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Big Finish Review: Tartarus

Released shortly after the finale of Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor’s last trilogy of adventures, Tartarus kicks off a new set of adventures for Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, joined by Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton as Tegan and Nyssa respectively. But this trilogy is a bit different in its format, Tartarus is two-forty-five-minute episodes with the following two releases being made up of two different stories in one release split between two-episodes each. Oh, and Tartarus introduces us to a new companion, Marc.

Cover art for Tartarus
Cover art for Tartarus

It’s strange for Big Finish to release two historical adventures in a row and two historical adventures that feature something of a historical celebrity. Harry Houdini’s War featured a brilliant take on, you guessed it – Harry Houdini from author Steve Lyons. Tartarus features the famous Roman, perhaps the first lawyer in history, Cicero, played by Samuel Barnett who has also played the character in his own Big Finish series.

Tartarus from David Llewellyn is brilliant from start to finish and not just because the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa are my favourite TARDIS team. It is great that Llewellyn and Big Finish took the risk to cross over a non-science-fiction series with a pure science-fiction series. It’s not the sort of move that I could see any television production company doing but it is these risks that Big Finish takes that end up paying off in the most brilliant of ways.

Llewellyn also has a great history with Cicero as he wrote the entirety of the Big Finish series, so he was the perfect writer to bring Doctor Who into the orbit of Cicero and it was great to hear the Doctor getting a moment to fan-girl over him. In fact, the chemistry between Davison and Barnett is one of the biggest things this story has to offer as well as giving us an interesting insight into a historical figure and a cracking good story.

Now I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of Cicero before Big Finish announced his own solo series and because of that, I never listened to his audio range. But I think I’ve changed my mind now, this story has piqued my interest enough to get me interested in his series when I have some spare cash I may be tempted to part with it. What made it even better was that it wasn’t assumed that the listener would be automatically familiar with the character of Cicero so Llewellyn makes the right choice in kicking the story off like a traditional historical adventure with the Doctor determined to meet the man and dragging Nyssa and Tegan along. Already that is a different dynamic as many times before the TARDIS lands into a situation rather than the Doctor putting them into the situation.

I’ve always liked Llewellyn’s stories too and many of them have had some very funny moments and Tartarus is no different. There were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. The first episode features a sequence of movie-references including Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and The Wizard of Oz. Cicero remarks at one moment, “Doctor, I don’t think we’re in Cumae anymore!” which was brilliantly performed by Barnett.

The new TARDIS crew: Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and introducing George Watkins as Marc
The new TARDIS crew: Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and introducing George Watkins as Marc

All the cast are on their top game here. Davison is always brilliant and he is clearly loving this script, devouring it for all it’s worth! He shares brilliant chemistry with Barnett and the easy dynamic he shares between Fielding and Sutton is nicely on display here with the script that gives that a chance to shine. Janet Fielding is just hilarious, some of her lines are so funny and she too seems to be giving it her all as does Sarah Sutton.

And what of the new companion, Marc, played by George Watkins? Well, I was very impressed. For those of you who don’t know, Watkins is actually Davison’s nephew so it seems only right that he should join this TARDIS team. For the time being, he seems to be only in this new trilogy of adventures and from the ending of the story, where the Doctor goes back to see Cicero, it seems something bad has happened to poor Marc. Given that the Cybermen are featuring in Warzone/Conversion, I’m willing to bet he lays his life down somehow. I hope not though as that would seem like a re-treading of Adric’s demise at the end of Earthshock. But I was very impressed with Marc, he reminded me of some of the more old-school Big Finish companions and hopefully, the writers will play with that a bit more.

As much as I love characters like Flip, Constance Clarke and Elizabeth Klein, I really loved Evelyn, Hex and Charley and Marc does feel like he takes after the older companions! And he had great chemistry with the main cast with the writers seemingly setting up something of a love story between him and Tegan, I’ll be interested to hear how that plays out, especially if I’m right about his fate.

And Tartarus also features Tracy Ann-Oberman as the titular villain, Tartarus. In the interviews at the end of the CD, Oberman says how interesting she finds Roman culture and she has read up extensively on the subject. So this to be something of a dream for her and she does a great job in the role, instantly getting across the grandiosity of godhood!

Overall,  Tartarus was another very strong outing for Big Finish and David Llewellyn has given us another fantastic adventure in the same vein as some Greek-odyssey. The whole cast both main and supporting are on fine form, clearly, everyone is enjoying the script and bringing it to life! And Scott Handcock deftly guides them in the role of director. Tartarus is a triumph in every way.