Doctor Who: Seasons of Fear [Big Finish]

Seasons of Fear is an interesting audio drama from Big Finish, a relatively early entry featuring the 8th Doctor as played by Paul McGann.  It comes third in a run of six dramas about the 8th Doctor, which all set up a massive confrontation with a new menace known as Zagreus.  This story is not actually about Zagreus but plants some of the big seeds that take us there.

Doctor Who Seasons of Fear

Anyway, Seasons of Fear has got an interesting concept going on, as it starts with the Doctor being confronted by an enemy he has never met before, Sebastian Grayle, who claims to have killed him in the future.  Grayle further claims to be immortal, and that the world that they are standing in (Singapore, circa 1930, incidentally) is actually just a discarded timeline since in the future, his “masters” have become the rulers of all time and space, and have rewritten the universe to their own whims.

From this strong start, the Doctor and Charley quickly escape the fake pseudo-universe and try to unravel the mystery of who Grayle actually is–taking advantage of the time interference that has already taken place to try to change the predicted outcome to this battle.  They trace Grayle back to England in 305 AD, where he turns out turns out to be a pagan priest who doubts his faith, and who has come to believe that the mysterious aliens communicating with him actually represent the true deities he must serve.  Upon their bidding, he intends to offer up a whole bunch of human sacrifices which will allow them to manifest on earth.  (How many of these stories are about invaders attempting to manifest somewhere?)

In spite of this wickedness, the Doctor finds that this early version of Grayle is not as irredeemably evil as he later knows he will become.  This helps prompt him to try to find a way to redeem Grayle.  He and Charley return to earth every 750 years (the period of time it takes the alien masters to be ready to try and invade again), each time finding Grayle in his new position, each time learning more, each time confounding Grayle’s plans, but each time moving closer to the Doctor’s predicted death.

Anyway, that’s a lot of recap, but the story actually contains an awful lot of plot, which is a good thing.  Grayle is a compelling villain and it’s interesting to see his progression from misguided fool to embittered evil mastermind (and back again).  His “masters”, who turn out to be the Nimon, are pretty well used, almost good enough to make you forget they come from one of the worst television episodes of the show ever.  The various characters encountered along the way, including Edward the Confessor, Lady Edith and Lucy Martin are all pretty interesting, and the Doctor and Charley continue to have a pleasing dynamic.

But the story has weaknesses as well.  It’s contrived that the Doctor is determined not to take more drastic measures to stop Grayle, when he knows that failure will mean the fall of all of time.  It also isn’t really explained how the Nimon just arriving on earth will given them such a mastery of reality.  There’s a throwaway line about how earth is a focal point for some time space dimension blah di blah blah, but there have been plenty of other aliens who invaded earth but didn’t become masters of all reality as a result.  It’s also bit forced that the Doctor can only find and confront Grayle every 750 years–that he has to wait until earth is in imminent danger to actually confront him.  All that stuff is just thrown in there so the structure of the story will make sense.

It’s also a bit distracting the number of things that pop up in the story to set up future stories.  There’s the ongoing talk about Charley’s survival of the R101 disaster and all of those implications, some random anachronistic comments made about history (Benjamin Frankly serving as a US President), references to Zagreus, an unexplained appearance by a Dalek (!) in Roman controlled Britain, and a whole shocker of an ending where some angry copy of Charley shows up out of the dimensional void and eats a couple of the supporting characters.  None of these elements actually serve this story, but rather hint at plots that are to come.

Still, if you get past these awkward contrivances, it’s an engaging story with a structure that’s just a little bit different.  It was co-written, incidentally, by Paul Cornell, who wrote one of the best TV stories ever (Human Nature / Family of Blood) and Caroline Symcox, who turns out to also be a Church of England minister.

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