A Big Finish Audio Drama (#30 of the main line)
When the character River Song was introduced, critics and fans alike went crazy for the idea that The Doctor would have a companion that interacts with him “out of order”. At first we see her death, only to see her when she hated The Doctor and was villainous early on. It was a novel concept that, despite what one has to say about Steven Moffatt, was really well done. Now Imagine of you will, a villain that serves a similar purpose – upon first appearance he has fought The Doctor hundreds of times, whilst The Doctor has literally no idea who he is talking to.
As the story builds, we see their clashes through time, as the man (Named Decurion Sebastius Gralae, Sebastian Grayle and “Leofric of Exeter”, and usually just Grayle) has made a deal with an alien race to prepare the Earth for their arrival in exchange for immortality. We find out that Grayle’s own arrogance is his very undoing, as he unknowingly warns (by gloating) his arch-nemesis of his own plans not knowing that he would go back and stop him. It’s confusing if you try to plot it out, but in a series entirely based on time-loops, paradoxes, and other timey-wimey stuff, it’s not far from the norm.
“On New Year’s Eve, 1930, the Eighth Doctor lets Charley keep her appointment at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. But his unease at what he’s done to time by saving her life soon turns into fear. Sebastian Grayle: immortal, obsessed, ruthless, has come to the city to meet the Time Lord. To the Doctor, he’s a complete stranger, but to Grayle, the Doctor is an old enemy. An enemy that, many years ago, he finally succeeded in killing. And this is his only chance to gloat.
The Doctor and Charley desperately search human history for the secret of Grayle’s power and immortality. Their quest takes in four different time periods, the Hellfire Club, the court of Edward the Confessor, and the Time Vortex itself. And when the monsters arrive, the stakes are raised from the life of one Time Lord to the existence of all humanity.”
The big stand-out moment of this story is the revelation that Grayle’s benefactors are, in fact, none other than The Nimon, the weird Minotaur-like creatures we last saw in the Fourth Doctor Era. I won’t pretend The Nimon are great villains or anything, but it’s always cool to see old foes that aren’t your typical type (Cybermen, Daleks, Sontarans etc.) get a bit of spotlight from time to time. If given a less paper-mache looking mask, the Nimon might even be a monster of the week, that would be great to bring back into the TV fold, despite their resemblance to The Judoon (to a degree).
This serial is pretty good, and in a VERY strong second season for The Eighth Doctor and Charley, that means something. I’m not sure I was a fan of being told most of the backstory through exposition, but I suppose it was done to avoid making a fifth episode. When we first start the serial, The Doctor is basically telling Charley what happened to make him meet Grayle for the first time, which felt more like an audiobook than an audio drama. The sound design is not quite as good as the previous episode, The Chimes of Midnight, which was splendid. I found this story had a few annoying sound effects, that made me want to check my house to make sure it was coming from my computer and not something I should be concerned with.
All in all, this is definitely an above average Big Finish story, and I highly recommend it as well as any other episode in these past two “seasons”.