The Death Collectors / Spider’s Shadow

Doctor Who: The Death CollectorsThe Death Collectors: The TARDIS materializes in an airlock connecting a human research skystation with a Dar Trader ship, orbiting the quarantined planet Antikon. The planet is off-limits for good reason: a disease called Antikon’s Decay, which consumes all life with which it comes into contact, runs rampant there, and even explorers in full space suits aren’t safe. The Dar Traders, a species capable of reviving the dead just long enough to record their final memories, are there at the request of Professor Mors Alexandryn to assist in his search for a cure to the Decay. Given that Alexandryn has just sent a member of his expedition to his death – quite possibly deliberately – so he can track the growth of the Decay, he’s very wary of any outside observers such as the Doctor. The Doctor, who has a passing familiarity with the havoc that Antikon’s Decay has caused in the past, offers to lend his help, but the sacrifices he will have to make to save the expedition may include another of his precious lives.

Spider’s Shadow: The Doctor arrives on a planet where a quaint tradition is being observed on the eve of battle with an overwhelming enemy force. Has he found the right time and place – a planet worthy of unleashing Antikon’s Decay anew?

Order this CDwritten by Stewart Sheargold
directed by Ken Bentley
music by David Darlington

The Death Collectors Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Alastair Cording (Professor Mors Alexandryn), Katherine Parkinson (Danika Meanwhile), Derek Carlyle (Smith Ridley / Dar Traders), Katarina Olsson (Nancy), Kevin McNally (Henry), Rebecca Bottone (Opera singer)

Spider’s Shadow Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Katarina Olsson (Martial Princess Keldafria Alison), Carol Fitzpatrick (Martial Princess Keldafria Louisa), Alastair Cording (Guard), Derek Carlyle (Colonel)

Timeline: between Frozen Time and Kingdom Of Silver

LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green

Review: The Death Collectors is an interesting three-parter, and even though the seventh Doctor is once again traveling sans companions – a casting decision necessitated by Sylvester McCoy’s busy theater schedule as well as the actor’s stated desire to explore the loneliness of the Doctor – there is a feel here that is as close to the New Adventures novels as audio Doctor Who has come since The Dark Flame – the Doctor is literally dancing with death once more, and he’s willing to make supreme sacrifices to save an expedition that, by the story’s end, is down to only two people. Meanwhile, dark forces operate in the background on a scale, and for a reason, that nobody – including the Doctor himself – has grasped just yet.

The small cast is tight-knit and turns in a great performance, and for once, I have to single out the sound design as being outstanding. A recurring feature of The Death Collectors is a mysterious radio signal, and it’s engineered to sound like a cross between an old modem connect sequence and a scream of blind terror; even though this sound is replayed a lot in the course of the three-part story, it never ceases to be unnerving, and the listener doesn’t have a chance to grow jaded about it. It’s an interesting effect into which a lot of thought and work was obviously poured. There are some interesting directorial choices as well, including the decision to have a female computer voice cheerfully announce that the entire situation is destined to end in death for all. This isn’t played for laughs a la Eddie from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – again, the effect is unnerving.

What’s even more interesting is that the main threat in this story could have been – if not for some rather draconian contractual terms forbidding Big Finish to refer directly to the new TV series – either the Vashta Nerada (Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead), or something that would evolve into the Vashta Nerada. There’s not even anything to craftily suggest that connection, but the nature of the threat – including the dead explorer’s reanimated/inhabited space suit – is enough to instantly make me think of those TV episodes, and it would explain the tenth Doctor’s familiarity with the creatures as well as his awareness that it’s a threat from which to flee immediately. It really is too bad that the show’s history is carved up like this – it doesn’t really diminish this story, but it would probably help Big Finish move some more CDs if they could weave their audio stories into the larger tapestry of Doctor Who – new as well as old.

There are also a few intriguing implications that this story may take place fairly close to the seventh Doctor’s demise in the 1996 TV movie; Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” is prominent, and the Doctor even announces his refusal to die “to the sound of elevator music.” It’s a neat and unexpected little reference with just a touch of ironic foreshadowing.

Spider’s Shadow, this CD’s one-part story, adds an almost-too-neat prologue to the loose thread of the Decay left dangling at the end of The Death Collectors, though maybe this is a case where one could make an argument for squeezing a second episode out of the “tag-along” story – it’s all just too quick. Its experiment in non-linear storytelling falls a bit flat as well; there may still be room to play with that as a plot device, but with Creatures Of Beauty and Flip-Flop behind us, both of them enjoyable and interesting, there’s already stiff competition within the Big Finish Doctor Who stories alone. Anyone hoping to do the non-linear thing had better have a good gimmick – better than this one, at any rate.