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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
Survival of the Fittest


Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 84435 434 4
Available 28 February 2010

Though entitled Survival of the Fittest, this double CD contains a lot more than just the three-part story of that name. It begins with a single-part bonus adventure, Klein’s Story...

Elizabeth Klein is an anomaly, a renegade from an alternate timeline in which the Nazis won World War II. In an attempt to get to know his latest companion, the Doctor invites Klein to tell him how exactly she came to be in possession of his TARDIS and of the events that led to her trip into the past, to Colditz Castle...

It’s hard to believe, but, as the interviews at the end of Disc 1 reveal, Klein’s Story was actually an afterthought on the part of the production team, one that arose from the need for a filler episode when it was decided that Survival of the Fittest should be condensed from its planned four episodes to three.

It’s hard to believe because the episode seems essential to the development of the relationship between the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Klein (Tracey Childs). Though John Ainsworth and Lee Mansfield’s story arguably tells us little that hasn’t already been disclosed in dialogue in Colditz, it confirms the Doctor’s suspicions about what happened to his alternate future self, and it reveals to Klein the extent to which she has been manipulated by the Time Lord. The dramatised flashbacks also reveal details of Klein’s former life, including her attachment to a sort of Nazi UNIT (there are neat parallels with Liz Shaw’s induction into UNIT at the beginning of Spearhead From Space).

Best of all, this episode allows for a guest appearance by Paul McGann as “Johann Schmidt”, the Eighth Doctor of the alternate timeline.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that listening to Klein’s Story means that you don’t need to have heard Colditz. For one thing, details about the Seventh Doctor and Ace’s activities in Colditz Castle are relatively sketchy here. Besides, why wouldn’t you want to listen to the brilliant Colditz?! However, this episode is a useful primer if your memory needs jogging, as well as an essential character piece in its own right.



On a distant world, far above the galactic plane, the Doctor and Klein discover that the insect-like race they come to know as the Vrill has been all but wiped out by the mysterious and terrifying Winterlack. Discovering the true nature of the Winterlack, Klein is cast out of the Vrill nest into the jungle beyond. There, she is forced to confront the Winterlack threat alone. In the Vrill nest, the Doctor desperately searches for a way to save the Vrill from extinction - but the odds are against him and time is running out...

As Survival of the Fittest begins (unusually for these three-plus-one combinations, the single-parter comes before the three-parter in the running order), it soon becomes clear that the Doctor and Klein have been travelling for some time since Klein’s Story. She seems to be settling in quite well, a fact that disappointed me at first, as I had been expecting a lot of initial distrust and only a very gradual mellowing between the two unlikely companions. However, let’s just say that writer Jonathan Clements lulled me into a false sense of security...

In addition to the Doctor / Klein arc, this story’s other main point of interest is the alien culture of the Vrill, giant bee-like insects who are realised on audio surprisingly well - and certainly far more successfully than the Zarbi and the Menoptra on TV. The exploration of their scent-based language (which the TARDIS translates into words that can be heard lingering in the air) and carefully ordered society (in which memories and social roles are imprinted while each hatchling is still in its egg) is truly fascinating. Hannah Smith, Evie Dawnay and Rupert Wickham are delightful as the surviving members of the insect population.

Some might say that the story’s cliffhanger ending is predictable, though personally I would have been disappointed if it had ended any other way.



The CD doesn’t end there, though. The second disc concludes with the twelfth and final mini-episode of The Three Companions, the Companion Chronicle that has been serialised over the last twelve monthly releases. A year is a long time to keep a story in one’s head (for example, I had forgotten that the environmental angle was set up in the very first episode), so I thought it might be an idea to revisit the previous eleven instalments before listening to this one. Now seems like a good time to present an overview of the story, compiling and reassessing observations made in previous reviews...

Polly Wright, former companion of the Second Doctor, tracks down Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart via the Internet. As they chat online, telling each other stories of their days with the Doctor, they discover that they have a shared experience, and one that began on a world far away. Soon they also realise that they have a new acquaintance - a mysterious young man called Thomas Brewster. But can he cure the planet’s accelerated global warming...?

Each instalment of Marc Platt’s tale lasts for about half the duration of a standard 25-minute episode, so the total running time is about the same as an old-style six-parter. Each of the three companions, the intriguing combination of Polly (Anneke Wills), a retired Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and the short-lived audio assistant to the Fifth Doctor, Thomas Brewster (John Pickard), takes centre stage in turn, starting with Polly. The signature tune is customised accordingly, beginning with the Troughton version for Polly’s episodes and ending with the Davison theme for Brewster’s section.

During the first four mini-episodes, Polly tells Sir Alistair about an adventure she once experienced with the Second Doctor, Ben and Jamie on an eerie dead world. As usual, Wills mimics the vocal styles of her former fellow cast members with great skill. At this point in the saga, Brewster’s involvement is occasional and peripheral, but nonetheless intriguing.

Next the Brigadier tells his story, a rare excursion in the TARDIS with the Third Doctor. In a bizarre turn of events, the two men find themselves in what initially appears to be Waterloo Station in London, but proves to be something far stranger. Curious connections are established between this and Polly’s story, including the presence of the sinister Coffin-Loaders and the devious Gerry Lenz (Russell Floyd), though here he goes by the name of Garry Lendler.

Brewster takes on a more substantial role during the last four parts, which, unlike previous instalments, primarily take place in the present (day and tense) rather than the past. Once again, Platt reprises story elements from previous episodes, such as Lendler (now calling himself Gerard Lander) and the robotic duplicates from the Brigadier’s story. In addition to playing Brewster, Pickard does a mean impersonation of Stewart Bevan’s Professor Clifford Jones from The Green Death during the narrated sections.

I found the ending to be a bit of a damp squib, and a little confusing despite my refresher course. Even so, this has been a diverting companion piece.


Richard McGinlay

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