“Revenge of the Swarm” is the 189th audio play in Big Finish’s main range, and features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hector. It turns out that this audio is a sequel to another story, and deals with Hector’s backstory, but I found it very enjoyable even though I knew nothing about either.
A lot of spoilers ahead (this one really requires a full story synopsis)!
First, let’s start with Hector. From what I could gather from the audio, Hector is better known as Hex, a companion who was also a good friend of Ace, but in some previous audio (probably very recently), his memories were captured in a bottle, and then the bottle was smashed, leaving him as a blank slate, with no memories and a different personality than Hex. I’m not quite sure how long he’s been Hector, as Ace seems to know him quite well (or maybe she knows Hex quite well and is very sympathetic toward Hector) but Hector doesn’t yet know much about himself or his problems. He’s certainly not yet that familiar with either the Doctor or Ace.
“Revenge of the Swarm” is a sequel to the Fourth Doctor story “The Invisible Enemy”, in which the enemy was the Swarm, a rapidly-evolving virus with the Nucleus as its central mind. I haven’t seen this episode, so all I know about it comes from listening to the audio, so I really can’t tell you much more, except that the Swarm takes people over and wants to expand and grow. The Doctor finally defeats it and believes it is dead.
Of course it’s not dead. It’s been weak, hibernating without a Nucleus, without a driving intelligence, in the TARDIS computer, waiting for a malleable mind to come within reach. It finds Hector, who’s very vulnerable since his memory and self have been largely removed, and takes him over, and he sends the TARDIS back in time to a space station orbiting Saturn which has been quarantined because it contains a very deadly virus, the most deadly virus known, the one that the Swarm evolved from. While the Doctor is immune to the virus due to his previous encounter with the Swarm, Ace immediately gets infected, and the space station personnel send her, cryogenically frozen, to a research station to get cured.
The main scientist at the research station has a secondary motive, though, to get a live culture of the virus from Ace and experiment on it. She knows that the virus kills all other viruses and bacteria in the host, so she wants to genetically engineer it to create a virus that isn’t deadly to humans but protects them from all other diseases, so that they can explore the universe without fear of alien diseases. The Doctor, realizing that the Swarm caused them to come here because it wants to change the course of history and clone the Nucleus so that the original goes on to be killed by the Fourth Doctor while the clone lives to try to take over the universe separately, cures Hector, and the three of them cause the station to cleanse itself with fire to destroy the Swarm. Unbeknownst to him, though, the Swarm uploads the clone into the station’s computer before the firestom.
Hector, however, hasn’t really been cured. The Swarm re-emerges in him, and he sends the TARDIS back to the research station but two hundred years in the future, when it has become the hub for the hypernet, the Internet of the future that controls the energy and information that flows between all of the human colonies all over the galaxy. He then steals the TARDIS’ dimensional stabilizer and runs off. The Doctor realizes that the Nucleus plans to use the dimensional stabilizer, which controls the materialization of the TARDIS, to drain all the hypernet and convert it into real matter and then download itself into it. As it continues to drain, it continues to grow until it has taken over the entire universe. I’m not going to describe how the Doctor finally defeats the Swarm, but I’ll discuss a little bit of later.
Part of the fun of this episode was that in order to deal with the Nucleus when it was in computers, the characters had to enter the computer, much like in the movie Tron, except that only their minds are uploaded, not their entire bodies; they’re even given motorcycles to ride to escape the Swarm’s hunters. It’s made very clear that dying in the computer will kill them in reality (their bodies would be left mindless), though I have to wonder if the Doctor would have just regenerated if that happened. The whole computerscape does give Ace some chance to show off her personality, as her motorcycle has a cannon and she has a great time blasting Swarm drones from the sky. But in general, the story was very engaging, especially because of its deft use of time travel. It was very clever to clone the Nucleus so that one bit goes on to be the Swarm that the Fourth Doctor encountered while the other bit continued on in this story.
However, one of the best parts of the story dealt with Hector and his first introduction to the more interesting characteristics of the Seventh Doctor. In order to defeat the Nucleus, the Doctor splits the group up to accomplish different tasks, with Hector and the Doctor going into the computer to do their task. They flee the Swarm hunters on motorcycles, but they’re not fast enough, and the Swarm attacks Hector, starting to tear him apart; they don’t attack the Doctor because they know he has immunity which will attack the Swarm and harm the Nucleus. Luckily, the allies on the outside download Hector and the Doctor into their bodies just before Hector dies in the computerscape.
At the end of the adventure, Hector figures out what happened: earlier in the adventure, the second time the Doctor cured Hector, he gave him some blood to give Hector immunity. The Nucleus didn’t know about this, so the Doctor took Hector into the computer, telling him their task would be easy, but actually intending for the Swarm to attack him and unknowingly get infected by his immunity, which then attacked and destroyed the Swarm. The Doctor deliberately did not tell Hector, because he knew Hector wouldn’t do it if he knew, and thus the Doctor made the decision for him, risking his life, allowing him to get torn apart by the hunters, and nearly killing him.
This is a main trait of the Seventh Doctor, manipulating events and being willing to sacrifice people when he can’t know if they’ll survive, and it was beautifully handled in this story. Hector gets understandably angry, and doesn’t back down even when Ace defends the Doctor, saying that what he does is always for the greater good, and Hector has to reconsider whether or not he can stay with the Doctor and trust him; this conflict is left open. This scene was fascinating, as you’re watching Hector figure out both who he is and whether he can condone what his friends are doing.
So, this story was a great adventure supported by great character development and an inspection into the morality of the Seventh Doctor, and it sets up for an interesting next adventure, where we will hopefully see how Hector deals with the Doctor and Ace in further perilous situations. I’m always impressed how these audio stories are so well-designed for their Doctors, as this is exactly the kind of thing that Seventh Doctor is best for.