Doctor Who
Immortal Beloved

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 10.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 258 6
Available 30 April 2007

Landing on the edge of a cliff in what appears to be ancient Greece, the Doctor and Lucie interrupt a pair of star-crossed lovers, Kalkin and Sararti, who have fled their censorious "parents" and plan to take their own lives. Lucie is rather pleased, since this romantic angst is just the kind of problem she feels she excels at solving (thereby giving her one up on the Doctor, for once). However, the deeper she delves, the stranger things look. Greek gods with helicopters and walkie-talkies? What's really going on? And will overlord Zeus stop at nothing to extend the lives of his chosen few...?

This audio drama manages to feel fresh and familiar at the same time.

The familiarity comes from the elements of Jonathan Clements's plot. The Doctor has met a being claiming to be Zeus before now, in the Fourth Doctor Doctor Who Monthly comic strip The Life Bringer. And he encountered immoral and immortal overlords at roughly the same time on television in State of Decay.

However, the writer's primary sources are Roger Zelazny's 1967 novel Lord of Light and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. His script plainly acknowledges these influences. Like Lord of Light, this story has people masquerading as deities, using advanced technology to create the illusion of godlike powers and to facilitate their "immortality" by transferring minds into newly grown bodies. Like Zelazny, Clements names one of his protagonists Kalkin (Anthony Spargo). And lest we overlook any of the similarities that exist between Kalkin and Sararti (Jennifer Higham) and Shakespeare's famous star-crossed lovers, Lucie (Sheridan Smith) helpfully informs us that things have, "Gone all Romeo and Juliet."

The freshness comes from the quality of the performances and the dialogue. Leading the guest cast in every sense is Ian McNeice as Zeus, a role not unlike that of Baron Harkonnen, whom he played in the Dune mini-series and its sequel Children of Dune. He is quite delightful as the openly gluttonous and lecherous would-be god. His wife Hera (played by Elspet Gray, who previously appeared in Doctor Who in Arc of Infinity, but who is probably best known as Edmund's mother in The Black Adder) is more sympathetic, as we hear her tiring of endless existence. Meanwhile, Spargo and Higham more than hold their own as younger incarnations of these characters - though the youngest member of the cast, Paul McGann's own offspring Jake, playing Ganymede, shows signs of his inexperience.

The whole production crackles with memorable lines such as Zeus's, "He's my heir and my spare", and Lucie's, "Portal of cleansing? Portal of perving, more like!"

Despite the technological explanations for the rulers' powers, Immortal Beloved retains a mythic quality, possibly owing to the fact that the writer never specifies whether these people are aliens or humans on some future colony planet. Or could the TARDIS actually have landed in ancient Greece?

The interviews at the end of the CD are more light-hearted than enlightening, consisting mostly of the guest actors' thoughts on the old, new and audio versions of Doctor Who. The merits of the various Doctors are compared and contrasted, though sadly no one can seem to think of much to say about McGann apart from agreeing that he's "lovely". Ian McNeice has a rather quaint notion of how wealthy Colin Baker's fame must have made him!

This story might not go down in Who history as an immortal classic, but there's much about it to make it beloved.

Richard McGinlay

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