During one of Nyssa’s experiments, the TARDIS’ temporal scanner picks up a message: “Idra”. Just one word, but enough to draw the Doctor to the Archipelago of Sirius.
There, the Autarch is about to announce a new crusade. A mighty war against Seth, Prince of the Dark…
But who is Seth? What is the secret of Queen Anahita, Mistress of the Poisons? And what terror awaits on Level 14?
The Children of Seth feels very different to most other Doctor Who adventures, and it is no surprise that the original idea comes from Christopher Bailey, who also wrote Kinda and Snakedance. Adapted by Marc Platt, it is a story of political machinations and manipulation of the public which Big Finish seem to love doing, but this is definitely one of the strongest examples of that kind of story. It benefits from having quite a small cast and, amongst that cast, having Honor Blackman and David Warner really raises everybody else’s performances.
As mentioned above, the story is one of political intrigue, but perhaps what makes it so effective is that it takes the time in the first part to establish the world without the Doctor and his companions being present, and does it in a way that feels pacey rather than dragging, leaving the audience longing for the TARDIS to materalise. Equally, it’s not as though the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are twiddling their thumbs in the scenes in the console room, with the defence intelligence drone having its circuits fried by the TARDIS’s superior circuits, which is more interesting than the usual TARDIS scenes of this era. The story is particularly dialogue heavy and there is not a word wasted, to the extent that I think that this story that will get better each time that it is listened to, as it can be quite difficult to pick everything up on the first go round. It’s not a particularly action led adventure, but the intrigue surrounding the identity of Seth and the machinations of Byzan really drives it forwards. The central idea of a common ‘bogeyman’ in the shape of Seth is a really intriguing one, especially when it is revealed that Seth is a creation of Anahita’s in her book The Trick of Darkness, a book which Byzan has destroyed all known copies of, and has been so complacent as to not even change the name. Whilst Byzan has managed to get into a position of power by reducing the roles of both Siris and Anahita, the real villain of the piece is Albis and the army of androids forbidden to take human form, and I love the fact that they don’t know how many people are androids in the general population.
The best performances come from Honor Blackman and David Warner, who bring Anahita and Autarch Siris to life so effectively. Blackman has the lion’s share of dialogue, and she is great in her interactions with the majority of the characters, especially the Doctor and Tegan. As someone whose power has been gradually eroded away by the rise of Byzan, it would be easy to see her as a good person, but she is depicted as being more ambiguous – she is described as the Queen of Poisoners, and lives up to her title when she poisons Byzan at the end of the story, and her husband, Siris, tells her to bring her poisons to where they go next. Siris has slightly less to do, but is sympathetically portrayed by David Warner, a leader suffering from dementia who has passed power on to Byzan. Warner and Blackman have believable chemistry together as a bickering couple but they do seem to genuinely care about each other.
The Fifth Doctor really is front and centre in this story, and Peter Davison puts in a good performance. He is particularly effective when he is blinded by his encounter with the defence net and is surrounded by brainwashed people in Level 14, generally referred to as Hell throughout the story. It’s funny to think of this Doctor in particular being used as a common enemy to rail against, as the Fifth Doctor is probably the most affable and likeable incarnation. The rapport between Davison’s Doctor and Queen Anahita make it believable that they have previously met and their relationship seems to be one of mutual respect. Nyssa again feels underutilised, disappearing from the narrative at times when she is banished to Level 14 and her memory wiped. However, Sarah Sutton is particularly creepy and effective when she is portraying Nyssa’s mind slipping away, with a childlike voice and giggling. On the other hand, this is really good story for Tegan, who has a lot of different things to do here as opposed to her usual characterisation, especially in the televised episodes. I really enjoyed her trying to take an interest in Nyssa’s experiment at the beginning of the story, despite the fact that she doesn’t really understand it and missing Nyssa’s joke about probability. She also gets to show a flirtatious side when she is trying to rescue the Doctor from his prison cell and probably has the most to do with Anahita, who she seems to respect despite her personal convictions about the monarchy. Janet Fielding is good here, which makes you realise how wasted she was for the majority of her run as a companion and Tegan ultimately plays an important role in the story’s climax.
An optimist, Tegan? Nyssa would have been having kittens by now.The Fifth Doctor
Verdict: A good story with a realistic world, The Children of Seth brings this stretch of Lost Stories to a close with a bang. 8/10
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Honor Blackman (Queen Anahita), Adrian Lukis (Byzan), David Warner (Autarch Siris), Vernon Dobtcheff (Shamur), Matt Addis (Albis), Emerald O’Hanrahan (Mira) & John Banks (Radulf Varidi).
Writer: Christopher Bailey & Marc Platt
Director: Ken Bentley
Behind the Scenes
- When the story was originally submitted to the production office in the 1980s, working titles included Manpower and May Time.
- Honor Blackman previously appeared in Terror of the Vervoids and was also offered the role of Vivien Fay in The Stones of Blood but declined for fear of being upstaged by Beatrix Lehmann.
- Adrian Lukis has appeared in Counter Measures as Professor Jeffrey Broderick and in the Main Range (Cobwebs), The Justice of Jalxar opposite Tom Baker and Jago and Litefoot story Return of the Repressed.
- David Warner has appeared in a lot of Doctor Who stories, including Cold War opposite Matt Smith. Warner is probably most notable for playing an alternate version of the Third Doctor in the Unbound universe for Big Finish.
- Vernon Dobtcheff previously appeared in The War Games and has appeared in numerous Big Finish audio stories, including The Cradle of the Snake and The Genesis Chamber.
- Matt Addis has appeared in two other Lost Stories, The Macros and Point of Entry opposite Colin Baker, as well as The Wreck of the Titan and Robophobia.
- Emerald O’Hanrahan previously appeared in Voyage to the New World and The Ghosts of Gralstead.
- John Banks has appeared in many Big Finish audio dramas across numerous ranges, including Missy, The Diary of River Song and The War Doctor.
Numbers. Like an endless cascading grid, shifting, bombarding me with information. Here or there, they cluster or thin out and I think I can see shapes but I can’t read or make sense of them yet! But I’m still her in the other world, our world, I can still smell and touch it. I’m still here.Fifth Doctor
Previous Fifth Doctor review: Hexagora
The Children of Seth is available from the Big Finish website.