Margrave University in 2001, and Raine Creevy is enjoying her first trip into the future.
For the Doctor, there are mysteries to solve: what are the alien creatures imprisoned in the science labs? And what are the true motives of the student Scobie and his followers?
With enemies on all sides, the Doctor teams up with his old friend Brigadier Bambera and the forces of UNIT in a battle for the future of the whole world.
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve struggled to get to grips with these Seventh Doctor Lost Stories and I’ve struggled to put my finger on why. In my review for Crime of the Century, I wrote about how the involvement of Andrew Cartmel may have hindered that story and I certainly have come away from this one feeling similarly. I know with some of the Sixth Doctor stories in this range, directors and writers for Big Finish have had to step in to adapt stories for audio and rewrite (or indeed write) parts of the story. This has even happened in the case of the recent release of Mind of the Hodiac, where even with the involvement of Russell T Davies, Scott Handcock stepped in to assist with the adaptation.
The concept of the story feels as though it could have slotted into a number of different eras, but perhaps most at home in the Pertwee era with the presence of UNIT and a plot set around animal rights. However, the story seems not to be able to decide on what its underlying message is. Usually in Doctor Who, those with these views tend to be the ones in the right, whilst here they are happy to see the meat eaters killed to feed a race of vegan aliens, the Numlocks. It’s here that I found a crossover with the Saward era with quite a grim and dark idea. Ultimately this plot point makes it feel a bit of a mess. I liked the central premise, but feel that the execution and the writing lets it down considerably.
A lot of the writing feels like it needs a lot of polishing and would have benefitted having someone give it a pass before it was handed to the actors. There is a lot of descriptive dialogue, which is a necessity in audio productions regardless of what genre it is in, but some of it felt a little bit too on the nose, especially when it comes to the description of the Numlock spaceship when it appears at the end of Part 2 and the beginning of Part 3. The story also has a serious pacing issue and I feel like it starts off quite slowly, arriving in the narrative with the Doctor, Ace and Raine, then it feels like Ace and Raine are able to integrate themselves into Scobie’s eco-warrior group so quickly. It may have been better to give the audience a sense of more time passing by joining the characters when they have been a member of the group for a couple of months before revealing how they got there in the first place. It then stumbles when the Numlocks enter the narrative and the main cast seem to get caught going back and forth between Margrave University and the Numlock ship. This is not a problem unique to this story, but it struggles to pick up the pace again in the last two parts.
In terms of the guest cast, it is great to see Angela Bruce return here as Brigadier Winifred Bambera from Battlefield, and she certainly recaptures the character’s energy from that story. At the time of writing, Bambera has since returned in UNIT Nemesis 2 and will return later this year with a series set in her era of UNIT, which is one that I feel that Big Finish and other media have almost skipped over previously, so I’m looking forward to hearing more of her going forwards. Here, she is perhaps a little poorly served by having lines of dialogue about filing reports and constantly questionning the Doctor’s actions. It is, however, worth mentioning that this seems to be only the second time that she has met the Doctor and there isn’t a personal connection like there is with Alistair and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart meaning that she just unconsciously trusts everything he does. The returning Bambera is a ray of light in other uninspiring characters, especially Sergeant Achterberg, who makes it feel like UNIT aren’t fussy about who they’re enlisting these days. This is especially shown by the way that he is perfectly prepared to shoot the unarmed Ace at the end of Part One, only stopped by the Doctor and Bambera in the nick of time. This is one of three roles that John Banks plays here, and each are probably as thankless as each other, whether it is the Numlocks with their speech patterns (the first born says this, the second born says that, ad nauseam) and the cameo of the Metatraxi. Both the Numlocks and the Metatraxi seem to be trying to make these alien species as memorable as possible via their speech patterns, but this just has the effect of making them memorable for the wrong reasons. The remainder of the guest characters are largely forgettable, especially the main villain Scobie, who just reminded me of a less likable Luke Rattigan in The Sontaran Stratagem.
I think that the Doctor and his companions are good here, even if the story does let them down. McCoy is good, especially in the scene where he tries to disarm the bomb but just succeeds in reducing the time left on the timer. Sophie Aldred and Beth Chalmers are good too, even though I feel that there is not enough material here for two companions, and I struggle to recall what Raine does for most of this story, to the extent that I feel that the character is largely forgotten. This is possibly due to the decision to keep Ace, in contrast to the plans for the originally planned Season 27.
Verdict: Animal has an interesting idea at its core, but ultimately feels a bit of a muddle. It’s good to have Bambera back here though, and the three mains do their best with a middling at best script. 4/10
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Beth Chalmers (Raine Creevy), Angela Bruce (Brigadier Bambera), Anthony Lewis (Scobie), John Banks (Sgt. Achterberg/Metatraxi/Numlocks), Dannielle Brent (Willa), Alex Mallinson (Percy) and Amy Pemberton (Juno).
Writer: Andrew Cartmel
Director: Ken Bentley
Behind the Scenes
- In it’s original form for television, Animal would have been a four part story involving animal experimentation, drug use and animal experimentation.
- Angela Bruce reprises the role of Brigadier Bambera for the first time since Battlefield.
- Anthony Lewis played Tommy Brockless in the Torchwood episode To the Last Man.
- John Banks is an actor who frequently appears in Big Finish audio stories, including Thin Ice and Crime of the Century.
- Alex Mallinson has appeared in a number of Big Finish audio plays, including Paper Cuts, Enemy of the Daleks and The Silver Turk.
- Amy Pemberton also played the Seventh Doctor’s companion Sally Morgan for Big Finish.
Everything going like clockwork then, Doctor?
Who’d have thought they’d hold a grudge like that?
You see, Brigadier, what the Doctor likes to do is intricately plan everything in one big brilliant masterstroke.Ace and the Seventh Doctor
Previous Seventh Doctor review: Crime of the Century
Animal is available to purchase from the Big Finish website.