‘THE SONG OF MEGAPTERA’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
The Space Whale with the Sixth Doctor and Peri
This is a compelling ‘Holy Grail’ of a ‘Doctor Who’ story!
‘The Song of Megaptera’ is the seventh story in the Lost Season 23/Season 22B of ‘Doctor Who’ by Big Finish. This is another story not originally scheduled for the Lost Season 23 in 1985. In fact, this story has been floating around the ‘Doctor Who’ production office for some time since the Tom Baker days.
This was originally called ‘The Song of the Space Whale’ and was pitched in the 1980s. It was initially by Pat Mills and John Wagner and was first pitched as a Fourth Doctor story. It was later pitched as a Fifth Doctor story featuring Nyssa and Tegan and it was to introduce Turlough as the new companion.
But that changed with Turlough’s first story becoming ‘Mawdryn Undead’ and ‘The Song of the Space Whale’ never saw the light of day. Pat Mills took ‘The Space Whale’ story with him and tried to pitch it as a Sixth Doctor story to the ‘Doctor Who’ production office. Sadly, nothing of that came to fruition.
Thankfully though, Big Finish wanted to commission Pat Mills to write his ‘Space Whale’ story for the seventh slot of Lost Season 23 stories in ‘Doctor Who’. The story was retitled ‘The Song of Megaptera’ and it became a four-part adventure. This I’m happy with since I find four-part stories more compelling.
The idea of whales used in sci-fi as well as ‘Doctor Who’ had been done before. Humpback whales were used in ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’ and the whale’s song gets influenced here in this story. Hey, maybe that’s what that alien probe was all about. To get humpback whales to travel in space. 😀
There was even a space whale featured in the ‘Doctor Who’ episode ‘The Beast Below’ with Matt Smith. I don’t think the space whale in that story is the same as the one featured in ‘The Song of Megaptera’. I’m so pleased that Pat Mills got to adapt his original TV story for the audio medium here.
The story takes place in outer space in the distant future. The Doctor and Peri discover a harvesting ship commanded by Captain Greeg, who is hunting mile-long space whales with his crew. The TARDIS gets captured by accident in the harvester whilst it is also trying to capture one of those space whales.
The Doctor and Peri discover the atrociousness of Captain Greeg’s schemes to commit mass slaughter on the space whales. Can they survive and find a way to save Megaptera the space whale before it sings no more. They’ll have to try to get the TARDIS into the whale in order to do that. Can they do it?
I found this to be quite a whimsical adventure with socio-ecological themes echoing throughout, especially concerning the space whales. This must have been a thing of the 1980s where the lives of nearly extinct animal life like whales were being commented upon, as it was depicted in ‘Star Trek IV’.
I enjoyed some of the character-driven moments featured throughout this story, even with the supporting characters. The Doctor and Peri drive the story forward of course, but it was good to hear the insight of characters who have ambitious agendas or simply doing their job aboard that harvester.
Like I said, the song features throughout this story and sounds beautiful to listen to. It was engaging when our heroes were trying to stop Captain Greeg’s attempts to harvest the whale and it was thrilling when they get the TARDIS inside the whale. I didn’t know what to expect, not least a colony of people.
Yeah, by the time we come to the second half of the story, we find a colony of people living inside Megaptera as the Doctor and Peri try to rescue the whale. There are echoes of Jonah and the Whale, In fact this is even referenced in the story. Although it was a big fish not a whale according to the Bible.
Colin Baker is great to listen to as the Doctor in this adventure. I enjoyed how the Doctor drives forward to moral issue of saving Megaptera the space whale and opposing Captain Greeg’s attempts to kill it. Clearly Colin’s Doctor has mellowed and isn’t as brash as he used to be when his tenure began.
I enjoyed the scenes that Colin’s Doctor shares with Peri. Early on, the Doctor goes outside to check the TARDIS’s exterior before he’s captured by two security guards. He’s separated from Peri for a bit before he’s reunited with her in ‘Part Two’ and he tries to save her as she undergoes her own delirium.
It’s interesting to discover that in the original TV scripts, the Doctor would have used guns to fight the enemies in the story. I know this was something the Doctor did briefly in ‘Earthshock’ as well as in ‘Attack of the Cybermen’, but I’m glad this was changed for audio. It would not have suited the Doctor.
Nicola Bryant is wonderful as Peri in this audio adventure. I enjoyed it when she becomes delirious after being infected with something. It allows Nicola to demonstrate her acting skills and to sound funny at times. It was interesting she accused the Doctor for a being an imposter since he regenerated.
Thankfully she comes out of her delirium and shares an adventure with the Doctor when they go into the space whale itself. Peri is shocked and horrified when the Doctor suggests they go into the space whale itself at the end of ‘Part Two’. She also shares many perils with the Doctor during this adventure.
There are times when Peri seems she’s about to get sacrificed or killed off by the ends of ‘Part One’ and ‘Part Three’. She even shares being sacrificed with the Doctor at the end of ‘Part Three’. I like how supportive Peri is when she and the Doctor save Megaptera, despite being sarcastic and jokey at times.
John Benfield guest stars as Captain Greeg, the villain of this adventure. I’ve heard John Benfield before since he played Don in ‘Circular Time: Autumn’ with Peter Davison. His voice doesn’t sound so deep in this one. John Benfield is a British actor who has featured in plenty of film and TV productions.
Captain Greeg is great villain to listen to on audio. You’re not sure what his motives are, although it’s clear he wants to kill the space whales for profitable gain. I had hoped that Greeg would be like one of those obsessive types like Captain Ahab hunting the whale in ‘Moby Dick’. That would’ve been good.
Sadly that’s not the case with this story, but Captain Greeg’s still good to listen to as he commits acts of violence that endanger his crew when trying to get his hands on the whale. John Benfield balances both the menace and drama well by underplaying Greeg and not giving an over-the-top performance.
The guest cast also includes Neville Watchurst as Stennar, Captain Greeg’s first mate aboard the harvester ship called the Orca. There’s also John Banks as the ship’s computer; Susan Brown as the Chief Engineer and those two bumbling security guards played by Toby Longworth and Alex Lowe.
Neville Watchurst also plays Manus, one of the crew members that gets killed early on in the story. There’s also John Banks as the monstrous Caller and there’s the colony of people living inside that space whale. The people are Susan Brown as Chanel; Toby Longworth as Stafel and Alex Lowe as Axel.
The CD extras are as follows. At the start of Disc 1, there’s a trailer for ‘The Macros’ with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant. At the end of Discs 1 and 2, there are behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and crew including Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, John Benfield, writer Pat Mills, etc.
‘The Song of Megaptera’ has been a thoroughly enjoyable audio adventure to listen to in ‘Doctor Who’ with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant. I find the four-part stories are more enjoyable than the 2 x 50 minute episode stories of the Lost Season 23. It might be just me but I find four-parters do work better.
‘The Song of Megaptera’ rating – 8/10
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