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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who


Starring: Peter Davison
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 861 5 (CD),
978 1 78178 862 2 (download)
Release Date: 31 October 2019

The year is 63BC. Following the overthrow of Catiline, Cicero and his wife have retired to the coastal town of Cumae, safe from the threats of Rome. But when a stranger and his companions arrive at Cicero’s villa, new dangers lie in wait and Cicero finds himself plunged into a realm of gods and monsters. His only hope of returning home lies with a man known as the Doctor – but can Cicero trust him…?

This release is a crossover with 2018’s Cicero, an original Big Finish series about the renowned Roman orator, statesman, lawyer and philosopher. Samuel Barnett and Laura Riseborough reprise their roles as Cicero and his wife Terentia, though the latter’s involvement in the plot is relatively minor. The couple’s move to Cumae allows for the introduction of new slave characters including Marc, who is played by George Watkins, the nephew of Peter Davison.

Sometimes crossovers can annoy people, if those people are fans of one of the properties involved but not the other. In this instance, listeners who appreciated Cicero as a historical piece might not welcome the introduction of science-fiction elements. It’s like whenever Batman meets Superman, two tonally very different heroes from the same stable. One could argue that a preferable approach for this story might have been what Doctor Who fans term the “pure historical”, with the TARDIS and its crew as the only sci-fi trappings. However, writer David Llewellyn, who was also the author of Cicero, has ensured that the fantastical threats faced by the famous Roman and his guests are era-appropriate, resembling aspects of classical legend. Not to be confused with the Black Hole of Tartarus from The Trial of a Time Lord, the Tartarus in the title of this adventure is a realm of the underworld in Greek mythology.

You don’t need to have heard Cicero (I haven’t) in order to enjoy Tartarus, though I’m sure there will be an additional thrill for those who have and are also Who fans. Even if you haven’t heard of the real-life Cicero, there are enjoyable points of cultural reference that even the least learned historian will be able to latch on to. The Doctor’s companions, Nyssa and Tegan (Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding), hadn’t heard of the orator, either, though Tegan is familiar with mythical monsters such as the Minotaur and Talos, thanks to her knowledge of films such as Jason and the Argonauts.

Perhaps in deference to the format of the Cicero series, Tartarus comprises two fifty-minute episodes, rather than four of twenty-five, even though there are plenty of potential cliffhanger moments throughout the tale – including a corker at the end of the eighth track.

Being a quest narrative, the plot is a runaround affair (or rather trudge-around for much of the time, since Cicero is not in the best of health), with the characters encountering one peril after another. However, the Doctor and Cicero work well together, having much in common. Both of them are thoughtful men, neither of them your stereotypical brawny hero, but nevertheless capable of brave deeds. Both are allowed their moments of weakness, such as the Doctor coming across like a comically gushing fanboy when he first meets Cicero. It turns out that both men have skeletons in the closet – and I don’t mean the kind that are animated by Ray Harryhausen. Whenever these two rival leaders reach an impasse, their companions Marc, Nyssa and Tegan get a moment in the spotlight to be the voice of reason.

If you are left curious to sample the original Cicero, that is surely part of the objective of Big Finish’s quest. Meanwhile, I’ve completed my quest to review this product, so ta-Tartarus until next time.


Richard McGinlay

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