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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Kamelion Empire


Starring: Peter Davison
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 847 9 (CD)
Release Date: 30 April 2019

Once upon a time, a people of great artistry and great knowledge ruled the planet Mekalion: the Kamille. For a thousand years, they prospered peacefully. Then came disaster, when their sun set forever. Facing extinction, the Kamille made the Locus, a device to sustain their minds, and fashioned shape-changing machines, to act out their wishes on the physical plane – servants they called the Kamelion…

We don’t know much about Kamelion’s origins. In The King’s Demons, the Master told us that, “Kamelion is a tool of an earlier invader of Xeriphas… A decoy, capable of infinite form or personality.” And that’s all we had to go on – until now.

In The Kamelion Empire, writer Jonathan Morris, at the behest of script editor Alan Barnes, takes us and the TARDIS crew to the android’s home world. Just like me, the young Barnes had been disappointed by the unexplained absence of Kamelion between The King’s Demons and Planet of Fire, which was not even acknowledged in dialogue at the time. Now the final part of the Kamelion trilogy slots neatly into place just before the events of The Five Doctors, and it pretty much explains everything, while still allowing Turlough and Tegan to not entirely trust the mechanism in Planet of Fire and a deleted scene from The Awakening. It still stretches credulity that the computerised companion is not even mentioned when the TARDIS – and he – are apparently destroyed in Frontios, but you can’t have everything.

The technical difficulties that kept Kamelion off our screens in 1983–4 are, of course, not an issue in an audio production, as is demonstrated by the blockbuster images the creative team conjure up in our mind’s eye, including multiple Kamelions and hoards of gorillas on motorbikes (yes, you read that correctly – gorillas on motorbikes), which would have been way beyond the television show’s budget.

Mind you, the production saves money in other areas, as there is only one guest cast member (Christopher Naylor) supporting the four regulars. This means that Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson and Jon Culshaw have plenty to do, carrying the bulk of the action as the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Kamelion. They also double up as some of the inhabitants of Mekalion, including a quartet of Kamelions who take on the forms of the Time Lord and his companions in order to break up a dense patch of exposition (the android did something similar in The King’s Demons). Meanwhile, adhering to the sci-fi trope that a mechanoid and his manufacturer should be portrayed by the same actor (see also Jim Reaper in Red Dwarf, Dr Noonian Soong in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Michael Bishop in the Alien franchise), Culshaw plays an evil Kamille, chewing the virtual scenery as a composite of various iconic 1970s Who villains.

The presence of the gorillas, brutish aliens known as the Groll, also helps to make the planet appear more heavily populated, even though they tend to just grunt unintelligibly. The Groll, the Doctor informs us, are often employed as heavies by more advanced civilisations. This description sounds a lot like the Ogrons – so much so that I wonder why the Ogrons weren’t used. Perhaps it’s because the Groll make no impact on the second half of the story, which would seem odd if an old enemy like the Ogrons were involved. Maybe the production team also felt that there were already quite enough elements from the programme’s past in this adventure, which also takes in nostalgia-inducing trips to the TARDIS’s food machine and areas of the ship that the Doctor hasn’t visited since his fourth incarnation.

My mark out of ten would be higher if I were reviewing the first episode alone, as that opening instalment is packed with exciting incident. Several potential cliffhanger moments sail past before the actual episode ending arrives. However, the plot meanders slightly after that. The four factions of the Kamille are rather like the divided Xeraphin in Time-Flight, and just like in Time-Flight, some of the explanations about the power struggle and the villain’s scheme do get rather complicated.

Fortunately, the listening experience is buoyed throughout by some highly authentic Davison-era music courtesy of Kelly Ellis at Fool Circle Productions. It sounds a lot like the work of Paddy Kingsland, with a bit of Peter Howell thrown in for good measure, and I cannot overstate how much it added to my enjoyment of The Kamelion Empire.

Big Finish’s Fifth Doctor range has been very good to us in recent years, reassembling TARDIS teams from the past by persuading Janet Fielding to return to the fold as a regular in 2010, followed by Matthew Waterhouse as Adric in 2014, and now the resurrection of Kamelion. Though a line seems to have been drawn under the android’s story arc, at least for now, I do hope that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Culshaw’s Kamelion.


Richard McGinlay

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