For this run of stories I was going to take a look at the Sarah Kingdom trilogy (also by Simon Guerrier) but then I remembered I’d started the Oliver Harper trilogy in the Audio/Comic debut marathon, so it made sense to finish that off instead… so here we are! The Cold Equations is the middle of the three stories (obviously) and focuses on more on character development for both Steven and Oliver, with the latter’s “big secret” being revealed…
In the remnant of a shattered satellite, far above the ruined planet Earth, Steven Taylor and Oliver Harper are dying. As time runs out, they face their pasts… and a secret long kept is revealed.
The borrowed time is elapsing, and they realise they are facing an enemy that cannot be defeated. The cold, hard facts of science.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
The core framing device of “The Cold Equations” is Steven and Oliver stuck on a disintegrating part of a large spaceship, oxygen running out and therefore giving them no other choice but to be honest with each other. It’s really well played out by both Peter Purves and Tom Allen and Part Two, which was pretty much free of narration, was extremely tense. The Doctor is on another piece of debris and while better off he won’t last long enough for help arrive either, but Steven eventually uses his experience of space flight and, well, the “cold equations of space” to ricochet some space junk around and dislodge the TARDIS so The Doctor could reach it. It was properly great and tense stuff. Then we get the now-near-death Steven and Oliver talking and we finally hear what our new bald-headed companion’s big secret is, and the reason he was running from the law in the 60s: he’s gay. Still illegal at the time, he was going to be arrested for his homosexuality before The Doctor and Steven picked him up. Steven starts laughing, gently due to the whole lack of air thing, explaining to him how it’s not even a slight issue in the time period he comes from.
At the last moment The Doctor arrives with help and the two are rescued. Before they head off for adventures anew our titular Time Lord reveals he knew Oliver’s secret before he let him on his TARDIS, but it wasn’t his business to bring it up (and that it obviously doesn’t bother him!) So some really good scenes of Steven actually using his skills as a pilot and some proper depth added to Oliver as a character.
After the good bit of framing we then get a “how we got there” story that makes up much of Part One, and it’s quite… dull. Earth is now a planet-sized junkyard and some people are here to pick the pieces. Some distrust and hostile locals are thrown in, but in general it just didn’t really hold my attention. Thankfully Part Two takes the story to a whole other level!
Oliver Harper really features prominently on all three of his covers, more so than a lot of Big Finish original characters anyway…
The only real continuity here is Steven being a former pilot, as established in his debut story “The Chase”, and Oliver Harper joining him and The Doctor in the previous story “The Perpetual Bond”.
“The Cold Equations” is a real tale of two halves as Part One is rather dull but Part Two is extremely tense, exciting and full of great character development and moments. So I can’t really justify a perfect score, but it’s definitely highly recommended!