The Song Of Megaptera

Doctor WhoThe TARDIS is sucked into the business end of an interstellar whaling ship, whose crew hunts for space whales known as Megaptera. The Doctor, not a fan of space whaling, immediately blusters his way aboard the ship, posing as a safety inspector, though this ruse isn’t very long-lived. When Peri is infected by contact with an alien creature aboard the ship, it looks like she might not be long-lived either, until the Doctor intervenes. Then, piloting the TARDIS into the belly of the whale itself, the Doctor is shocked to discover that living within the belly of the endangered beast is an entire society which itself might be wiped out, leaving the Time Lord with the responsibility to save more than just the whales.

Order this CDwritten by Pat Mills
directed by John Ainsworth
music by Daniel Brett

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), John Benfield (Captain Greeg), Neville Watchurst (Stennar / Manus), John Banks (The Caller / Ship’s Computer), Susan Brown (Chief Engineer / Chanel), Toby Longworth (Stafel / 1st Security Guard), Alex Lowe (Axel / 2nd Security Guard)

Notes: Originally submitted during Peter Davison’s tenure as the Doctor under the title Song Of The Space Whale, this story was initially conceived as a comic strip story for Doctor Who Magazine, until writer Pat Mills’ wife insisted that it would be wasted on anything less than the television series itself. Mills spent over a year trying to rewrite the story to meet script editor Eric Saward’s expectations; Mills felt that Saward was not favorably disposed toward him or his script because he had been a comics writer. (Contrast that to the tenure of Saward’s successor, Andrew Cartmel, who insisted that prospective writers read 2000 A.D. comics for an idea of the “tone” he wanted.)

Timeline: after Point Of Entry and before The Macros

LogBook entry and review by Earl Green

Review: One of the better-known story ideas that never made it to screen, Song Of Megaptera could well have been Doctor Who’s “save the whales” episode, and might have beaten Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home to the whale-saving punch had it been made during Colin Baker’s stint as the Doctor.

Looking at Song Of Megaptera from an ecological-storytelling standpoint, it’s a muddled, mixed bag – it seems to take the discovery of an entire culture of beings living within the guts of the space whale for the Doctor to go from an occasionally passive stance against the hunting of the whales to all-out action against the whalers – which is awkwardly akin to saying that murdering a person leaves a body full of microbes and bacteria with nowhere to live.

Interestingly, nothing in this story rules out the possibility of these space whales being the same species as seen supporting the Starship U.K. in the early Matt Smith TV episode The Beast Below – which makes sense. If the human race can’t outright kill them and strip their bodies, they will find a way to harness and enslave the beings somehow. (Stupid apes…)

The casting of the audio story crosses gender and class lines that a television version of the story probably wouldn’t have crossed in the 1980s; we get a tough-as-nails female chief engineer and crew members who – gasp! – don’t have Received Pronunciation accents. In that respect, it’s actually something of a relief that Song Of Megaptera had to skip the BBC and wait for Big Finish. It’s an entertaining story with a valuable message, even if it’s a message that gets a little muddled at times.