It begins just after the Doctor and Leela leave London at the end of “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” with Leela wondering if they’ll ever meet up with Jago and Litefoot again. The Doctor sends the TARDIS following a beacon, and lands only about ten years later, to find a dying alien called a Drelleran who claims that some humans stole his spaceship and have flown off. Chasing after that ship, the TARDIS takes them into the future, to a ship bearing constructions workers to a space dock called Nerva orbiting Jupiter. It’s a new station and its facilities don’t quite work right yet, but ships from intersystem flights can dock here after its passengers pass decontamination.
The Doctor discovers that something seems to be infecting the occupants of the space station, turning them into an alien lifeform that collects all of its newly-transformed individuals into itself, making one big mass of alien. The alien lifeform is led by Lord Jack Corrigan, the original person who, over two hundred years before, had stolen the spaceship from the Drelleran. The Doctor and Leela escape with the only human left uninfected, Doctor Alison Foster, back to the construction worker ship, and discover a new Drelleran ship, which they travel to, to talk to the Drelleran to figure out what’s going on.
Originally, the Drelleran ship had landed on Earth to make contact with the humans and offer them new technology, but Lord Jack, determining that the Drelleran were corrupt because they didn’t adhere to human (mostly Christian) practices, denounced them, killed them, and stole their ship in order to go into space and teach them “better” ways. When the humans reached the Drelleran homeworld, the Drelleran, disgusted with the primitive humans, infected them with the alien lifeform and indoctrinated them with the desire to absorb all humans into the alien mass. Thus, centuries in the future, the ship returned to destroy humanity, first landing at Nerva on its way to Earth.
The Doctor, Leela, and Dr. Foster pleaded with the Drelleran to reconsider the doom they had pronounced on the humans, explaining that the humans were simply not advanced enough at the time to handle the gifts or the new philosophies the Drelleran had offered and making the case that the entire race should be punished for the actions of a few. The Drellerans relented and administered an antidote to the infection, freeing all of the individuals subsumed into the alien mass.
Simply as a story, this was an adequate episode. The dialogue at the end, when the three are pleading with the Drelleran to stop, is a bit preachy. The story was nothing exciting, though it had a very classic show feel: the Doctor’s role here was to gather the evidence to figure out what had happened and to get the characters out of trouble, as opposed to taking a direct role in defeating the menace. One thing I did notice in this piece was how effective the sound effects can be for painting a picture of what’s happening. The alien lifeform that the humans were becoming was never adequately described, but the squelching noises they made as they transformed were very evocative, allowing me to paint my own picture of what it looked like in my head. And let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. These audios really allow you to exercise your imagination while you listen to them.
It was fantastic to hear Tom Baker take up the mantle of the Doctor again, though his performance in this one was nowhere near as good as it was in The Light at the End, the most recent audio he has been in. In this one, his voice was nowhere near as strident and commanding as we are used to. I would chalk that up to this being his first time back, so he hadn’t yet hit his stride with the character he hadn’t played for over thirty years. Similarly, Louise Jameson wasn’t quite Leela, though she was better than Mr. Baker. I am looking forward to the rest of the audios in this series, as I expect that they will both just get better and better.