What do you fear? Doctor Who has a long history of playing with our primal fears over the years, the monster under your bed, spiders, mannequins, pollution, cacti, the list is endless. Indeed, a wise man once said that ‘We all have a universe of our own terrors to face’ and in Ravenous thus far, the Doctor is having to face up to his.
When we left him, Liv and Helen, they were marooned on a barren planet, beset by some very hungry (you could even say ravenous) monsters from Timelord legend. As Ravenous 3 opens, we change focus, Moffat like, to visit a Gallifreyan research station somewhere out in deep space. As we’re informed by screeds and screeds of expository dialogue, the station is searching for an alternative energy source for their home planet. However, they have also discovered something which could bring about their destruction.
Deeptime Frontier immediately assuages any notions the listener may have that we would follow up the chilling, atmospheric haunted house of Seizure with a similarly atmospheric battle for survival in the intergalactic wilderness. Instead, we get a fairly business as usual, base under siege story in which we learn more about this series’ titular big bads. Over the years, Big Finish has had a few stabs at creating their own memorable monsters (perhaps with a view to keeping licensing costs down), the Eminence, for example, faced Doctors 4-8 over a number of plays but amounted to little more than some evil dust. Similarly, well-meaning futuristic plague doctors, the Viyrans have faced various Doctors but were never particularly memorable. Perhaps it was a mistake on Big Finish’s part to pit both of these creations against the Daleks.
In terms of the Ravenous, they’re trying a little too hard. Over the course of the story, we’re given rather a lot of information about their origins. They’re an ancient clan of carnivorous beings from the ‘old times’ that feed on Timelords. They also look a little bit like clowns which accounts for the existence of coulrophobia across the galaxy. So we’ve got a bit of The Family of Blood crossed with the Scottish legend of Sawney Bean and Stephen King’s It. It’s all a bit of a jumble, which is maybe the point, given the focus on myths and legends, themselves pulled together from various conflicting accounts, throughout this arc. That said, it pays to remember that some of Doctor Who’s most successful monsters have kept it simple. (Mutant Nazis in miniature tanks, mechanically augmented humans, statues)
But perhaps the real threat of the Ravenous series is fear itself. Everything that happens in Deeptime Frontier is the result of various character’s fears. The fear for Gallifrey’s future, the fear of the Timelords themselves and the fear of the Ravenous all play a part in inciting the various dramatic moments that keep this play ticking along. The cliffhanger ending that leads us into the next story also hints at fear forcing the Doctor and an old foe into an unexpected bargain. It is in these moments that the overall theme of the Ravenous arc begins to emerge, (9 episodes in) and hints at something far more interesting than Gallifreyan research stations and the ever-looming threat of the Time War.
Ultimately though, Deeptime Frontier is an inauspicious start to this set of adventures, at its worst it’s the sort of mythology driven Doctor Who that feels tremendously bogged down with talk of Rassilon, the old times, dark chronons, prison dimensions and the Eye of Harmony. However, it’s at its best when writer Matt Fitton explores fear and our responses to it, which just about raises the script above some stock-in-trade base under siege clichés.