Dust Breeding continues the trends of these Big Finish audio dramas of taking real world historical events and re-imagining them with science-fictiony rationales and backstories. For example, back in Storm Warning, we had the crash of the R101, and in Loups-Garoux there was the trial of Pieter Stubbe. This time around, we have the painting of the Scream by Edvard Munch. The work of art proves to be the result of a primal, celestial scream let out throughout time and space by an ancient weapon with the unimaginative name of “The Warp Core” that was created to deal with horrible biological monstrosities called the Krill who the newly re-disfigured Master (who is still really into the whole anagram thing – “Mr. Seta”) is resurrecting in order to both waken and weaken the semi-dormant Warp Core in order to use its power seize control of the Universe!
That all sounds ridiculous, and like most Doctor Who, it is, but still it’s engaging and well presented. The plot has the requisite amount of mystery to keep the audience guessing, while still being laced with lots of action and chills. The latter reminded me a bit of the revival series’ Waters of Mars, with the idea of something seemingly very natural (in this case, dust) killing people and turning them essentially into zombies. The story also includes that sense of dread and despair that is common with much of Doctor Who, seen a classical form here with things like the Master being able to completely override almost any hapless person’s will, even to the point of compelling them to commit cold-blooded murder, just by speaking slowly to them.
The plot also follows the typical-Who pattern of introducing a bunch of characters who are up to no good (eg. Madame Salvadori & her assistant Klemp), who are used for the first half of the story to set up false tension while we wait for the real threat to reveal itself, and for the second half to get killed off by that threat. But though this is obvious as the story goes along, it does serve the purpose of keeping the audience guessing as to what exactly is happening.
This is my first Big Finish adventure solo-starring Sylvester McCoy, and he’s fully satisfying to listen to in the part. It’s always nice to hear Sophie Aldred as Ace, as she was one of my favorite companions back in the day. The story also features a familiar voice in Caroline John as the thickly-accented Madame Salvadori – she was the actress who played Liz Shaw back in the first season of the Third Doctor’s adventures way back in 1970. Later, Big Finish came up with ways to bring back the actual companions of deceased Doctors, but at this point their main strategy was simply to employ the actors who played them in new roles.
There is also an appearance here by a character who has apparently shown up before (but not in any story that I am familiar with), named Bev Tarrant. She’s some sort of thief / ally of the Doctors who acts basically as companion for the story. Presumably, her name is at least in some way inspired by Dev Tarrant, who was a regular character on Blake’s 7.
Most notable in this story is the presence of Geoffrey Beevers, who reprises his role of the Doctor’s nemesis The Master, having played the character as a one-off in the original series’ Keeper of Traken. This was the first time the Master appeared in an audio drama and, in the light of what I assume was Anthony Ainley’s unavailability, involving Beevers was a good idea: it keeps the nostalgia connection with the original series that we want from these audios while still presenting us with something fresh, that we aren’t over-familiar with. And the narrative decision to establish this Master as from after all the Ainley-appearances from the original series is a clever one, for the sake of future potential storytelling.