Imbued with the energy of anti-time and possessed by the power-mad Zagreus, the Doctor wrestles for self-control and terrifies Charley into hiding within the TARDIS. A familiar face appears to Charley as she hides – the Brigadier, or, more precisely, a TARDIS-projected simulation of Lethbridge-Stewart intended to help her. Its method of doing so, however, is unorthodox to put it mildly: Charley must divine the true nature of the increasingly disastrous situation from a series of metaphors, ranging from her own childhood to a visit to Gallifrey’s past to an insane amusement park where animatronic cartoon characters are slaughtering one another. The Doctor, too, hears from some familiar voices in his own past, coaxing him to regain control of his own mind. But all too late, the Doctor realizes that his body and soul are not Zagreus’ only battleground, and the real battle for the fate of the entire universe is only now being joined.
Cast: Peter Davison (Reverend Matthew Townsend), Colin Baker (Lord Tepesh), Sylvester McCoy (Walton Winkle), Paul McGann (Zagreus), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Lalla Ward (Romana), Louise Jameson (Leela), Don Warrington (Rassilon), Nicholas Courtney (The TARDIS / Brigadier), Anneke Wills (Lady Louisa Pollard), Stephen Perring (Receptionist), Elisabeth Sladen (Miss Lime), Conrad Westmaas (The Cat), Mark Strickson (Captain McDonnell), Sarah Sutton (Miss Foster), Nicola Bryant (Stone / Ouida), Caroline Morris (Mary Elson), Maggie Stables (Great Mother), Bonnie Langford (Cassandra / Goldilocks), Robert Jezek (Recorder), Stephen Fewell (Corporal Heron), Sophie Aldred (Captain Duck), Lisa Bowerman (Sergeant Gazelle), Miles Richardson (Cardinal Braxiatel), John Leeson (K9), Jon Pertwee (The Doctor)
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Odd, really, this 40th anniversary extravaganza. Standing back from a distance, one can look at it and see a number of extraordinary mandates were foisted upon it from the word go: resolving Neverland‘s cliffhanger ending, celebrating the anniversary with a veritable rogues’ gallery of Doctor Who alumni, using those alumni in roles other than those to which the fans are accustomed, and spinning the main Doctor Who audio range off in a new direction while also setting up a second series centering on the political intrigue of Gallifrey itself.
Hey, no sweat. But, despite coming into it hoping to enjoy Zagreus, I found myself having to try to enjoy it. And that, to me, says there’s a problem. The actors are on top of their game here performance-wise (even though word’s gotten out that some of them didn’t understand what their portions of the story had to do with the big picture), the situations into which they are thrust are at the very least intriguing, and in many ways it’s very entertaining. But this whole business of forcing Charley and the Doctor to swim through an ocean of experiential metaphors to figure out what’s happening outside of their heads, the utter bizarreness of those scenes, and the sheer length of the thing work against it. In places, it’s too strange, even for Doctor Who. Each of the three discs runs to a total of nearly 80 unbroken minutes – it’s like watching three feature films in a row, minus the picture.
I’ve never complained about that before with Big Finish, but the rapid-fire barrage of settings and characters is hard to keep up with at times. And when it comes right down to it, over two of those hours are spent on internalized drama – things going on in someone’s subconscious that aren’t really going on. Some of it’s frighteningly clever – in particular, one scene in which the Doctor interacts with the voice of one of his past selves (though it’s not one of the other three actors already appearing in the role, and it’s not Tom Baker, and it is new dialogue where the listener is concerned – new dialogue taken from the soundtrack of an unfinished fan film abandoned several years ago). The spookiness of those scenes is considerable, because there’s a reflexive reaction that you shouldn’t be hearing what you are, in fact, hearing. Truth be told, it’s almost the highlight of the whole exercise.
Other surprising Who alumni appearances aren’t so clever, and in fact they smack of missed opportunities. Mark Strickson’s been missing since Loups-Garoux, and they brought him back for a mere cameo? The same could be said of Anneke Wills and Elisabeth Sladen. Not all of the guests are poorly used, however: Louise Jameson’s return as Leela gives part 3 the “oomph” that the whole exercise has been missing all along. The interaction between Leela and Romana is somewhat predictable, and it’s entertaining to hear K-9 again for a brief while.
In the end, the show is ultimately stolen by India Fisher and the three “retired” Doctors; McGann spends a lot of time out of character. It’s interesting and allegorical and it can be fun to play spot-the-actor, but purely on a story level, I felt a bit let down by Zagreus – if they’d started the story about 15 minutes before the end of part two, I might have been much more thrilled. Moreso than most other Big Finish audios, Zagreus is die-hard-fans-only material. I can imagine it would be hard for anyone else to get a grip on the material.