Our second main range story of the month (yes, I’m aware it’s now October, so technically last month, but it’s been a busy time for me…) sees us jump backwards to the Fifth Doctor during his time with Nyssa and Tegan. The trio end up at Cicero’s villa and end up getting caught up in all sorts of Greek myths, and in the end, is that… a new companion?! Let’s find out!
63BC. Following the overthrow of Catiline, Cicero and his wife retire to the coastal town of Cumae, safe from the threats of Rome.
But when a stranger and his companions arrive at Cicero’s villa, new dangers lie in wait and Cicero finds himself plunged into a realm of gods and monsters.
His only hope of returning home lies with a man known as the Doctor. But can Cicero trust him?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
The main gist of Tartarus is The Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa, along with Cicero and a slave named Marc (well, Marcipor really), end up getting abducted to a place where Greek myths and legends are all wondering about freely. It’s a fun enough concept, The Doctor is geeking out over Cicero while Tegan is putting her foot in her mouth when it comes to being anti-slavery (which would be a novel idea in 63BC) before this all happens.
When they arrive they’re soon put on an old-fashioned quest to pick up three items, and it includes secluded forests, lava-filled volcano caves and, of course, a labyrinth with a Minotaur in it! It’s all very simple, yet well done, with Cicero’s reactions and his general repour with Tegan being the highlight. In the end, the whole thing is a test by a sentient alien spaceship that wanted to find a leader worthy of joining with it to give it an edge against its opponents in a war… as you do. It chooses slave Marc because he is actually purely good, where as it judged The Doctor negatively for failing to save Adric, and Cicero for… well, executing a bunch of people without trial, which is a bit more serious, really.
Look at that, two guest cast members on the cover! Well, I guess Marc is more than that now…
While The Doctor and companions try and save Marc, Cicero is left to debate with the A.I. about its existence, and the fact that the war it’s fighting is over and its planet destroyed (revealed by The Doctor shortly before), in the end he manages to convince the ship to drop them back off and destroy itself. It was fine, the old using logic to convince an A.I. is a bit old hat, but it being done by Cicero is at least a bit more amusing. Cicero believes it was a dream, while Tegan and Nyssa have convinced The Doctor to take Marc on as a new companion…
Beyond it being in two near-one-hour parts (which threw me off completely!) there wasn’t a great deal to complain about. Nyssa didn’t do much, as tends to be the case she was just The Doctor when he wasn’t around, or when he was around for the sake of giving her a line. Marc didn’t leave a good or bad impression, so I’m interested to see where this goes, though at the very end The Doctor is coy about Marc’s fate when Cicero questions him in a flashforward, which means I’m supposed to believe he met some ill fate… which means he probably very nearly does, but then doesn’t…
The Doctor has been to Rome before, including in the First Doctor TV story “The Romans”, and two trips to Pompeii during its destruction (Seventh Doctor audio “The Fires of Vulcan” and Tenth Doctor TV Episode “The Fires of Pompeii” respectively)
When it comes to Minotaurs, The Doctor has met a few! The Third Doctor met one in Atlantis during the TV story “The Time Monster”, where as Minotaur-looking aliens called the Nimon appear in Fourth Doctor TV Story “The Horns of Nimon”, as well as Eighth Doctor Audio classic “Seasons of Fear”, plus a member of a cousin race to the Nimon appears in Eleventh Doctor TV Episode “The God Complex”.
Tartarus is a fun old-style adventure story, with a good cast of both regulars and new characters. The format change and some characters not being up to much, not to mention a really cliché ending that instead of having me intrigued has left me feeling I know full well they’re probably setting me up for a “shocking twist”, means it doesn’t get full marks, but it’s definitely a fun story.