What's it about: Space travellers are warned to keep away from the area of the planet Asphya and its unremarkable moon Erys. Not the best place to materialise the TARDIS, then – as the Doctor discovers when his ship is raided by the imp-like Drachee, and his companion Flip is carried away… But the TARDIS isn’t the only stricken vessel in the region. Aboard a nearby space yacht, the Doctor encounters a woman who holds in her head the secret of Erys – a secret suppressed by amnesia, or worse. Flip, too, is about to learn Erys’ secret. But once you know Erys’ secret, you can never escape.
Softer Six: Andrew Smith has a fine handle on the sixth Doctor, his mannerisms and attitude. If Colin Baker thinks that is the case, who am I disagree? The Doctor is recalibrating the TARDIS systems which is precisely the sort of thing he seemed to be doing every other week in the mid eighties. The TARDIS is fascinating for most people but he is not willing to turn it into a crèche for intergalactic spawn. The Drachee mind control causes great pain for him but he is more than a match for their mental powers. He's quick about saving Sara when it is clear that her space yacht is going to explode. I can't imagine any other Doctor squaring up to a living moon with quite the same brashness and authority as Sixie, I can see him there with his hands planted in his sides and standing tall against such a powerful adversary. Do we believe for one moment that the Doctor will be stripped of the TARDIS forever? No, and given he gets over the shock pretty quickly I gather neither did he. Mind you at least he would be stuck in a pretty interesting place, having the chance to converse with a living moon for all eternity. As is so often the case...he has an idea. There are vulnerable points in every living being and the Doctor knows it will only be a matter of time before he discover Eyrs'. Colin Baker makes the Doctor's reunion with Flip a palpably triumphant moment before telling her off for attempting another reckless act. In the Doctor's experience there are very few creatures that are truly evil, just misunderstood, and he certainly thinks that Erys falls into that category. Where everybody else sees a being to fear, the Doctor sees a living moon in pain trying to protect its young. His chat with Erys after his surgery is rather lovely, too old beings who have seen the universe change around them discussing the weight of parenthood and companionship. The thought of Peri is strong in him at the moment, another mention of her after last month. Are we leading up to the Doctor seeking some answers about the fate of his former companion? There is a nice parallel made with Erys' situation and the Doctor's decision at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Digging into the Doctor's memories, Erys can see a time when he found it necessary to let the person he loved more than all others go for her own good. It is a lesson that Erys can learn from with his own children who want to see the universe. He has regretted his decision to shut Susan out of the TARDIS many times, even wished it undone, because he has missed her. There is no doubt in his mind that it was the best thing for Susan.
I like the way Flip makes (sorry) flippant comparisons between the future technological marvels with contemporary technology that she understands. She brings it down to a level that is far easier to comprehend. Is Flip an idiot for letting the Drachee into the TARDIS to scamper about? Perhaps, but under the same circumstances I might have done the same thing if they were sufficiently cute enough. So I guess that makes an idiot too. Flip is a lot of fun when rounding up the Drachee in the TARDIS (it is her responsibility after all), treating them like naughty children. She's frightened of spiders, especially when they are twice the size of her. She's not dismissive about the danger she is in but Flip is familiar with the idea of living worlds, having been transported to Symbiosis when she first met the Doctor. After flying a Skylight in Wirrn Isle, Flip is ready and willing to jump into a skimmer to escape Erys for good. As much as I was enjoying Flip's adventures on her own (when he life is threatened she really is very capable) but I was pleased when she met up with Elgin and was able to converse once again. She's happy to use herself as bait for the mud creatures whilst the Doctor does whatever he has to do despite his protestations. Living dangerously is becoming a bit of a habit for her. I would have spat my coffee out if Erys had stated Flip as the companion that the Doctor elevated above all the others...and her reaction when she discovers that it is Susan is hilarious. Flip understands that the Doctor wants to go off in search of Peri and feels no animosity because he does. She worries that one day he might want to shut her out of the TARDIS as he did Susan but he alleviates her fears.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Child? Bit creepy...'
'Short version; kidnapped by aliens, spoken to by a moon, swallowed by the ground, run away in one of their skimmers.'
'How do you kill a planet?'
