Doctor Who: The Annihilators Review

I was so excited when I heard they were doing a new seven-part full cast story set in Season 7, then I found out Nicholas Briggs was writing it and I got downhearted as his big boxset releases recently haven’t been … well, very good to be frank. Then I heard they were adding a newly recast Second Doctor played by Patrick Troughton’s son Michael into the mix and I was just … confused. Well, I’m thrilled to report that despite all this I really enjoyed the story! Mr. Briggs pulls one out of the bag at the right time for me personally (well, maybe the first ever Ninth Doctor set would’ve been a better time to do it, but hey-ho…) and even the multi-Doctor part was fun. So let’s take a look at “The Annihilators”, shall we?

Synopsis:

There’s something in the water at Lewgate Docks. Something strange, and green, and deadly. Summoned to the North of England by a mystery informer, the Brigadier finds his investigations hampered at every turn by the local police. Just what are they trying to hide?

While the Doctor uncovers sinister goings-on in the city morgue, Liz attracts the attention of something unearthly. But with Time running out, quite literally, the Doctor, Liz and UNIT aren’t the only ones to find themselves targeted by a world-shattering alien menace…

…because they’ve got a previous Doctor and his best friend Jamie in their sights, too!

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

Like so many examples of the actual TV era the story starts off with a mysterious incident in a peaceful sounding part of England, in this case a strange fizzing black ooze that claimed the life of a policeman in Lewgate Docks. The Brigadier ends up clashing with local police DCI Walker (Karen Archer) but manages to get The Doctor and Liz Shaw in to have a look at the odd and apparently foul-smelling substance. We hear (sometimes only just due to the voice modulating done…) some aliens observing everything from afar, worried that the humans will discover their plans, your usual stuff for Who there, and soon The Doctor and the Brig stay at Lewgate to do more research while Liz and friendly local police sergeant Sinclair (Daon Broni) head to oversee the autopsy of the policeman who was, erm, fizzled. It’s a perfectly fine set up and things only spiral from here are the woman who was to do the autopsy, Dr. Broadbelt (Bethan Walker) is suddenly ill and the man who does perform it does so before Liz and Sinclair can get there (and has the most on-the-nose untrustworthy voice of all time) while The Doctor is attacked by beings made of the foul black ooze.

The next few episodes deal with more ooze creature attacks, Sinclair loves Broadbelt so naturally she’s killed in front of him, and it’s DCI Walker and some of her allies with laser guns that do it as it turns out they’re all aliens too, but not of the black ooze variety. They claim to be the Helt, on Earth to stop the Grestrenors (black ooze creatures) from pulling a rogue gravatar into the solar system to destroy the Earth. This has been shown throughout the story by sudden unexplained jumps in time, the gravatar’s gravity waves disrupting time itself, which was fun. Then we get to the other big thing and that’s when the second incarnation of The Doctor arrives alongside Jamie and soon get tangled up in events. The Doctor is swiftly kidnapped and we get pretty much a replay of Troughton’s role in The Two Doctors as he’s strapped to a table and starts saying amusing things in distress, only it’s Michael Troughton this time! I’m happy to say he does a good job, much like Tim Treloar he’s got the actual performance of the Second Doctor down to a tee but it’s also very much his own spin on the voice, that way you get something that sounds like The Second Doctor but not so much Patrick Troughton, allowing for a greater range of acting without “slipping out of the voice”, a problem a lot of more note-accurate impressions suffer from. I’m looking forward to seeing, or hearing rather, more from him in the role, he’s at least got the more high-pitched and energetic side of The Doctor down which is something Frazer Hines’ performance often lacked.

It’s funny in the last few years we’ve had a First and Second Doctor multi-Doctor story, and now a Second and Third one. Coming soon: a Third and Fourth? … Actually, that would be really fun, I won’t lie…

Anyway, Jamie has notably aged The Brigadier points out and its soon made clear that this is set in the infamous “Season 6B” that Simon Guerrier tried so hard to de-canonise on his Big Finish audio “The Black Hole” a few years ago, so… that’ll teach him, or something. As Jamie hangs out with the current Doctor and his companion (again much like The Two Doctors…) they all begin to assault the Grestrenor base with a good old fashioned UNIT shootout, eventually in the final part the two Doctors meet and everyone finds out the truth: turns out the Helt are actually the ones pulling the Gravatar towards Earth as they’ve seen the devastation Earthlings cause not just on their own planet but across the universe so they made the decision to stop them from spreading, and the Grestrenors and their weapon are actually there to repel the gravatar and stop the Helt. The two Doctors combine minds to throw off the mental powers of DCI Walker (or whatever her Helt name was, something like Hoolie, can’t remember as I write this…) and disable her. The Grestrenor activates its weapon and the Earth is saved but due to the time effects nobody remembers it happened as time rewound to before this whole thing started. Bit of a cop-out but there you go. The Second Doctor delights in teasing his future self about why he was there knowing full well that when he gets put on Earth in exile his memories of working for the Time Lords would’ve been expunged.

The Bad:

While it starts off as very invocative of the era by the end it’s far too big to fit, with the Earth crumbling, two Doctors meeting and all sorts of other crazy apocalyptic stuff. Obviously at the end of the story its all undone which at least makes the fact nobody mentioned the time UNIT helped prevent the near-apocalypse again but by the end it was only the great 70s background music that helped give you any feeling of the time period. Also as mentioned The Second Doctor and Jamie’s roles were pretty much identical to their roles in the Two Doctors, which I don’t know it was deliberate or not given this is also “Season 6B” versions of them or whether it was just Mr. Briggs not really knowing what to do so he copied what worked before. Either way, it was a bit of a shame.

They tried to copy the Ambassadors of Death by have a second bit of the opening theme play after the previous episode recap but without the visual clues I thought it was just some weird mistake or something until someone reminded me of what they were presumably referencing on a forum. This was probably one step too far in the trying to recapture the era stakes…

The Continuity:

As mentioned the Second Doctor and an older Jamie working for the Time Lords is a reference to the Sixth Doctor story “The Two Doctors”, which sees the pair doing just that despite it not fitting into continuity. This led to the “Season 6B theory” that stated before being exiled on Earth the Second Doctor was forced to work for the Time Lords, though funnily enough Big Finish (or rather writer Simon Guerrier) already tried to dispel the theory by explaining the Two Doctors scenes in the story “The Black Hole”. It’ll be interesting to see if the scenes in the Two Doctors are officially mentioned as happening post War Games in the up-coming boxset “Beyond War Games” or not…

Also there are a few references to when the Doctor first met the Brigadier to try and convince Jamie he was genuinely the same man (which happened in “The Web of Fear”) and the Brig himself mentions the last time he saw Jamie was during the Cyberman invasion seen in… well, “The Invasion”.

Overall Thoughts:

The Annihilators is a strong boxset all round, with the successful debut of Michael Troughton in his father’s role and a 7-parter that doesn’t slow down enough to get dull. Sadly to achieve this pacing the story soon escalates to the point where it stops feeling very Season 7-y, but that’s not the end of the world (well, it nearly was, but… you know what I mean!) So that’s two Nicholas Briggs penned stories in a month that have been actually good rather than average or worse. Maybe he’s finally back in the groove after, what, a decade or so since I last legitimately enjoyed one of his stories? Either way, The Annihilators comes high recommended! Hooray!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s