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Reviewed: Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor Adventures – The Day of the Comet

A deep literary vein runs through the opening scene of Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor adventure The Day of the Comet, which brings the Doctor and Leela onto the planet Actonese as it is hit by a meteor shower. It’s richly described and delivered by the cast and production team, and builds the whole world that this story takes place in within a very short time. Nailing scenes like that is always an encouraging start.

And then we’re straight into the quite-possibly-post-apocalyptic action! A street forager saves the Doctor and Leela from some other looting types, and The Adventures of Tintin comes to mind as our main characters are split up and meet the core members of the supporting cast.

The Doctor is saved by local astronomer Verkuvia, played by none other than Janet Henfrey. After Sian Phillips’s appearance in The World Traders, the guest stars really are top billings in the boxset combining the first two stories of the 10th Fourth Doctor Adventures series.

Leela meanwhile is saved by Jon Culshaw’s Sullerman, and she gets to do far more exploring of Actonese and its century-long planetary evacuation programme while the Doctor pieces together bits of information he gets from Verkuvia in parallel. As a result, you get a sort of double cliffhanger to end the opening episode as we discover the extent to which the local population has been able to depart via the huge arkships.

The literary inspiration is left behind in episode two, as the Doctor eventually rejoins Leela while adventuring after he goes into a brief coma/snooze with Verkuvia. Before the Doctor gets to her, Leela has to handle the horrifying truth she uncovers at the end of episode one, as well as having to meet the planet’s rather untrustworthy leader – then having to convince them not to shoot her.

Any inch of sympathy for someone in charge of a ruined world being a bit of a slimy sort is gone once the Doctor arrives, because the threats immediately turn towards him and the potential acquisition of the TARDIS to get off-world.

Then, rather unexpectedly, the horizons of this story fly out into all of time and space. It’s a clever leap that has its similarities with The Waters of Mars and would have made this a fitting Time Lord Victorious release. The planet natives have a genetic trait that makes their fate a point in time that the Doctor should not touch, and, after admitting that to them, it’s no surprise that the hostilities increase. He doesn’t want to get any more involved than he has to, but a fire, a murder, and a bomb make sure that he really has no choice in the matter.

Episode three begins with a timey-wimey revelation that descendants of those who successfully evacuated have travelled back in time to make sure that none of their ancestors were left behind as it was believed to be for generations. But is all as it seems?

To go into details would be very spoilery, but there are further twists, a lot more action and even references to a monster of the Tenth Doctor’s era. Shocking truths build up, and the Doctor’s hands are increasingly tied. It’s difficult to predict what he will do next.

The final episode unloads another shocker that adds to the bigger picture, which is the kind of canon-adding idea that deserves to be explored again in a different Big Finish series, but also still feels right at home in the Fourth Doctor era with humour, merciless side-character killing, and a clever ending.

Once again, Leela’s violence isn’t endorsed, but it’s trusted by the Doctor and used to contribute to the plot without consequence, which in some way reflects that the audience listening to these audios now aren’t (primarily) seven-year-olds who need to be told that knives are bad whenever used. This is testing adult drama, and Leela’s played with significant depth here without the need to be tortured or have a romantic sub-plot as many female companions often get handed.

The Day of the Comet is available now from Big Finish, as a single release or in a set with The World Traders.

Ida Wood

Reviewed: Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor Adventures – The Day of the Comet

by Ida Wood time to read: 3 min
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