THIS STORY TAKES
"THE DESTROYER OF
BIG FINISH AUDIO BOOK
"PERI AND THE PISCON
BIG FINISH CD#119
RELEASED IN MARCH
The ageless leader of
a dying race believes
that salvation lies
within The Chaos
Pool, a place that
even the Guardians of
Time have been unable
to locate. Meanwhile
and his Teuthoidian
followers move in for
the kill - again and
again and again...
from opposite ends of
Time - so how can
the final segment of
the Key to Time, the
Doctor and Amy
become caught in the
crossfire. As the end
friends and enemies
and the final battle
between the forces of
Chaos and Order
The Chaos Pool
You have really got to give writer Peter Anghelides his due for this one. Packed to bursting with twists and turns and blockbuster elements, “The Chaos Pool” is one of the cleverest
and most rewarding conclusions to a Doctor Who story arc that I ever recall coming across.
Take the first episode, for instance - skilfully crafted in every respect. The twenty-five minutes are weighted perfectly, the writer spending just the right amount of time introducing us to the sluglike and head-munching Teuthoidians (a fascinating species from the dawn of time that could quite easily have carried the whole story on their own) and their opponents from the other end of time, whilst still managing to inject the whole affair with a real sense of pace
The real beauty of the opening episode though is to be found in its cliffhanger – talk about inspired. Like many, I had seen Lalla Ward’s face on the CD cover and immediately made five, swiftly jumping to the conclusion that “The Chaos Pool” would feature Romana. Just as Anghelides wanted me to, I listened to the entire first episode safe in my supposition that
the two-hundred year old “Madam President” was the Doctor’s former companion and Gallifrey’s future President...
With hindsight of course, the signs were all there. The whole “monkey glands” speculation certainly struck me as being a trifle odd, as did the prevalence of robotic servants on what I had taken for a Gallifreyan ship. Yet even when the Doctor was unable to contact “Madam President” telepathically, the penny still did not drop. Never for a moment did I consider that Ward might be playing someone else whose personal history has always been intertwined with the Key to Time. Someone like Princess Astra of Atrios… or should that be President Astra?
Having Ward reprise her role as Astra was a real masterstroke on Big Finish's part, and not just because of the elegance of the misdirection. For one thing, Astra’s role in “The Chaos Pool” ties Big Finish’s Key 2 Time trilogy to the original Key to Time series wonderfully, affording the two a lovely sense of balance. More significantly though, on a dramatic level Astra works superbly. After “The Armageddon Factor”, I think it is fair to say that most of us assumed that Astra went off to live happily ever after. Well, we got the ‘ever after’ bit right, just not the ‘happily’. Astra’s people are dying, stricken by a blight of sudden, premature aging. But Astra lives on, ageless, unwittingly sucking the very life out of the people that she is supposed to be leading.
And the twists do not stop there. Despite having already suckered the audience in once with the old “Madam President” rouse, Anghelides has an even bigger shocker up his sleeve – Romana does in fact have a part to play in “The Chaos Pool”, and it is one that I do not think anyone could have foreseen.
“Astra isn’t the sixth segment Doctor. I am.”
You got it - it turns out that Romana is now the sixth segment of the Key to Time!
“The Chaos Pool” posits that when the Doctor scattered the six segments at the end of
“The Armageddon Factor”, the sixth segment took up residence inside Romana’s first incarnation, immediately inducing – without her conscious knowledge – her first regeneration, and eventually leaving her moribund and unable to regenerate.
Now I have to say that I unequivocally love this development. For one thing, the fanboy in me is unquantifiably grateful that someone has finally drawn a line under that bizarre and wholly inappropriate regeneration sequence at the start of “Destiny of the Daleks”. For another, I think that this idea really makes “The Chaos Pool” the resounding success that is on an emotional level as in linking Romana’s fate directly to the Key to Time, Anghelides presents the Doctor with an apparently impossible dilemma – does he let his friend sacrifice herself and become a part of the key, thus saving the universe, or does he prevent her from doing so, and watch the universe crumple into entropy?
Peter Davison and Lalla Ward share some gorgeous scenes together in the final episode, each delicately building upon the drama of the last until “The Chaos Pool” finally reaches its staggering and epic climax. It is hard to believe that we have never actually heard the fifth Doctor and Romana converse until now, they are so very natural together.
And the final episode really is colossal; so much so, in fact, that one could quite easily mistake it for a regeneration story, as opposed to ‘just’ the final story in an arc. The newly cast and delightfully entertaining Guardians have a huge part to play in it of course, as do the mysterious Grace, but at the end of the day the fate of the universe rests in the hands of just four individuals: Zara, Amy, Romana and the Doctor.
Zara’s gradual face turn is handled very well over the course of the story, Laura Doddington giving her best performance yet by a clear margin. The idea that she has fallen in love with Captain Pargrave is interestingly played, and I particularly like how she is paired up with the Doctor and given the chance to learn from him as Amy has; it feeds into the ultimate resolution of the story brilliantly.
Amy fares slightly less well in her final story than Zara does, but this was to be expected, I suppose, given that Amy was a fairly safe bet to do the right thing, whereas Zara keeps the audience guessing right up to the big crisis moment. Nevertheless, Ciara Janson impresses throughout and I certainly hope that Big Finish do not leave the character stuck on Gallifrey forever studying under Romana’s tutelage. There would be nothing to stop Big Finish teaming her up with a future Doctor, after alll…
“So the Chaos Pool is the crucible within which the Key to Time was forged,
and where it can be disposed of without ending the universe.”
Perhaps the only truly predictable facet of “The Chaos Pool” is that the universe survives, and it is the Doctor that saves it. The Doctor’s final, heroic act in the story has a delightful simplicity to it – he takes the completed Key to Time and, to the horror of his companions, dives into the Chaos Pool with it without a thought for himself. Absolutely stunning.
Indeed, “The Chaos Pool” is one of the few audio dramas that I have heard that manages to sustain some really quite visual set pieces and action sequences, and I think it is fair to say that the soundscape here is even more vivid and stunning than usual, particularly once we arrive on the Planet of Chaos.
And so on balance, this four-parter is a suitably epic and grand conclusion to Big Finish’s delectable Key 2 Time arc. I cannot remember the last time that I was so completely swept up in such a clever and twisting tale, and for that alone this play is worth the purchase price.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
to be identified as the author of this work.
Though their production codes suggest an unlikely placement between The Caves of Androzani and The Twin Dilemma, the Key 2 Time audio dramas actually take place between the audio drama Mission of the Viyrans and the television serial The Caves of Androzani. Presumably the Doctor returns to collect Peri (who is busy changing back into her original outfit…) following the end of The Chaos Pool.
From Romana’s point of view, these events take place following the events of Blood Harvest and Goth Opera, but prior to her ascent to the Time Lord Presidency. Interestingly though, Romana is already contemplating one of the most radical reforms that she’d make when in power – opening the doors of Gallifrey’s Academy
to non-Gallifreyans, starting with Amy.
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