Review by Jacob Licklider
As we move into the final three months of Big Finish’s oldest Doctor Who range, we begin to see releases which were essentially reactions to the current situation. Whatever original plans were made to end the Monthly Range had to quickly be scrapped due to the pandemic as recording moved to remote sessions in home studios and a specific Fifth Doctor release delayed indefinitely. There are only 3 releases planned for 2021, one Sixth Doctor for release 273, one Fifth Doctor for 274, and one final multi-Doctor extravaganza to say goodbye to the range at release 275. Release number 273 has now been released, the day this review is being written, and with it comes a Big Finish story that feels like it’s taken a page from Chris Chibnall’s book, but then improved it greatly. Colony of Fear is a story which relies on its twist which decontextualised what the audience knows about the Doctor in a lot of ways, and as such reviewing this story will contain spoilers concerning the twist. If you are simply wishing to know if Colony of Fear is worth your money, this review will end with the line: Colony of Fear may not be the absolute best story from Roland Moore or Big Finish Productions, it is a fascinating time that begs to have a sequel if only to get these characters back to listeners, giving this final trilogy a great start. Right now that that’s out of the way on to the review with full spoilers in effect.
Colony of Fear’s first episode could easily be described as one of the best setups in Big Finish’s catalogue. The scene is set without the Doctor present: a human colony which is plagued by alien wasps whose scenes put people into a coma and a team of scientists are slowly being able to revive the afflicted colonists. One colonist in particular has issues with a mysterious man who he is convinced is coming back to be a danger to the colony. The Doctor and Constance Clarke arrive in the TARDIS and integrate themselves into the colony a la The Power of the Daleks, both rather aghast at the advances this colony is making deliberately towards war, and Constance finds the TARDIS just sitting in the colony. This is the first of many twists which serve as bait and switches as the story builds towards discovering what the mystery of the wasps and the TARDIS entails. Roland Moore starts the story by trying to tell a story all about technology gone wrong and being used towards war and shifting it at about the halfway point to the Doctor’s past coming back to haunt him. The anti-war stuff is really where Miranda Raison’s Constance Clarke is able to thrive. Moore takes advantage of having a companion from a point in the Earth’s past where war ruled life and technology was racing towards the nuclear option, which would in fact end that particular war for good. Constance has a different perspective on the universe and that makes a difference in what she does. Sadly in the second half of the story she ends up slightly bleeding towards the background of the story until the big twist happens.
The big twist of the story is that Tarlos, played by Andrew James Spooner, is actually an ex-companion of the Doctor who was taken from this time period, and eventually returned nearly 50 years before, being forced to hide behind an assumed identity, and only now is able to reveal himself. He has tearful reunions with his father and the Doctor doesn’t ever remember travelling with him. The story is insistent that Tarlos was a companion of a previous Doctor, however, there really isn’t anything in the text which indicates this. It feels like Roland Moore wants to make it one of the Morbius Doctors (especially as this story was only recorded in September) but the BBC wouldn’t allow it. Tarlos’ character is jaded by his experiences and Colony of Fear does not attempt to reconcile this with the Doctor. Colin Baker plays the role as sympathetic, but overall unrepentant: he doesn’t even remember abandoning this character at this point, so why should he be the one to take any responsibility. Baker is brilliant with this specific changes the story brings his way, eventually allowing the Doctor to come to terms with it and look forward to figuring out just why he would do something like that. He also comforts a distraught Constance, who has every right now to be worried that he’ll get bored of her and drop her off. The character drama is excellent, putting the commentary and plot to the background to give listeners a different story which is essentially what if the reveal in The Timeless Children was done by actually telling a story. It’s not the absolute best story, but it is a great one.
Overall, Colony of Fear may not be the absolute best story from Roland Moore or Big Finish Productions, it is a fascinating time that begs to have a sequel if only to get these characters back to listeners, giving this final trilogy a great start. Right now that that’s out of the way on to the review with full spoilers in effect. 8/10.
Download/buy here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-colony-of-fear-2055