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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
Revenge of the Swarm


Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 330 6
Release Date: 31 August 2014

The Doctor thought he had defeated the microscopic Nucleus of the Swarm during his fourth incarnation. He was wrong. It survived within the TARDIS, and now it has taken the time machine back to Titan Base, back to the point of its own creation. It has a plan that spans centuries, a plan which will result in the Nucleus becoming more powerful – and larger – than ever before. To defeat it, the Doctor, Ace and Hector must confront the Nucleus within its new domain – the computer-world of the Hypernet, the information network crucial to the survival of the human empire. But if the Doctor is to save the day, he has to risk everything and everyone he holds dear...

What better enemy for Big Finish to resurrect than The Invisible Enemy? After all, on audio all enemies are invisible!

Seriously, though… that 1977 Tom Baker serial is not one of the most highly regarded Doctor Who stories, not by a long chalk, but it has a special place in my heart as one of my earliest memories of the series. Sure, it is silly to look upon now, with its clumsy editing, shoddy special effects, Strainj Fonetik Notiss Bordz and prawn-like monster, but for the seven-year-old me it was a thrilling experience. I vividly recall the silvery fronds that denote infection by the Swarm, though at the time I did not understand how the Doctor could be inside his own head.

Writer Jonathan Morris wastes no time bringing back the Swarm and explaining how it managed to survive the explosion at the end of its previous story. There is no phoney end of Part One ‘surprise’ reveal of the baddie’s presence or identity. This has, of course, already been divulged on the front cover, in the title and the cover illustration. However, the writer has an additional reason to get on with it, for this four-part story is really a couple of linked two-parters.

The first disc is a prequel of sorts. Though years have passed for the Doctor and the Swarm aboard the TARDIS, the setting for this part of the adventure is 4920 – eighty years before The Invisible Enemy. The reuse of so many elements from that previous serial, including Titan Base, the Bi-Al Foundation (which at one point is pronounced as “Bile Foundation” – ew!) and Professor Oksana Kilbracken (Phyllida Nash), does smack of rehash, but there is some intrigue in the discovery of how the Swarm came into being, the threat posed to Ace (Sophie Aldred) by a more conventional kind of infection, and the Doctor’s (Sylvester McCoy) use of hypnosis. Along the way, there are some sly digs at the aforementioned phonetic spellings – the Doctor blames text-speak!

The second disc is a sequel, set in the 52nd century, by which time the site of the Bi-Al Foundation is a Hypernet (interstellar internet) relay station. Now the Swarm has mutated into a computer virus, so instead of doing a Fantastic Voyage in order to tackle it, the Doctor and his companions have to go all Tron. If this sounds like a radical new departure, it isn’t really. Within the Doctor Who universe, people entering cyberspace as avatars is an older idea than the Swarm, first appearing in 1976’s The Deadly Assassin.

The depiction of Ace in this story is a curious mixture of old and new; the teenager of the TV show and the more mature character of later releases. Though she is clearly in an adult, sexual relationship with Hector Thomas (Philip Olivier), her juvenile self frequently breaks through, in the lip she gives to the Nucleus of the Swarm (voiced, magnificently, by its original performer, John Leeson) and in her excitement over virtual-reality bikes. She says what we all think about the visual depiction of the Nucleus on TV, and reckons that its obsession with size might be trying to compensate for something! She mentions the 1984 computer game Jet Set Willy and claims that she has never been in cyberspace before, which effectively places this story before Love and War. Ace describes the experience as being “like The Matrix”, which sits a little oddly in terms of her 1980s origins, but then she has visited later periods than 1999, so maybe she caught the movie then. Besides, her phrase can be interpreted in two ways – she might be referring to Doctor Who’s Matrix!

Perhaps more problematic is the lack of character development for Hector. The chance to truly explore this ‘new’ companion, who looks and sounds exactly like the Hex of old but has an entirely different back-story and memories, is put on hold while he is possessed by the Swarm. Since this is just the first in a trilogy of Seventh Doctor / Ace / Hector stories, I am hopeful that further development will follow.

Come to think of it, is Hector really the first suitable candidate for infection by the Swarm to have entered the TARDIS since The Invisible Enemy, even given the large gap in his mind? What about the enfeebled Nyssa during Kinda, the post-Mara-possession Tegan, or the suggestible Kamelion? Maybe the Swarm needed a looong time to gather its strength before attacking. All in all, it’s best not to over-think such matters – or the fundamental fact that a virus doesn’t even have a nucleus – but simply allow yourself to be carried along by the whole fantastic voyage.

Revenge of the Swarm is a flawed adventure with some interesting ideas at its heart… which makes it entirely suitable as a follow-up to The Invisible Enemy.


Richard McGinlay

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