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Audio Drama Review
During one of Nyssa’s experiments, the TARDIS’s temporal scanner picks up a message: “Idra”. Just one word, but enough to draw the Doctor to the Archipelago of Sirius. There, the Autarch is about to announce a new crusade: a mighty war against Seth, Prince of the Dark... But who is Seth? What is the secret of the Autarch’s estranged Queen Consort Anahita, Mistress of the Poisons? And what terror awaits on Level 14? The TARDIS crew soon find themselves drawn into political machinations...
Like the previous month’s Hexagora, Christopher Bailey’s The Children of Seth started out as an idea for a Peter Davison serial (entitled May Time and, later on, Manpower) before being developed for the Sixth Doctor and Peri, though the Big Finish production team has reverted to the TARDIS crew of the Fifth Doctor, Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) for this audio release.
The 25 minutes of extras on this double CD don’t go into detail about what stage Bailey’s original submission had reached before it was abandoned, but the sleeve notes by Marc Platt (who has taken up the writing reins) reveal the existence of an unfinished script. Unlike Hexagora, whose marriage plot definitely works best with Davison’s Doctor, I find it a pity that The Children of Seth could not have been completed as a Sixth Doctor story, since that is the incarnation for which Bailey was writing in his most recent version of the script. To give Platt his due, I detected no obvious indications while listening to the play that it had not always been intended for the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa, though in retrospect I imagine that Tegan’s comment about being a republican started off as one of Peri’s lines, while Nyssa is rather sidelined during the final three episodes.
It has been widely reported that Bailey ran into difficulty devising a structure to link the numerous elements of his story, and I can easily believe that. Listening to the audio production was a bemusing experience for me. It offers lots of vivid scenes and many memorable characters (even though the cast list had to be drastically pruned down by Platt), but little in the way of obvious connections between them or of a plot developing, at least for the first couple of instalments.
This is not to say that The Children of Seth is boring. It features many exciting and intriguing sections, such as when a planetary defence drone breaks into the TARDIS and attaches itself to the console, or when the Doctor experiences a computerised existence of binary code. It boasts some fine performances - especially from Vernon Dobtcheff, who portrays various old men with quite different temperaments, even having a conversation with “himself” at one point - and a real casting coup in the form of Honor Blackman as Anahita and David Warner as the Autarch Siris. The only downside to the casting is that Matt Addis’s android inflection as Albis sounds a lot like the robots in Robophobia.
On the whole, I feel ambivalent towards The Children of Seth. Great scenes and peculiar personalities, but I’m not sure what it’s about. No offspring of Sutekth the Destroyer (also known as Set or Seth) appear, which is also something of a disappointment! I probably need to listen to the play again - but for now, I give it: