Big Finish’s latest Fourth Doctor boxed set The Syndicate Masterplan continues with new companion Ann Kelso’s first visit to an alien world and a return for one of Robert Holmes’ lesser creations.
The pitch for Planet of the Drashigs is unashamedly “Doctor Who does Jurassic Park” as the Doctor, Ann and a newly assembled K-9 Mk II accidentally materialise on “DrashigWorld”, a theme park planet where the Carnival of Monsters’ carnivorous creations entertain the paying public. A recent fatal accident at the park is pending enquiry, and before long, the Doctor, his companions, an accident inspector and the park staff are fighting for their lives, pitted against the deadly emerald Drashigs of the rain forest.
Familiar though the premise is from many a Doctor Who serial and Spielberg directed Michael Crichton adaptations, Phil Mulryne’s base under siege tale shares more in common with the 2015 sequel Jurassic World than it does the 1993 original. Colin Trevorrow’s film was, after all, about the dangers of sequels. Faced with dwindling visitor figures, the team at Jurassic World turn to genetic engineering to create a new, deadlier dinosaur to reinvigorate interest in the franchise. It’s no spoiler to say that it all goes disastrously wrong for various members of staff and several innocent bystanders. Planet of the Drashigs treads familiar ground, introducing us to different species of Drashig whilst the plot hinges on an ill-advised scientific experiment which gamely attempts to give us some insight into the minds of these deadly predators.
All of which is to say that writing an interesting story for the Drashigs is something of a tall order. In Carnival of Monsters they were an obstacle for the Doctor and Jo as they attempted to escape the Miniscope. Perhaps the most monstrous of Doctor Who monsters, there’s no exchanging of barbed lines between the Doctor and the monster of the week, no villainous voice acting, no dramatic showdown. As the Doctor points out, the Drashigs don’t have an imagination, their only interest is to hunt and kill, for Planet of the Drashigs to succeed, the sound design has to be spot-on. Pleasingly, it is, with that memorable roar echoing through wetland landscapes and long metallic corridors. So vividly are some moments brought to life in script, performance and sound design that there are some memorable images brought to life in your non-Drashig imagination.
And speaking of performances, even if the characters are, broadly speaking, base under siege archetypes; the wealthy owner desperate to protect his life’s work, the harassed scientist with a secret, the conflicted gamekeeper who understands the creatures and the panicky official way out of his depth, the cast add some well needed depth. In particular, Jeremy Clyde as Lord Braye conveys the wonder and obsession of someone who’s never completely grown out of their childhood dinosaur fixation. Braye’s need to understand more about the creatures that transfixed him as a child is what drives the story, and Clyde handles it well, turning in a sympathetic and affecting performance. Lizzie Roper as the stern gamekeeper Trencher is also good value, capturing the hushed respect and caution of the creatures she’s spent her life working with. Fenella Woolgar, meanwhile, really comes into her own as the story progresses, beginning as a stressed out, potentially alcoholic scientist before giving The Planet of the Drashigs its emotional pay-off as a guilty and penitent saviour.
For Jane Slavin as new companion Ann Kelso, she gets some fun bits of dialogue with Baker at the start,
In terms of the overall arc, Planet of the Drashigs is a standalone tale, but one that is pacey and entertaining enough that you don’t notice until long after the story has ended. Which is perhaps just as well, for as surprisingly successful as this Drashig centric story is, I imagine that a follow up of equal quality would require more imagination than most humans, let alone Drashigs.
Planet of the Drashigs by Phil Mulryne, directed by Nicholas Briggs
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Jane Slavin (Ann Kelso), John Leeson (K-9), Fenella Woolgar (Vanessa Seaborne), Jeremy Clyde (Lord Braye), Lizzie Roper (Trencher), Andrew Ryan (Titus Wayland)
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs