a citizen of Light City, but certain ideas are considered thought-crime – and questions are illegal. Naturally, the three travelers are bursting with questions about where they’ve arrived, and they soon learn first-hand of the State’s other means of controlling its populace: those who break the rules are forcibly brainwashed and “revised,” and their original memories are recorded and become part of the broadcasts as a warning to others. The “revised” citizens are implanted with new, productive, docile personalities – and yet problems keep cropping up with the beings who think they were once a trio of time-travelers.
Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher, Conrad Westmaas, Geoff Serle, Alison Sterling, Sean Carlsen, Wink Taylor, Jane Hills, Ben Summers
Timeline: after Creed Of The Kromon and before The Twilight Kingdom
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: A little bit off-putting at first, The Natural History Of Fear almost requires a second listening to really “get it.” The very structure of the story, and even the design of the soundscape in which it takes place, is unusual and perhaps just a little bit deceptive. Just when you think you’re figuring it out, Jim Mortimore throws you a curveball. And just when you think you’re catching it, turns out to be a 600-pound curveball. One has to commend Mortimore – a well-liked author of several grim Who novels with significant body counts, dating back to the New Adventures and making his Big Finish scriptwriting debut here – for single-handedly crafting his story. The music and the sound design are also Mortimore’s creations, and it’s clear that he’d had this whole thing rattling around in his head for a while.
The dystopian elements of Natural History will be familiar to anyone who’s spent any time with that particular genre of literature. The Orwellian and Huxleyan views both crop up, especially the former; at one point, the phrase “thoughtcrime has been committed here!” crops up, and I almost jokingly responded “quite right, I’ll call Orwell’s estate right away!” But in many ways, these elements are also a red herring. And so is nearly everything else in the story. That includes a little bit of amusing but inobtrusive metafiction, commenting on the Doctor’s past adventures, the still too-crowded list of “lost episodes” of the show (and the fact that many of them can only be heard but not seen now), and so on. And just when you think you’ve figured out that Mortimore is doing a sly commentary on Doctor Who’s history and fandom, or that he’s doing a dystopian study of the modern media and political correctness, or that he’s touching on a rabid paranoia brought on by a constantly-stoked flame of fear of terrorism, he pulls the rug out from under you again. It’s all of the above. It’s none of them. The regulars appear throughout the story. The Doctor and friends only actually appear in a small part of it. And yet The Natural History Of Fear is Doctor Who – and it’s one of the best head trips Big Finish has yet pulled off.
Highly, highly recommended. Listen to it, and then listen to it a second time, and everything takes on a whole new meaning. It’s surreal and sneaky at the same time. And it really, really does leave you thinking.