Big Finish: Doctor Who - ZAGREUS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - ZAGREUS Review

Moo sits inside your head.

To begin with writing a review of Zagreus, anyone who has heard the story will have the same question: Where do I even start? Well first things first, it’s four hours long. No really, that’s genuinely how long it is. No extras, no soundtrack, it’s a story that runs for two hundred and thirty-six minutes of pure plot. It’s got literally everyone in it (and I do mean EVERYONE, even Jon Pertwee gets a look-in) but barely any of them play their usual roles. It’s part of a massive story arc that has spanned the previous three years of Big Finish’s audio drama output while setting up the next couple as well, to the extent that the first twelve minutes are nothing more than a glorified “previously on” recap.

All this, and it’s technically the fortieth anniversary story too. Settle in, brave listener. Welcome to Big Finish at their most excessive.

The story itself opens where previous instalment Neverland ended: The Doctor’s TARDIS is the centre of an explosion of anti-time (don’t ask) and the Doctor and his companion Charlotte Pollard are recovering from the aftermath. Cue a series of scenes where Paul McGann is let loose, free to chew the scenery, so much as you can in audio, as the Doctor is taken over by ancient Time Lord mythological demon figure Zagreus.

Elsewhere Charley gets to relive some of her past but not as she knows it. Why is her mother turning into the white rabbit and what is the Brigadier doing there? Nicholas Courtney is superb in this story, playing the Brig quite unlike how we get him anywhere else.

He needs to take Charley through time to investigate what is wrong with the Doctor, and this is where Zagreus really gets going. We meet an ancient Gallifreyan vampire played by Colin Baker, we meet a human priest-turned-scientist played by Peter Davison, and we visit a futuristic post-apocalypse Gallifreyan theme park where the owner is a creepy deluded maniac played by Sylvester McCoy. In addition to these returning actors we have loads of other familiar voices, all playing new characters in these settings. This is explained as being projections by the TARDIS, and then we learn that the Brigadier is also one.

He isn’t even the Brig at all, he is the TARDIS infected by the same explosion as the Doctor. Both the Doctor and his TARDIS are Zagreus! The whole purpose of the time excursion was to investigate Rassilon’s ancient evils. Leela and Romana show up and establish the Gallifrey spinoff, as Romana is writing Doctor Who fanfic. It’s relentless.

From here on, it’s a colossal lore-dump about Gallifrey and Rassilon. We get scenes riffing on The Five Doctors (chessboard and all!) as Charley tries to get the three not-Doctors to help the real one overcome the Zagreus entity. There’s far too much insanity going on, and every second of its four hour runtime is put to use.

I can’t really do it justice here. Somehow for resolving the arc that began for Charley back with her debut, it satisfies. For being an extended exploration of Gallifreyan lore, it also satisfies. If you’re into that, you’ll have a tremendous time. If you want to see just how utterly off-the-wall insane Big Finish can possibly go, you cannot do better.

As a Doctor Who anniversary story, it really doesn’t work. If you asked me to name the least-accessible Doctor Who story of all time, this is it. But then, maybe it is the perfect story for the fourteenth anniversary of Doctor Who? This perfectly sums up what the people who still cared would want. Not only does it have everyone take part, it manages it in such a way that also drives the ongoing storyline forward – literally into a new universe. That’s a commendable goal, and on that basis it succeeds. Just don’t be fooled by the cover art.

There is also a little part of me that wants to give Zagreus to someone as their intro to Big Finish and just watch their head explode. And if you’ve heard this story, then you’re a liar if you can’t say the same.

“Moo” is the pseudonym used by this Doctor Who fan. He can usually be found procrastinating by thinking about Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @z_p_moo for more of his unusual takes, but do so at your own risk.

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