Nova is dislocated in time while the Time Eddies are out of control. Meanwhile, the Doctor is about to face the end of the universe. Or is that just the Battle of Waterloo?
Cataclysm fills the difficult middle slot in Christopher Eccleston’s first Big Finish storyline arc and I feel that it is done fairly well here. It manages to avoid the usual pitfalls of throwing more characters or ideas at the story for no discernible reason and gets the listener from the end of Part One towards the conclusion of the trilogy.
It is tricky to do the middle part of a three-part story well, but I think that Nicholas Briggs handles it really well here. He manages to progress his narrative, adding in new elements whilst keeping the plot threads spinning from his previous story. He injects new elements in too, showing us who Audrey’s rich aliens playing the Sphere’s games are. It is a clever script, although not perfect. I found the resolution to the Sphere of Freedom a little underwhelming, with the Doctor really easily escaping and the cliffhanger to this one was also rather underwhelming, considering that the fate of the entire universe is at stake. I still think that the opening part with Nova is a bit too long and was unsure of its relevance until it came to the end of this episode. Whilst this could be put down to some good writing, it is symptomatic of a greater problem with this storyline in general – there are a lot of good ideas that could be really interesting stories in their own right here but they aren’t given enough time to breathe when compressed into this storyline, like the Soviet Tank turning up at the Battle of Waterloo or the planet that Nova ends up on where the AI robots are in charge of the humans.
This is a story that has improved greatly having listened to it a second time, as I think I struggled with the slower pace of this story compared to its predecessor. That being said, it’s nice to see this incarnation of the Doctor zipping through different periods of time in the same story, something that the Ninth Doctor didn’t really get to do on television. I also really liked that the Doctor is responsible for the universe-ending scenario he finds himself in at the midway point of this story, having crossed his own timeline catastrophically, allowing the Ravagers to exploit the time eddies to the point where the universe is at risk. This mistake, combined with the fact that the control nodes are revealed to be Gallifreyan technology all contribute towards the survivors guilt of this Doctor, who believes that he is the sole survivor of the Time War and it is a good idea to have a Gallifreyan object crop up this close to the start of his life.
What this story does do is present us with a backstory for our antagonist, Audrey, and how us what she was like before we meet her in Sphere of Freedom. We learn that she was a scientist working on the planet of Tarlishia, and with the reveal of her unwitting strengthening of the Ravagers through trying to use the control node as a weapon. It is a good performance by Jayne McKenna and this character seems as though she may not be beyond redeeming after hearing this story.
I said it in my review of Sphere of Freedom and I will probably say it in my review of the next story, but it is amazing how quickly Eccleston has just slotted back into the role of the Ninth Doctor. It’s safe to say that he doesn’t hit a duff note in his role here, playing both serious and more humorous aspects of the role with aplomb. His utter disdain for Audrey’s calluous and indifferent attitude is superb. I did not watch Series One on its original broadcast in 2005, but each time I rewatch it only convinces me further that we were so lucky to have an actor of Eccleston’s calibre take the role for the first series of the revival and mourn the fact that there isn’t more of him on television. At least now we have Big Finish, with nine (nearly 12) more episodes released at the time of writing in February 2022, and at least another 12 to follow.
Camilla Beeput’s Nova is a good character too, and allowed plenty of scope to prove that she would be a worthy companion to this Doctor. In a story where only three characters stood out – the Doctor, Nova and Audrey – having a moment like the one where she expresses that she didn’t think the Doctor was coming back for her because she didn’t think she was good enough is some good fleshing out of her character. She also possesses traits typical to a companion, and there are moments in the story where she is allowed to demonstrate her curiosity, intelligence and resourcefulness. Considering that Beeput and Eccleston were presumably not recording this story in the same space, the characters share a great deal of chemistry and I would not be adverse to having more adventures with Nova and the Ninth Doctor in the future.
Verdict: Cataclysm does a lot right but does stumble at points with its plotting. Eccleston, Beeput and McKenna are on top form here. 8/10
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Camilla Beeput (Nova), Clare Corbett (Ravager), Anjella MacKintosh (Drones/President of Tarlishia), Jayne McKenna (Audrey), Jamie Parker (Halloran), Ben Lee (Farraday) & Dan Starkey (Marcus Aurelius Gallius).
Writer: Nicholas Briggs
Director: Nicholas Briggs
Behind the Scenes
- The CD and download version of this story are presented as a one-part story but the vinyl version is a two-part story.
- Clare Corbett also appeared in The Rise of the New Humans and The Unzal Incursion.
- Anjella Mackinosh has also appeared in Prisoners of Fate, Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories and Devil in the Mist.
- The five guest cast members – Beeput, Lee, McKenna, Parker and Starkey – all appear in the other two episodes in this mini-arc.
- Jamie Parker has appeared in a number of previous Big Finish plays, including Leviathan, Shadow of the Daleks 1 and Shadow of the Daleks 2.
- Dan Starkey has played various Sontarans on the television and for Big Finish, most notably Strax. He has also played a number of roles on audio for Big Finish.
You can’t just do what you like with history!
Oh, and you can Doctor? The high and mighty space-time traveller with all the answers?The Ninth Doctor and Audrey Mohinson
Previous Ninth Doctor review: Sphere of Freedom