The second half of the “Further Adventuress” (and boy is that B-Sharps style joke that gets less funny the more you hear it…) is sadly weaker than the first half, but not by much. The combination of the Eighth Doctor and Charley without any overarching … erm, arc is still a very fun and comforting experience, and even Mr. Biggs manages to pull off one of his better stories in recent memory! So let’s take a look…
Synopsis (of Episode 3 “The Slaying of the Writhing Mass”):
The Doctor and Charley become trapped in a temporal traffic jam, caused by time tourists come to witness the pivotal event in the history of the planet Ileiko: the Slaying of the Writhing Mass, the alien entity that enslaved the Ileikans in their infancy.
The legendary hero Salan killed the Mass with a single stone, setting the Ileikans free. But what was the Mass, exactly? And what if the legend was wrong?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
There are things I liked in both episodes here. Episode 3 “The Slaying of the Writhing Mass” has a fun central plot as The Doctor and Charley get stuck in a temporal traffic jam to the past of a planet that has become a hotspot for tourists and school trips to view a key moment in their history, the moment a man named Salan killed the jumbled up mess of a creature known as the “Writhing Mass” with a single stone. Our lead duo get stuck on a school bus and then end up splitting apart and pairing with other people that I’ll get to later. In the end it turns out the Writhing Mass is caused by all the time travel and that Salan is actually Charley in a hood and the rock didn’t kill the Mass it was a cloaked spaceship The Doctor was crashing at the time. It was a fun revelation, even if I did have a good idea that’s where they were going with it from early in the episode. It has a good light-hearted tone to it as well.
Episode 4 “Heart of Orion” is a follow up to Eight / Charley audio Sword of Orion, but rather than a second Cyberman story it actually follows on from the plot of androids v humans that was plaguing the area of space featured in the original story. Now there isn’t really anything here to shock you, a good chunk of the subplot revolves around android duplicates trained to think they’re the real humans and thus proving the whole “what’s the difference?” and “what makes something a living being worth protecting?” Blade Runner style stuff, just not as subtle and touching as that film, obviously. It has its moments though, returning character Deeva Jansen (Michelle Livingstone) was a good baddie-turned-actually-goodie and I did enjoy a fake-out with a Charley duplicate. It’s again, perfectly fine… which for a modern Nicholas Briggs script I’ll take, frankly…
A second look at the very purple cover!
“The Slaying of the Writhing Mass” had a big problem and it came in the form of teenage school girl character Constella (Shiloh Coke) She ends up on-board the TARDIS when it accidentally materialises around her and become a pseudo-companion for the Doctor. They try to go the “not bothered” teenager route but I really doesn’t work and she just gets annoying, fast. Charley was paired with a plain but inoffensive police officer type, so that wasn’t too bad at least but Constella really dragged some scenes down.
“Heart of Orion” on the other hand may have avoided a lot of Mr. Brigg’s classic writing errors but there were still a few on show, most notably a moment where The Doctor stands in front of Deeva for a good few minutes and just explains to her what her plan is and where its going in the next few minutes. It was one of the worst examples of lazy exposition dumping I’ve seen/heard in some time. I know he only had an hour to get through the plot but there had to be many better ways of filling in the listener as to what’s going on than have The Doctor just explain it out loud to the person whose plan it is in the first place. The story also had Mr. Briggs’ love of “heavy Northern and Welsh accents to specify common people” non-trope on display, which is always annoying, Ah well. Could’ve been a lot worse, let’s face it!
Writhing Mass doesn’t really have any connections to a past story, maybe with the exception of it being set so far in the future that “Time Lords don’t really like to come this far” which is a direct quote from Fifth Doctor TV story “Frontios”, which was also set that far into the future, obviously!
Heart of Orion as mentioned is a direct sequel to “Sword of Orion”, but beyond that is also stand-alone… but it being a direct sequel means it isn’t stand-alone, so I don’t know why I wrote that…
Both “The Slaying of the Writhing Mass” and “Heart of Orion” have their plus points and their negative points, which is handy for not having to give them separate scores sake but is a shame because the previous half was really good instead of just “okay”. I still think it’s a strong set overall but that may just be the Doctor / Charley nostalgia talking…