Doctor Who: Leviathan Review

During the first series of Lost Stories I remember there being two unexpected hits, this and “Point of Entry”, and while the latter often splits opinion, Leviathan is often pointed out as the major hit of the run. Why? Well, it blends medieval folklore with a fun sci-fi plot, and does it very well. Want more specifics? Well, let’s take a closer look then!

Synopsis:

No one lives to old age in the village. When their Time is come, they are taken and never seen again. That is The Way. And, should anyone try to break with the established order of things, then the fury of Herne the Hunter is unleashed…

When the TARDIS materialises near a castle in this mediaeval society, the Doctor and Peri befriend Gurth, a terrified youth who is attempting to flee his fate. And Herne is closing in…

Why does the local baron impose the culling? What is the secret of Zeron? And who are the Sentinels of the New Dawn?

The answers lie within a cave…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

I still love these original Lost Stories covers, especially the original designs, like for Herne here…

Leviathan is neatly split into two halves, the first being a story set in the Middle Ages with odd, clearly alien/futuristic things happening, and then the seconds goes full-on sci-fi. The Doctor and Peri go for a walk and meet a local villager named Gurth (Howard Gossington), who has apparently reached the age where Herne the Hunter (John Banks) takes you away forever, but he’s decided to run for it. The trio do indeed see the large horned hunter of myth and manage to escape, though get separated, with The Doctor visiting a local village and Peri and Gurth meeting a group of rebels that also managed to escape “their time”. We hear about the evil Baron in his castle, whom The Doctor meets and notices he gets orders from a mysterious disembodied voice, and the rebel manage to break some of their own out of the castle grounds, though not without taking a few losses.

The Doctor, Peri and Gurth head into some caves, which leads us to the big Part 1 cliffhanger (this is like Season 22, so there is just two 45-60 minute halves): the village, caste, forest, rivers, sky, all of it is in one massive spaceship called a “Leviathan”, the artificial Earth environment created to sustain the generations of people who would have to live on the ship due to there being no lightspeed drive at the time and therefore the journey to colonise other planets would take millennia. It was such a great reveal the first time I listened to it, and it’s still a great moment the second time.

The second half then sees reveal after reveal, with the Baron and his men being robots controlled by an A.I. (the disembodied voice they listened to) and the A.I being manipulated by space pirates on another ship looking to sell the Leviathan for scrap but trying to make the A.I. kill the inhabitants so they can claim the ship was free of intelligent life when they found it. Speaking of the inhabitants, they’re all clones! When their “time” arrives they melted down and the resulting liquid reused to create new versions of the villagers, the age of their “time” is when they become old enough to be curious about their surroundings and the Baron that controls them (some parental figures in village being robots, for the record…) Think I’m done? Nope! The people who set off on this journey was the members of the rich and powerful organisation known as “The Sentinels of the New Dawn”, who were “exiled” away from Earth in the 22nd century. When The Doctor finds them, however, they’re all dead due to a mishap with the cryo-tubes, a quicker and more merciful death than they deserve, according to our lead protagonist…

Sounds like a lot of exposition, but it was written to be revealed slowly and without overwhelming the listener (or viewer, originally…) so it works really well. In the end there is a mutiny on the pirate salvage ship and The Doctor manages to take control of the Leviathan A.I. due to this, ordering the Herne to keep the other pirates in line as surviving members of the cloned Leviathan villagers board their ship to be taken to a new life on some futuristic world, with the failing colony ship left to float aimlessly in space. There are also more prison breaks and some robot showdowns, so it’s a very fun and exciting second half, that’s for sure.

The Bad:

Truth be told: not much! The only real bad is that it wasn’t made as part of Season 22 like it very nearly was. Apparently it was pulled at the very last minute, most people assume it was due to budgetary concerns, which would sort of make sense, though most of the story takes place in a Middle Ages village or castle, plus a few cave shots. It would only be a few sets for the inside of the pirate spaceship and the Leviathan corridors and some robot particle effects, so… I don’t think it would’ve been that bad, but then I don’t know the ins and outs of 80s BBC TV financials, so…

The Continuity:

Just the tiny CD inlay this time, the rest of the Sixth Doctor Lost Stories weren’t made into books and the like so there aren’t as many images to stick in!

After the positive reaction to this story, the original author Brian Finch’s son Paul wrote a prequel which sees the Third Doctor meet the “Sentinels of the New Dawn” in the companion chronicle titled “The Sentinels of the New Dawn”, rather appropriately…

That’s the only direct link. The Seventh Doctor audio “The Doomsday Quatrain” has a similar theme of artificial environments and repurposing the population, and the Eleventh Doctor TV two-parter “The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People” deals with the idea of cloned people still having the same right to live as original people, something that divides the pirate ship crew in this story.

Overall Thoughts:

Leviathan was the first stand-out story in the Lost Stories range and still holds up as a great piece of Doctor Who today. When I think of some of the stories we got in Season 22, this being passed up at the last minute is quite annoying, but at least we can now experience it. Highly recommended!

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