The Doctor, Peri and Erimem visit an alien market square – Erimem’s first adventure on a world other than Earth – where Erimem stumbles across information that leads her to suggest a visit to the Nekromanteia system. The Doctor goes along with the idea, unaware that he’s landing himself and his companions in the midst of a grim war – between a well-armed corporate entity and a coven of powerful witches – which has been plotted out from the beginning by an unscrupulous businessman seeking immortality for himself.
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Caroline Morris (Erimem), Gilly Cohen (Jal Dor Kal), Glyn Owen (Commander Harlon), Kerry Skinner (Cochrane), Ivor Danvers (Wendle Marr), Kate Brown (Tallis), Nigel Fairs (Yal Rom / Guard), Andrew Fettes (Salaysia), Simon Williams (Paul Addison), Gary Russell (Thesanius), Jack Galagher (Comms Officer), John Ainsworth (Soldier)
Timeline: between The Church And The Crown and The Caves Of Androzani
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio adventures have given many talented longtime fans a chance to plot the Doctor’s adventures for themselves, and a chance to hear those adventures played out by the actors who played the original roles. Quite a few of these storytellers have demonstrated that they’ve learned valuable lessons about plotting and characterization and mood and dialogue from the best episodes of the show’s original outing on TV. Even in the cases where I don’t glean a lot of enjoyment from an audio story, I try to keep in mind that the writers and actors and producers surely had the best of intentions, and that the story was selected for production for a reason, and I try to find something positive to take away from each of them. In the case of Nekromanteia, I had to try really hard.
The story is, at the very least, a great mood piece, but the mood is morose and fatalistic; very few of the characters introduced in this story survive through the end of it. For the most part, the cast is excellent, though there is one huge bone to pick, and that’s the characterization of Jal Dor Kal, the leader of the coven of the Witches of Talderun. Whether it was the actress’ decision, or that of the director, or a mutual one, what we get for this character is a ridiculously stereotypical cackling witch that could make even the most enthusiastic trick-or-treaters cringe in embarrassment. Things improve greatly with Glyn Owen, whose gravelly tough guy voice is the sound of three days’ worth of beard stubble with a whiff of whiskey. The regulars do their best with the material provided, with Caroline Morris once again shining as new TARDIS traveler Erimem, but sometimes their best isn’t enough to salvage the material: at no point in the past has Peri ever demonstrated a predilection for saying things like “I have trouble tattooed on my ass” or “they’ve got us by the short and curlies.” There are moments of tremendous graphic violence, including a scene where a man’s tongue is cut out, and almost more disturbing instances of implied violence, such as Commander Harlon’s attempt to force himself on Erimem, something which is almost glossed over by mentioning it after the fact in dialogue.
This question of whether or not the content presented is appropriate for Doctor Who isn’t a new one; the door was opened a little bit by the very first scene in the very first book of the New Adventures in 1991, and that same door was blown wide open with “Love And War” and “Transit” the following year, each of which pushed the boundaries of sex and profanity far beyond what the original BBC-TV mandate ever would have allowed. That debate rages on to this day, and in the few cases where colorful language has edged into previous Big Finish audios, I’ve deemed it mostly appropriate for the situation. But Nekromanteia is the first instance where I’ve felt that very little of the story’s envelope-pushing elements were even remotely necessary. If anything, they seem to be distractions to keep your mind off of some iffy plotting and wildly questionable pseudo-science. Indeed, the humdinger of a cliffhanger at the end of part two is solved with a cheap time paradox device, and the various strands of subplot that try to tie themselves up regarding Commander Harlon and the corrupt chairman of the corporation that employs him remind me blatantly of the Stotz/Morgus/Krau Timmin triangle of 1984’s Caves Of Androzani, only not as subtle or engrossing. We won’t even get into the fate that befalls Erimem’s cat, neatly sidestepping the jeopardy of the whole story.
With all due respect to those involved in making it, Nekromanteia becomes the first Doctor Who audio that I’d strongly advise listeners to avoid altogether. I know it’s not as if I have a better script sitting on Gary Russell’s desk at Big Finish, but purely as a listener, I found little that was enjoyable in this adventure.