Tony Fyler will be like us…
When I heard the first part of the two-part season finale to Tom Baker’s fourth season on Big Finish, The Fate of Krelos, I was frankly a bit whingy, because it seemed to be pretty much 50 expensive minutes of the Doctor and Leela going fishing, some heavy-handed Jamie references, K9 having a long, drawn-out freakout and the people of Krelos interlinking all their technology. It was like a conjuring trick with no real denouement.
Return to Telos is fifty minutes of solid steel denouement. Right from the opening minutes, it’s cybertastic, with a moderately brain-melting time-travel twist, driving a Fourth Doctor wedge into the brain of the Second Doctor story, The Tomb of the Cybermen. There are those original, Telosian Cybermen, and then there are from-the-future, time travelling Cybermen, a change denoted in different iterations of Nick Briggs’ Cyber-voice, though still fighting shy of the 80s Cybermen who were the first, as far as we know, to actually have the capacity to time travel. So you have two sets of Cybermen fighting two Doctors, at the sort of same time, but not exactly.
Did I mention it’s a bit of a brain-melter?
So much so in fact, it might take you two listens to get entirely clear in your own head what’s happening and how and why and when, to whom. Since first listening to it, I’ve gone through it with a whiteboard, a marker pen and some fairly complex equations, and it does actually work, but like the other recent Cyber-story, Last of the Cybermen, this is not one to try and listen to while you do the dishes or attempt to drive from A-B. You’ll end up crashing into something – possibly yourself from the future heading in the opposite direction. But what you do get here is all the action, all the busyness, all the high-octane storytelling that was missing from The Fate of Krelos. It’s a well-judged story with a fair bit of bouncing back and forth – starting as it does on Telos, you begin to worry that all the people on Krelos are going to be forgotten, but just about at the point that occurs to you, you’re taken back there to deal with their fate. Likewise, when you begin to suspect it’s all going to be about Krelos, you go bouncing back to Telos to deal with the two generations of Cyber-threat. It’s a bit like a perfectly judged symphony, anticipating the needs of the listener and catering to them at just the right set of moments. The only point at which this starts to go awry is when delivering the solution, which you may well need to go back and listen to twice or even three times, because unless you’re following every beat precisely, you might miss the sense of it the first time.
Baker and Jameson, as the Fourth Doctor and Leela, are on solid, companionable form here, sounding like they’re having more fun together than ever they did on TV, and Frazer Hines accompanying himself in the slightly schizophrenic role of The Second Doctor and Jamie is as ridiculously faultless as ever. It’s a special treat to have Bernard Holley back as Peter Haydon – coming full circle to his first Who role, before he became forever synonymous with the Axons, and delivering, as Briggs describes it in the extras, ‘a bit of Tomb of the Cybermen that you never got to see in Tomb of the Cybermen.’ In terms of the interaction between the ‘modern-day’ Fourth Doctor story and the historical Second Doctor story, this is how you do time-twisting successfully – bringing two entirely separate stories together, if only to brush by each other tangentially. We also learn quite a lot here about the Doctor’s ethics of interference – when he can and when he can’t get involved, though as Leela is quick and arch to point out, ‘this is no time for you to be sensible!’ She has a point – as the Cybermen rise, preparing to cannibalise the technology and the human resources of Krelos, sensibleness is perhaps not the best of policies. It’s also not your best friend when listening to Return To Telos. In fact, Return To Telos is a story to just go with, allowing the sweep and flow of major action drive you along, while you cling on to its coat-tails and try and catch what’s going on while you do nothing else of any consequence. One to simply enjoy.
One to buy then?
Are you serious? It’s the Fourth Doctor and Leela driving a wedge of storytelling into the middle of Tomb of the Cybermen – if you can think of a reason not to buy that, I’d like to know what it is. It’s also a story that redeems the actionless hour that was The Fate of Krelos and manages to give it meaning after all, and a great fast-paced finale to a season that’s had far more ups than downs as Big Finish and Tom Baker find an increasingly harmonious rhythm together. Go now, and get Return To Telos: your ears will thank you for it.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk