Please feel free to comment on my review.
The Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan meet Cicero and Marc
I’m surprised this story wasn’t called ‘Doctor Who meets Cicero’ instead of ‘Tartarus’! 😀
When I saw and interviewed Sarah Sutton at the ‘Science of the Time Lords’ event in Leicester, January 2019; she told me she was doing a new ‘Doctor Who’ Big Finish audio ‘next week’. I was pleased to hear the news as well as excited. I was so looking forward to hearing a brand-new audio drama featuring Sarah.
As it turned out, the new audio adventure was ‘Tartarus’! It was recorded on the 29th and the 30th of January in the week after I saw Sarah at ‘Science of the Time Lords’ in Leicester that month. It’s so surreal that Sarah did a new ‘Doctor Who’ audio with Peter Davison and Janet Fielding after she’d seen me.
‘Tartarus’ is an excellent ‘Doctor Who’ audio adventure with Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding. I absolutely enjoyed it when I heard the story in November 2019. I know that sounds biased of me, but I genuinely found how I was able to get into this story and be gripped from beginning to end.
This is a two-part bumper episode adventure by David Llewellyn. I was amazed to find ‘Tartarus’ as a two-part bumper episode story in a similar vein to ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’. I’d been writing a two-part bumper episode adventure myself called ‘The Prime Factor’ before I even heard ‘Tartarus’ in full.
David Llewellyn is no stranger to the Fifth Doctor era of ‘Doctor Who’. He previously wrote ‘Serpent In The Silver Mask’ with the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric. I found how David had a firmer grip on writing the characters of the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan, played so well by our three main leads.
‘Tartarus’ is an intriguing adventure as it features a special crossover in the Big Finish universe. This story has the Fifth Doctor meeting Cicero, who was a consul of the Roman Republic. I knew nothing about Cicero before listening to this adventure. It was really refreshing to learn of this historical figure.
I say this audio drama is a special crossover in the Big Finish universe because there’s an audio series all about ‘Cicero’ made by Big Finish. ‘Cicero’ stars Samuel Barnett as the title character. Now I’ve never heard the ‘Cicero’ series and I don’t believe you need to hear it in order to understand the person.
‘Tartarus’ provides a relatively straight-forward introduction to Cicero in the ‘Doctor Who’ universe. I like how David Llewellyn writes for him, being the writer of the ‘Cicero’ Big Finish audio series himself. Having the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan interact with him makes for very good easy listening here. 🙂
I like how the story begins with Cicero writing a letter on parchment to Atticus, a friend of his. Cicero’s letter-writing does feature prominently when it cuts back and forth to and from the story’s main action. There’s this certain amount of depth to Cicero’s character as opposed to just being a standard Roman consul.
The story has the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan visiting Cicero’s villa in the coastal town of Cumae in the year 63 BC. As they visit and meet Cicero and others at his villa. something peculiar occurs in the sky. Very soon, the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan, Cicero, slave Marc and soldier Septus get abducted into the skies.
After Septus gets killed by a monstrous beast, the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan, Cicero and Marc survive for their lives as they find themselves in this strange world that isn’t really on Earth. Can the Doctor and his friends get back to safety and survive the tests laid upon them by a mysterious lady who might be the Cumaean Sibyl?
I found how this story had a ‘Romans’ atmosphere to it, which I enjoyed listening to, especially with the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan in that environment. The TARDIS trio even get to wear Roman togas in this story as shown on the CD cover. I’m disappointed Nyssa isn’t seen in a toga on the CD cover. 😦
Peter Davison excels as the Fifth Doctor in this adventure. I enjoyed how much he wants to meets Cicero and he praises him on their first meeting. The two start getting on well with each other, especially when they talk about certain things in art; science and such. A pity that things start getting awry later on.
Not to say the Doctor and Cicero stop getting on with each other. Not at all. It’s just the Doctor begins to see more of Cicero’s vulnerabilities, especially when he panics and isn’t the angelic Roman consul he’s remembered for. I liked that balance of tension between the Doctor and Cicero as they interact here.
I also enjoyed the interaction between Peter’s Doctor and his companions Nyssa and Tegan in this story. He starts referring to himself as Gaius Claudius Maximus in meeting Cicero whilst he calls the girls his sisters Claudia and Claudia. How come the Doctor didn’t call himself Maximus Pettulian from Corinth here? 😀
I love Sarah Sutton as Nyssa in this audio adventure. I like that Nyssa is geared into this adventure with blending in and tackling peculiar aspects of ancient Rome. This is exemplified in how she tackles a Minotaur in the adventure by using Cicero’s sash as a ‘red’ cape’. She’s very brave in tackling that bull-man!
I’ve written Nyssa in an ancient Rome style of setting in ‘The Austen Code’ where she, the Doctor and Billy visited Aquae Sulis (Roman Bath). I like to think that’s reflected here. I also like how Nyssa interacts with Marc, the Roman slave. She encourages him to join him and the others as a companion.
Now this was intriguing to hear. Nyssa’s the one who encourages Marc to be a TARDIS companion. Not Tegan. I’ve written something like that in my story ‘The Space Hotel’ as Nyssa encouraged Billy to travel in the TARDIS. I’d like to think Big Finish is taking an example from my own ‘Doctor Who’ stories.
Janet Fielding is very good as Tegan in this adventure. I found Tegan entertaining with her quick remarks whilst interacting with the Doctor, Nyssa and everyone else. She’s not completely happy with being in Cicero’s villa in Cumae as she’s dismayed with seeing slaves serving the higher ups in this.
I would have thought Tegan moderated her temperaments about slavery in ancient times from her experiences in ‘The Peterloo Massacre’. It was amusing when Tegan got into a row with Terentia, Cicero’s wife, after having a pleasant encounter with Marc. Tegan doesn’t shy away from being so ‘bolshy’.
When in the strange world controlled by Tartarus, I enjoyed how she interacted with Cicero, sometimes sparing with him and sometimes getting to know him. Tegan’s Earth cultural references and mentioning movies was fun to listen to, especially with mentioning ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ and such.
Samuel Barnett is the big guest star of this audio adventure, playing Cicero from the Big Finish audio series. As I said, I like how the story balances Cicero’s character with being a learned man to someone out of his depth. It was intriguing to hear how Cicero happens to be a man of many talents in his time.
Cicero is a statesman, orator, lawyer and philosopher as well as a Roman consul. He’s also someone who’s had blood spilt on his hands when he ordered the unnecessary execution of some people who he believed were against him. This when the Doctor and Cicero are attacked by ‘shades’ half-way in this.
I like how Cicero uses words to dissuade the seemingly villainous Tartarus from taking the slave Marc away from him to be a part of a new hive of hers. Surprisingly, Cicero agrees to let Marc go and have his freedom by the story’s end. Cicero does get knocked on the head and goes into ‘Wizard of Oz’ mode. 😀
And now let’s talk about Marc, who becomes the Fifth Doctor’s new companion here. George Watkins stars as Marc. George Watkins happens to be Peter Davison’s nephew. Funny that! First we had Peter’s daughter Georgia Moffett in ‘Doctor Who’; then Peter’s wife Elizabeth Morton, and now we have Peter’s nephew.
First of all, I like Marc’s introduction as a companion in ‘Doctor Who’. I wasn’t sure whether I would get into his character, but he comes across as a likeable person. I like how friendly he is and even has his moments to stand up to his master Cicero when having this strange adventure in a very strange world.
The first time there had been a ‘Doctor Who’ companion from ancient times was Katarina who shortly got killed in ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’. I like how Big Finish have taken this similar approach to a companion with Marc but by making him very resourceful and able to cope in very weird situations.
The story’s cast also features Laura Riseborough as Terentia from the ‘Cicero’ Big Finish audio series. There’s also Joe Shire as Septus, who sadly gets killed in the story. There’s also Tracy-Ann Oberman (well-known as Yvonne Hartman in ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Torchwood’) as the pretty mysterious Tartarus.
There’s a very strange ending to ‘Tartarus’. Although Marc joins the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan as a new TARDIS companion by the end, there’s another scene where Cicero finishes his letter to Atticus and receives a visit from the Doctor. The Doctor visits Cicero to tell him some really ‘sad’ news about Marc.
Um…what?! Okay, I know Marc isn’t going to last as a travelling companion with the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan in the Big Finish audios, but couldn’t they have saved that scene for a future story where Marc exits or something? It spoils the surprise, making me wonder how bad Marc’s fate will become.
The Fifth Doctor also seems to be doing this thing where he visits people who knew his companions well to tell some sad news about what happened to them. This later happened in ‘The Entropy Plague’ where the Doctor told sad news about Nyssa to Adric Traken. Same with Billy…oops, shouldn’t have said that! 😀
Overall, ‘Tartarus’ has been an engrossing audio adventure featuring the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan meeting Cicero as well as meeting Marc who becomes a new companion. I enjoyed the layers of character drama featured throughout this adventure. It also has layers of tension to make it pacier. 🙂
The CD extras are as follows. On Disc 1, there’s a suite of incidental music to enjoy. On Disc 2, there’s a trailer for ‘Intersitial’/‘Feast of Fear’ with Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and George Watkins. There are also behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and crew including Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding, Samuel Barnett, George Watkins, writer David Llewellyn, director Scott Handcock, etc.
If you subscribe to Big Finish for ‘Tartarus’ via a 6 or 12 CD/download subscription, you’ll get the following extras. There’s a PDF script and extended extras for ‘Tartarus’. There’s also a bonus Short Trip called ‘An Ocean of Sawdust’ with the Eighth Doctor, read by Stephen Critchlow.
‘Tartarus’ rating – 9/10
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