It’s been a long time but I’ve finally gotten around to starting my second “subscription” of Big Finish Doctor Who audios – starting with Release #26 of their main range, Primeval. This story stars Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor and Sarah Sutton as his companion Nyssa, and connects itself to the broader Doctor Who mythology by taking place on Traken, Nyssa’s home world that was only seen on TV in her debut story, Keeper of Traken, and was destroyed in an off-the-cuff manner in the follow up tale, Logopolis.
The idea here is that Nyssa is sick, and the Doctor has taken her to Traken for help, but thousands of years before Nyssa’s time. Nyssa’s illness is implied to be connected to the closing moment in the TV serial Four to Doomsday where Nyssa faints. At the time, it had apparently happened just to limit the number of regulars appearing in the following story (Kinda). But Primeval suggests that her sickness is the result of telepathic influence from a powerful psychic enemy with a deep hatred for Traken as part of his plot for vengeance.
Primeval is really one of the best Big Finish audios that I have heard so far, which is nice since the previous 5th Doctor / Nyssa outing, The Mutant Phase, was one of the worst. The story expands on the Doctor Who mythos by developing Traken’s history and culture. Of all the world’s created in Doctor Who, Traken is definitely one of the most worthy of such treatment. It also introduces a truly fearsome and vicious enemy in Kwundaar (played by Stephen Grief, aka the first Travis of Blake’s Seven), and a strong and well-delineated range of supporting characters. I especially like the depth of Narthex, a character who could have just been a one-note 2nd tier villain, but who ends up being more interesting than that. It’s also a strong story for Nyssa, giving her good dialogue and moments, in spite of the fact that she’s sick for much of the adventure.
There are a few negatives. Kwundaar’s plot seems to involve tricking the Doctor in the most unreliable manner into doing something incredibly short-sighted. The ease at which the Doctor is manipulated, as well as his foolishness for not realizing what would happen as a result of his actions, all seems quite contrived. Of course, he makes up for it by being defeated largely by his own pride and foolishness at the end.
There are also a few jabs at religion (where Nyssa says that ancient Traken wasn’t quite a complete paradise because they still had religion) and the whole story has got its roots somewhere in the idea of science trumping faith, which betrays a bit of a world view that I don’t fully align with. But I didn’t find it too annoying because the majority of comments about religion were to do with the fact that though Kwundaar is near-omniscient, he is still a false god who preaches a gospel of selfishness. Seeing how the different characters respond to that was interesting.
Overall, it’s a strong example of Big Finish’s early audio dramas, and was enjoyable to listen to (especially on a 13+ hour bus ride in rural Nepal, which is where I was enjoying it!)