Sunday, 20 September 2015

4th Doctor 4.1 The Exxilons

January is the month of new starts and resolutions, and nowhere is this more true than with the Big Finish releases. We have heard the first of the Gareth Roberts Season 17 pastiches, the first in a new trilogy in e-Space for the Fifth Doctor and crew and the first in a new series of adventures for the Fourth Doctor, Leela and K9.
January this year also seems like the month for sequels, two in one month, Mistfall follows up from Full Circle and The Exxilons follows on from Death To The Daleks.
I was lukewarm to the idea, Death to the Daleks was hardly a classic a tale of space marines, indigenous people and Daleks. Yes, it had scope, it made you think about the worlds beyond the planet of the Exxilons, the bigger universal picture, the plague ravaging the Earth colonies, but it was hardly groundbreaking, so it was with trepidation I started to listen to the Exxilons.
If you have seen “I’m Alan Partridge” you will remember his disastrous pitch to head of BBC Tony Hayers where Alan pitches a cop show called Swallow, his rationale being that regional cop shows are popular, so let’s make more of them.
I can imagine Nick Briggs pitching the Exxilons  in the same way – “well, death to the Daleks had a primitive indigenous population and a technologically advanced team of aliens landing on their world and conflict between the two; it was quite popular, let’s do it again” as Nick is politely shown the door.  He goes all Columbo and says “just one more thing” and it’s this “one more thing” that makes The Exxilons so much more than the sum of its parts or better than it looked on paper. You see the “one more thing” is playing with the audiences expectations and going off in a direction not at all expected in the second part of the story. Whereas we begin with a standard sci-fi tech vs primitives, we end on an exploration of what makes a culture act the way it does; what drives, what motivates, what gives a species its identity even if this is ultimately self destructive.
It’s a very deep story dressed up as a bog standard mid era Tom Baker story.  The drama is ably carried by the main cast, Louise Jameson in particular gives Leela a depth she was sadly lacking on TV.  Jacqueline King (Donna’s Mum on TV) was unrecognisable as Calura and Hugh Ross is oilily evil as Gethel, he is a great study in fanaticism and single mindedness.
So, I was pleasantly surprised with this release, much better than it looked on the tin, a much deeper and better story than its source material and a solid start to a new season, even the music echoes the original – overall I give it 8/10.