The Sword of Orion is the latest Big Finish Doctor Who audio in the subscription that I bought for Christmas. It’s the second story of the first “season” of Paul McGann 8th Doctor adventures, co-starring India Fisher as his companion Charley Pollard, and featuring the classic Cybermen monsters. This is, of course, several years before Doctor Who fans had heard of John Lumic or Cybus Industries, so there’s none of that here, thank goodness. These are honest-to-goodness classic-era Cybermen. Of course it’s an audio, but it’s nice to not have imagine that big letter “C’s” on their chests.
The story of The Sword of Orion is a bit flawed but it’s not unfair to say that the production is not. This is probably the best Big Finish audio that I have heard so far (admittedly, I have only listened to about five of them) at actually conjuring up for me as a listener a clear picture of location and space. Most of the adventure takes place on a derelict and spooky spaceship that is the perfect sort of environment to set an adventure filled with chilling encounters with the heartless Cybermen.
And that’s the best part of the story – the feeling of the Doctor and his companion and the collection of (mostly, we’re sure) doomed guest characters are going to run into Cyberized death anywhere they turn in this confined and bleak setting. If the episode had just left it at that, it might have been enough – a strong survival monster story with no real bearing on the larger universe, kind of like The Horror of Fang-Rock.
But it’s in the broader story elements that The Sword of Orion falls a bit flat. There is a bunch of fluffing around at the start with the Vortisaur (a time pterodactyl, for want of a better term) that was introduced and made into a pet in the previous adventure (Storm Warning). There’s a bit of underdeveloped to-do about the criminal activities of most of the salvage characters. And most glaringly, there is the barely introduced supposed “main story” of the episode, which is about an ongoing conflict between planetary governments and lifelike androids that has led the humans into the ludicrous strategy of trying to recruit the Cybermen to their cause. The attempt at creating a “noble” sacrifice by the surprise android character on behalf of the organic survivors falls flat and fails to be inspiring or engaging.
Still, listening to Paul McGann as the Doctor is a fun. Since we are unlikely to get any more televised adventures featuring the guy (a real pity, I think, though an understandable one), it’s nice to have this material as a bit of compensation.