|Terror Firma by Joseph Lidster|
"Terra Firma" was voted the most popular audio of last year by DWM readers - I was fairly taken aback, as I've never really "got it". I'm a big fan of the McGann audios, although for me the Big Finish Dalek adventures always seem somewhat overbaked. "Davros" and, to a lesser extent, "The Juggernauts" both felt like one would after playing with a Ring Modulator all afternoon; thoroughly sick of the sound of it. Unfortunately "Terra Firma" follows suit.
It's trump card is mystery, and the first few episodes invite more questions than they answer. Davros appears to have built a clone, which the Doctor suggests he's going to transplant his brain into. At the same time, he's turning into a Dalek, an unwise plot device that doesn't go anywhere (except to apparently write out the character) and seems there only to bludgeon home the metaphor of Davros, y'know, always kind of having been a Dalek anyway. Meanwhile a group of people are having a party in Folkestone, and the batty maiden aunt type and her friends turn out to be the secret Dalek resistance. This part of the play doesn't really work either, feeling to me slightly silly and unnecessary. It turns out that Folkestone (absurdly) has been left only so the people can be turned into Daleks. At the same time, C'Rizz is almost made the Dalek Emperor. None of it quite sounds credible, and therefore menacing.
The best part of the play is the revelation that Gemma and Sampson were companions of the Doctor from a previous lifetime, before he took Davros aboard his TARDIS and they were brainwashed and kidnapped. The snatches of 'lost' adventures (including an Ice Warrior story and one with guitars coming to life) are magical and intriguing, as is the idea that there were a whole series of Eighth Doctor adventures before Charley and C'Rizz came along. This also works for the same reason "Mindwarp" did, recalling an occasion where the Doctor did two of his friends more harm than good by inviting them aboard the TARDIS; not all fellow travellers make it out alive.
But in the final summing up, some snazzy production and cutting between scenes hide another story of overbloated Dalek and Davros continuity. I was among the first to eagerly anticipate Terry Molloy's return to Doctor Who, but the character is just dull, especially when he re-treads old ground (he even seems bizarrely obsessed with the "tiny pressure of my thumb" scene from "Genesis", recounting it here whenever possible) and the Daleks are even more so. Combine more endless analysis of the Doctor and Davros' relationship with the weird plot about the human Daleks and the moment C'Rizz seems to become the Dalek Emperor then isn't again, and you have something less than the sum of its parts. I can't help but think that this story has risen to be the most popular this year because of its big-gun credentials - the best Big Finish writer yet to be snapped up for the new series combined with the show's biggest monsters. But it's a curious tale, slightly melancholy but not moving, intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying, brutal but not affecting. One is left with the hope that in the future the Daleks and Davros will be laid to rest, and Joe Lidster will be allowed to dream up his own, more imaginative, story devices instead.