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Audio Drama Review
Still looking for a way out of the universe of E-Space, the TARDIS crash lands to Isenfel – a realm of snow and ice. Snarling beasts stalk the frozen plains, a feisty princess leads the hunt, and a queen in an ice palace rules over her loyal subjects. But this is no fairytale kingdom, and everyone in Isenfel knows the price of survival. While Nyssa and Tegan uncover deadly secrets hidden in the palace, Turlough flees for his life across the tundra. As for the Doctor, he only ever wants to change things for the better – but in a world such as Isenfel, such a hope may not even be possible…
For the first time in months, we have a release that is not a sequel – aside from the fact that the entire current trilogy is a sequel, featuring as it does a return bout of E-Space entrapment. It makes for a refreshing change.
In a broad sense, writer Matt Fitton deals with subjects that will be familiar to any fan of early ’80s Who, in particular the run of stories from Full Circle to Castrovalva, involving closed systems (as we discovered the universe to be in Logopolis), shrinking boundaries (like the space around the gateway in Warriors’ Gate), nature versus order (as in The Keeper of Traken) and the balancing of opposing forces (as in Enlightenment). This is not mere repetition, but the development of themes that were very much in the air during that period of the television show. It fits right in.
So does the characterisation of the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), who is far from infallible right from the opening crash landing to his attempt to help the people of Isenfel. There is a real sense that he might not succeed in what he sets out to achieve, which you don’t get with some of the more self-confident Doctors. Davison clearly relishes this aspect of the role, as he makes a point of mentioning during the 15 minutes of interviews at the end of Disc Two. I’m sure he also appreciates the lovely little scene he has with Sarah Sutton as the sympathetic fellow scientist Nyssa. Davison always believed that this companion worked the best with his incarnation of the Time Lord. She understood the Fifth Doctor better than anyone else, and that comes across very well. As a result, Equilibrium feels like a story from the Davison era, as opposed to a story that merely happens to feature the Fifth Doctor.
I found some of the narrative’s beats a little predictable, probably because of some plot similarities to The Mysterious Planet and certain episodes of Star Trek, such as The Return of the Archons from the original series and Deep Space Nine’s Shadowplay.
However, the production is bolstered by impressive performances from a cast that includes Annette Badland (alias Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen in the 2005 television series) as the conflicted Queen Karlina, Joanna Kirkland as the spirited Princess Inger (who takes a shine to Mark Strickson’s Turlough) and the ever-reliable Nickolas Grace as Balancer Skaarsgard. Lots of acting ‘cold’ and the sound of footsteps crunching through snow (courtesy of sound designers Richard Fox and Lauren Yason) help to convince the listener that these characters are in a frozen realm, no matter what time of year it happens to be in the real world.
With a comforting sense of the familiar but without being a direct sequel, Fitton’s story achieves a pleasing state of equilibrium.
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