After four sixteen-part sagas which saw him face off against Daleks, the Master, Divine Intervention, the Ravenous and the Doom Coalition, the Eighth Doctor goes back to basics in a rebooted range of boxsets, consisting of standalone stories linked by broad themes. The first, What Lies Inside?, sees the Doctor, Liv and Helen deal with Daleks, paradoxes, psychic creatures and even a talking mongoose! Read on for our thoughts.
1. “Paradox of the Daleks” by John Dorney
The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Liv and Helen to a space station performing temporal experiments… but something’s gone wrong. Somehow, the scientists there have brought three Daleks on board: Daleks who will stop at nothing to summon more of their kind. As the Doctor and Liv face off against their old enemies, and Helen encounters them for the first time, they’re about to learn that, when dealing with time travel, not everything is as it seems… or everyone. Not even the Daleks…
Paradox of the Daleks is one of those stories that you really can’t judge until you’ve listened to the whole thing because, like the best Doctor Who two-parters, the second half turns everything you thought you knew on its head. At first listen, the first part seems inoffensive enough, competently written but nothing particularly special… until you get to the second part, and you realise what’s really been going on, with what seem like odd moments or inconsistencies suddenly making complete sense. Once again, John Dorney gives us Doctor Who with a twist, and what a twist indeed!
It’s great to hear Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan back as one of Big Finish‘s most iconic TARDIS teams, and a lovely change to put them in a story that you can actually finish in one go, without having to buy four boxsets! This is Helen’s first Dalek story, and Morahan does a great job at showing her character’s complex reaction to encountering the Doctor’s greatest enemies for the first time.
The TARDIS trio are joined by Joseph Millson and Amy Rockson as Peetom and Jemash, the two scientists aboard the temporal research station. Their performances are impressive, portraying the characters at various different stages in the story’s timeline as they have to deal with all sorts of time travel and paradox-related shenanigans, though their individual personalities aren’t particularly well-defined in the script.
Overall, this is a slow-burner of a story, but once it really gets going, you can see just how much work has been put into making it all fit together. It’s a shame that the first half has to be a bit traditional to make the whole thing work, otherwise this would have got a higher score. As it stands, though, this is still a strong story.
2. “The Dalby Spook” by Lauren Mooney and Stewart Pringle
Meeting famed paranormal investigator Harry Price on the Isle of Man, the Doctor, Liv and Helen become involved in a very unusual haunting indeed. The Irving family are being plagued by the ghost of a mischievous talking mongoose called Gef, who seems to have knowledge of things far beyond Earth. Is he an alien? A genuine apparition? Or something else? And what connection does he have to a lonely little girl?
While Paradox of the Daleks was a complex, timey-wimey, futuristic story, The Dalby Spook is a little more traditional, throwing the Doctor and friends into the middle of a spooky mystery and seeing them embark on a far more grounded, human adventure. It’s really nice to hear this TARDIS team in a psuedo-historical adventure given the recent 2020-set Stranded series, even if it’s a little too straightforward for its own good. The use of the real-life story of Gef the talking mongoose is great, a really unique story to bring into the world of Doctor Who, though the use of Harry Price doesn’t amount to much in the end; it could have been an entirely original character and the story would be much the same.
There are a couple of other highlights, one of which being Hattie Morahan‘s performance. Mooney and Pringle’s script really taps into what makes Helen unique from the Doctor and Liv- her profound sense of empathy towards those in need- and Morahan sells this perfectly throughout the story, particularly in her scenes with Voirrey. There’s also the titular Dalby Spook himself: Gef the mongoose, brought to life with a wonderfully mischievous performance from Harry Myers. He’s not used quite as much as you might think, but he’s such a delightfully unusual thing to put in a story, and really elevates it above being just a standard haunted house tale.
Overall, this is a simple but effective story that draws on a fascinating urban legend in the way only Doctor Who could do. An enjoyable one-parter that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
While neither of the stories in this boxset will set the world on fire, What Lies Inside? is a great back-to-basics reboot for the Eighth Doctor range, putting Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan into two far more traditional types of Doctor Who story than usual and thriving off of that novelty. It’s really refreshing to be able to spend a few hours with these characters without getting caught up in complex arcs or universe-destroying threats, and I look forward to having three more standalone adventures with them in Connections, released next month. Recommended.
What Lies Inside? is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com