'A lonely childhood, a rebellious adolescence, you couldn't wait to get away from your people and your planet Gallifrey, could you? So many adventures you have had in your travels. So many enemies but so many friends...' - the Doctor gives Erys his memories to aid in his recovery.
'Evil just shouts louder than goodness.'
Audio Landscape: Read through this section and see what a challenge it must have been for Steve Foxon to bring this story to life. It is to his credit that it The Brood of Erys is convincing throughout, no matter how weird things get. Hypnotising beam, the skimmers screaming through space and halting by the TARDIS, landing on the TARDIS, the Drachee whooping an screaming and scampering about the TARDIS, the Drachee mind control, the space yacht leaving hyperspace, explosions inside the space yacht, the ship exploding in space, splashing through mud, tearing the protective film, a shivering, hissing spider, screams, bubbling mud, water dripping, Flip ascending in a skimmer, an explosion contained within mucus, the skimmer powering down, the Asphians being dissolved by Erys, the feeder tubes pumping nutrients into the captors, the mud creatures squelching forward and growling, being swallowed into the ground, draining the containers.
Isn't it Odd: One place where I really thought that Smith missed out was in tying the Doctor/Flip relationship into the theme of parenthood. By the end of their first trilogy they were being mistaken for father and daughter and his constant chastising of her reckless attitude was pleasing paternal. And yet Smith has the two characters split for the majority of the story and doesn't probe their relationship enough, beyond a little berate for her risk with the TARDIS in episode three. This could have been the breakout story for the pair in respect of their father/daughter interaction. It was made for it. Is this in contradiction to what I was saying earlier about Flip? Not really, because there is no reason that an examination of their relationship had to be drowned in angst. The ending of the Sara plot is a little too glib. She frees her family and they all go home unscathed. That's a little easy, isn't it? I would be furious if my husband endangered my children like this.
Standout Scene: The opening sequence in the TARDIS that sees the Drachee flying towards and landing on the TARDIS and gaining access are exactly the sort of effects marvels that work far better in your head than could ever have been realised at the time. On audio this is genuinely exciting idea and one that I can consign the appropriate mental budget to. An invasion of the TARDIS by childlike imps flooding through the doors - anybody who says this story has nothing new to offer is mistaken because there has never been anything quite like this in the series before (the closest I can think of is Biroc's invasion of the ship in Warriors' Gate).
Result: 'Living planets aren't easy to kill...' Really rather engaging if perhaps an episode too long, The Brood of Erys is a story that defies description because it juggles a lot of very big ideas with a very blasé attitude. Don't listen to the naysayers the suggest that this is a traditional Doctor Who story because despite a few familiar ideas, there are very few stories that resemble this one. Andrew Smith is a pretty reliable pair of hands these days and he has written a fast moving script that gives both the Doctor and Flip plenty to do, creates an interesting SF setting on a grand scale, includes a couple of guest characters with some surprises up their sleeves (Sara and her father transform from terrorists to concerned relatives as the story progresses) and works the theme of parenthood into his story in a number of thought provoking ways. It isn't a piece of art but there is a great deal going on and most of it is well worth listening to. This is the ideal kind of story for Nick Briggs to helm, one where he gets to flex his directorial muscles and bring an entire alien solar system to life complete with a living moon, several alien races and all kinds of actions sequences. The soundscape for this story (including the pacy score) is exceptional, Steven Foxon doing his usual sterling job. Colin Baker clearly feels much more comfortable this month and gets to command his way through the story, squaring up to and ultimately forming a relationship with a living moon. It is a shame that he and Flip are separated so quickly, especially since a story about parenthood seems perfectly set up to explore their relationship in quite a probing way. However, it does give Lisa Greenwood the chance to head her own subplot, Flip once again put through the physical and psychological wringer. Where does The Brood of Erys go wrong then? I would say there is enough material to comfortably tell a three part story but at four parts certain sections are stretched a bit, even if each of the cliff-hangers do all branch the story off in a new direction. Some of the action is a little repetitive but the change of rapid change of locations does help in that respect. After reading some sour reviews of this story I came to it expecting the worst and found myself pleasantly surprised. It's not vintage Doctor Who but it is a solid action adventure tale with some interesting concepts in play. I was rather charmed by how unpretentious the whole piece was, being content to tell a story unencumbered by angst. It was rather refreshing for it: 7/10