THIS STORY TAKES
FINISH AUDIO DRAMAS
"KLEIN'S STORY" AND
"THE ARCHITECTS OF
BIG FINISH CD#131
RELEASED IN FEBRUARY
ON A DISTANT WORLD,
THE DOCTOR AND KLEIN
DISCOVER THAT THE
INSECT-LIKE RACE THAT
THEY COME TO KNOW AS
THE VRILL HAVE BEEN
ALL BUT WIPED OUT BY
THE MYSTERIOUS AND
DISCOVERING THE TRUE
NATURE OF THE ALIEN
WINTERLACK, KLEIN IS
CAST OUR OF THE VRILL
NEST INTO THE JUNGLE
BEYOND. THERE, SHE IS
FORCED TO CONFRONT
THE THREAT ALONE.
IN THE VRILL NEST, THE
SEARCHES FOR A WAY
TO SAVE THE VRILL, BUT
THE ODDS ARE AGAINST
HIM AND TIME IS FAST
There are certain Doctor Who sub-genres that I love, and others of which I’m less than fond. As a general rule of thumb, most historical adventures; contemporary invasions; wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, headache-prompting brainteasers; and even sweeping space operas are likely to prompt a thumbs-up from me, whereas even the most inventive and well-drawn alien jungles and bug-eyed monsters are unlikely to even capture my interest. And so when I saw the cover and the blurb for Survival of the Fittest, I assumed that no matter how impressive Jonathan Clements’ script was going to be by any objective standard, I wouldn’t like it. And nine times out of ten, when I form such a prejudice I’m ultimately proven right.
Nine times of out of ten…
Whilst Clements would give the likes
of Paul Leonard or Jim Mortimore
a run for their money here with his
extraordinary extraterrestrial world-
building, I think that Survival of the
Fittest has a much wider appeal than
most heavy science-fiction pieces.
Inspired largely by the behaviour of
bees, the Vrill and their world are
wholly alien to the listener, yet they
are presented in such a way that we
are able to grasp the concepts and
relate to them without any ado. Furthermore, In a truly inspired move, Clements even delves into the inner workings of the TARDIS’ translation circuits, explaining how the Doctor and Klein (and indeed, Steffen and Jackson) can hear the Vrill, despite their communications being entirely olfactory. I knew that Big Finish were pioneering, but I’d still thought we were years away from scratch ‘n’ sniff drama.
What really made Survival of the Fittest so enjoyable for me though was its superb portrayal of Klein and her relationships with the Doctor and, to a certain extent, Steffen. Explicitly set some considerable time after the events of A Thousand Tiny Wings, when this story opens the Doctor and Klein are operating as a reasonably well-oiled team. They’ve been all over time and space together and, much to the Doctor’s delight, Klein genuinely appears to be opening her eyes to the wonder of the universe. There is one especially beautiful scene right at the start of the play, where Klein looks up to see the whole Milky Way galaxy in the night sky (the Vrill planet is almost directly below the galactic core) and is rapt by its splendour.
“Maybe travel is broadening your mind…”
Of course, Klein still clearly detests the Doctor and what he’s done to her world, and more fundamentally she’s still a fascist. However, what Clements cleverly does with her here is
to project what she views as the positive aspects of totalitarianism onto the Vrill, whom she obviously feels sympathy for. Here Klein champions the Vrill ‘state’ over Steffen’s individual, completely missing the point that Steffen is the one who tried to wipe out the Vrill using nerve gas; Steffen is the one claiming to need “Lebensraum” (at least initially). It’s as if Klein is so desperate to reconcile her Nazi philosophies with her sympathetic feelings for the Vrill that she’s completely blind to the salient facts of the situation.
“All time and space will lay before me. A thousand year Reich!
The Reich will rise again. It will be my victory!”
Now had Survival of the Fittest followed on from Klein’s Story directly, I don’t think that I’d have bought into her evident rehabilitation and, more to the point, I don’t think that the Doctor would have done either. But given the passage of subjective time and the Doctor’s insidious counsel, as Clements’ story galloped towards its conclusion I was starting to believe that Klein was actually softening. I should’ve known better though – we wouldn’t have had much
of a final act to look forward to if that were the case, now would we? The play concludes with Klein stealing the TARDIS and releasing a tirade of suppressed vitriol – vitriol that seems to take the overconfident Time Lord very much by surprise. Indeed, the weary Doctor is almost incredulous when he realises that, despite the unique “education” that he has provided her with, Klein has betrayed him.
And Tracey Childs and Sylvester McCoy both play it so very well; so much so, in fact, that part of me is sorry that we’ve had to cut straight to the end, as it were. As it is, this is the only story of the run to really cast Klein in the “companion” role. I would have loved to have heard about the Doctor and Klein’s intervening adventures; about her smiling and wagging her tail with just enough spite to make the changing of her spots seem plausible.
“Is that enough lebensraum for you?”
On a final note, Adrian Bower (Brian of Teachers fame) and his discrete, northern brogue matches Childs and McCoy every step of the way as Steffen. In the accompanying extras, Mark Donovan (who plays Steffen’s partner in crime, Jackson) likens the pair of galactic rogues to Glitz and Dibber (The Trial of a Time Lord, Dragonfire) but in truth they’re much more down and dirty than that, willing to wipe out a sentient species just so that they can “farm” some unique nutrients and make a quick buck. Even so, the pair of them maintain
an almost bungling sense of ingenuousness that certainly makes them memorable, if not quite endearing.
And so Survival of the Fittest has turned out to be the one in ten, hard-hitting science fiction adventure that manages to impress me, even though it’s far from being my usual cup of tea. Laden with innumerable layers of metaphor and buoyed by some bravura performances, the beating heart of this “Klein Trilogy” is certainly not to be missed.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story makes it explicit that after leaving 1950s Kenya, the Doctor and Klein visit many different worlds together, including Mendroxia, Quinbrax IV and Vulcan (The Power of the Daleks).
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