#50 Zagreus

****Contains spoilers****

I have recently embarked on an ambitious re-listen of the Eighth Doctor main range Big Finish audios, having not listened to them for a few years. I never made it to the end of the ones with Charley as the companion last time, so I’ve finally now got the CDs now to finish the series. The first two seasons I’ve re-discovered are an absolutely brilliant run of stories, with the exception of Minuet in Hell.

It’s very interesting to listen to these again now that we have series back on TV. In the case of Zagreus it’s interesting to compare the anthropomorphism of the TARDIS here to that of The Doctor’s Wife. Here the TARDIS takes the (at first reassuring) form of The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney). Under the malign influence of anti-time energy and Rassilon the TARDIS here feels betrayed by the Doctor, and resentful of his young lady travelling companions. Which is obviously a completely different take to Neil Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife, but the fondness of the latter is restored by the end. I think it more fitting that the TARDIS is portrayed as a woman, but both stories are a great celebration of Doctor Who.

I understand why a lot of people were disappointed by Zagreus. There was a lot of build-up, and an eighteen month wait from the cliffhanger ending of Neverland. But Zagreus himself, a corruption of the Doctor who’s been infected by anti-time, doesn’t really directly threaten anyone; he’s in the TARDIS or the Matrix the whole time. If he escapes he’ll threaten the universe and all of linear time, but the threat is more personal for most of the story the Doctor is battling for his own identity, and uncovering the evil machinations of Rassilon.

The idea here is perfect, and fits seamlessly with established Gallifrey continuity: why have the Time Lords remained a dominant civilisation when every single other civilisation or empire has its time then falls?

The main selling point here is the celebration of Doctor Who’s fortieth anniversary, and the all encompassing cast. The stories that the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors and companions actors are re-cast into are interesting in their own right.

It’s most enjoyable when the action shifts to the Matrix in the third part and the previous Doctor’s personalities start to re-assert. It’s a joy listening to Doctors we’re so familiar with, not least through the work of Big Finish, interacting with each other for the first time since Sirens of Time, now with Paul McGann in the gang. Romana and Leela are on hand to represent and evoke the Fourth Doctor’s era.

With an ending that seemingly changes the Doctor’s path for ever, the series effectively jettisons forty years of established villains and history as he and Charley heads into a brand new universe, never to return. It’s an exciting premise, the biggest format shake-up since the TV series became Earth-bound in 1970.

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