The Song Of Megaptera

You people should adopt a safer cause – save the spud, maybe?

Captain Greeg

Synopsis

Deep space in the distant future, and Captain Greeg and his crew are hunting mile-long Space Whales on a vast harvesting ship. By pure accident, they also capture the TARDIS.

The Doctor and Peri must use all their wits to survive. But what is the creature running loose in the ship’s bowels? And can the Doctor save Megaptera before its song is extinguished forever?

Review

Given the fact that this story was in effect rewritten at least twice, it is no surprise that it feels quite polished. It is perhaps, not as strong a story as the two Lost Stories preceding it, but it never really failed to deliver and kept me engaged throughout it’s runtime. It does start to flag a bit when it introduces the idea of hyperstition, which never really feels fleshed out and ultimately doesn’t go anywhere, perhaps because it is introduced a bit too late in the story. The central narrative, however, remains effective and ultimately boils down to a story about preventing humans from hunting a race of space whales, the Galeen, with a human captain, Greeg, determined to get one last score. Mills sets his story in the midst of a galactic recession with the whaling company being represented by First Mate Stennar. With the foreknowledge of the Galactic Recession and the descriptions that we are given of the SS Orcus feel like they are trying to apologise for a spaceship set built on a budget, which helps the listener perhaps imagine a suitably darkly lit set.

There are some really lovely ideas in play here, like the Galeen having a time core and the Doctor’s good intentions ultimately meaning that he has potentially doomed Megaptera due to his interference. The idea of the “framily” living within Megaptera is also an intriguing one, with the almost cultish following that the whale feeling extremely ritualistic, considering the treatment that non-believers like the Sontarans and the Doctor and Peri get from them. It’s also interesting that the story also briefly touches on the idea that the TARDIS wanted to leave Gallifrey almost as much as the Doctor, something that The Doctor’s Wife would touch on a year after this story was released.

There’s our salvation, courtesy of the Time Lords.

Huh! Courtesy? Didn’t you nick it?

Technically, but the TARDIS wanted to see the universe as much as I did.

The Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown

It sounds obvious to say that Big Finish are great at recreating the feeling of an era, but here it was particularly noticeable, especially when it came to the music. There are a couple of staccato beats in the score in the opening few minutes which feel like they could have come straight from an episode from the 1980s. Then there’s the titular song at the end of the story which is a really lovely piece of music. It creates a wonderful atmosphere too, both through the eerie effects on the voices of the framily and adds the sense of a frenetic and tense atmosphere when the crew of the Orcus attempt to flush the Caller out of the ducts using steam, including the running chainsaw.

Don’t do it, Captain. I’m an endangered species too!

You’re extinct, Doctor!

The Sixth Doctor and Captain Greeg

The guest cast are pretty great here, especially John Benfield as Captain Greeg, who certainly made me feel sympathetic towards a pretty unlikeable character. Benfield manages to make the character feel like a juggernaut who will stop at nothing to achieve his ultimate goal of capturing and killing the pilot Galeen and subsequently around a thousand more as normal space whales do not have the same ability to sense danger as the pilots. Like a lot of Doctor Who villains, Greeg becomes increasingly more angry and unhinged as the story goes on, but Benfield makes him seem incredibly reasonable in his anger – he feels wronged by the company that he has given the majority of his working life, only to be told by educated men like the Doctor and Stennar that he is wrong. Another performance that stood out to me was John Banks as the Ship’s Computer, which put me in mind of Eddie in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, especially when infected with the Doctor’s pacifist virus, however, unfortunately when he becomes the bloodthirsty ‘gamer’, it does become a little grating.

Regenerate?!? Oh, that’s not good.

Why, what’s the matter?

Well, your…your dress sense is worse in this regeneration.

That’s a matter of opinion, Peri. Please lie back.

Doesn’t your sense of taste regenerate too?

Peri Brown and the Sixth Doctor

I feel like I mention in every review of the Big Finish Lost Stories that I really like the dynamic that these stories establish between the Sixth Doctor and Peri, and this one is no different. They feel really comfortable together and the way that the Doctor cares about Peri after she gets the infection is really lovely and touching – a far cry from how the relationship is depicted on screen in Colin Baker’s first full season and almost made me forget how much it bugs me that Peri just seems to get weird experiments run on her all the time. Colin Baker’s Doctor is great fun here, and it’s nice to see him thinking on his feet when he comes up with his cover story when he first comes onboard Greeg’s ship, but he also manages to convey a sense of true sorrow when he realises he is responsible for endangering Megaptera. Nicola Bryant is good here too, especially when she is delirious with the infection and utterly convinces that she and this softer version of the Sixth Doctor are a perfect match.

Verdict: A strong story that does have some flaws, The Song of Megaptera is a great listen, even if it is not as good as the two stories preceding it in the series of Lost Stories. 8/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), John Benfield (Captain Greeg), Neville Watchurst (Manus/Stennar), John Banks (The Caller/Ship’s Computer), Susan Brown (Chief Engineer/Chanel), Toby Longworth (Stafel/1st Security Guard) and Alex Lowe (Axel/2nd Security Guard).

Writer: Pat Mills

Director: John Ainsworth

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The story is based on a script pitched in the 1980s entitled The Song of the Space Whale. It was originally written for Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor and then rewritten for Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor. In this iteration, it would have been the story that introduced Vislor Turlough and was replaced by Mawdryn Undead. The final version was written for Season 22.

Cast Notes

  • John Benfield also played Don in the audio play Autumn.
  • Neville Watchurst had previously played Argot in Memory Lane.
  • John Banks has appeared in a number of Big Finish audio plays including Paper Cuts, Heroes of Sontar and A Life of Crime.
  • Susan Banks played Bridget Spears in Torchwood: Children of Earth and also appeared in the Big Finish stories including Castle of Fear, The Eternal Summer and Plague of the Daleks.
  • Toby Longworth has appeared in a number of Big Finish audio stories including The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, Unregenerate! and The Quantum Possibility Engine.
  • Alex Lowe has also appeared in a number of Big Finish plays in The Angel of Scutari, Lurkers at Sunlight’s Edge and Heroes of Sontar.

Best Quote

Oh, a desk job for an interstellar captain? Stick you in a little cubbyhole somewhere so they can get out of paying you reundancy? For all your years of dedicated service.

Shut up.

Watch out Captain. Your office will get smaller and smaller until one day, they move your desk into the lift.

The Sixth Doctor and Captain Greeg

Previous Sixth Doctor review: The Hollows of Time

The Song of Megaptera is available to purchase from the Big Finish website or to stream on Spotify.

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