Doctor Who
Excelis Dawns

Starring: Peter Davison
Big Finish Productions
RRP 13.99
ISBN 1 903654 63 7, BFPDWCDEX1
Available now

On the planet Arteris, the Doctor becomes embroiled in a quest to find a missing holy relic, aided by a callous local warrior, Lord Grayvorn. But the Doctor is not the only time-traveller in the vicinity - he finds Iris Wildthyme in a nunnery of all places...

A few years ago, Reeltime Video asked Who on Earth is Katy Manning? Well, on Earth she may have been Jo Grant, but on Arteris she is most definitely Iris Wildthyme, who joins the ranks of previously prose-only characters that have been brought to life courtesy of Big Finish. As eccentric as she was on the aforementioned Reeltime documentary, Manning is excellent as the wayward Time Lady.

After last year's moving audio drama, The Stones of Venice, writer Paul Magrs returns to more comedic territory, with Iris telling more of those tall tales that are variations on the Doctor's own adventures (although we have heard one of these stories before, in the Doctor Who novel Verdigris). There's also an amusing double entendre or two.

On a more serious note, in a moment of character development of a type rarely realised in the original TV show, Iris and the Doctor (Peter Davison) discuss why the Time Lord has lost his former devil-may-care attitude. Davison reprises a Doctor who would continue to grow increasingly morose until his regeneration in The Caves of Androzani.

Anthony Stewart Head is somewhat less impressive as the warlord Grayvorn. Obviously seeking to escape typecasting as the thoroughly nice Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Head ends up sounding like a gruff version of Prince Charles. Although his self-righteousness is frequently undermined by comments from the Doctor or Iris, this does not happen often enough for the character to truly work as either a comic straight man or as a serious threat to our heroes. However, Head could redeem himself if he were to begin the next instalment of the saga by saying, "Previously on the Excelis trilogy..."!

The quest for the Relic brings to mind another trilogy that is currently in progress: the Lord of the Rings series. The effect that the Relic has upon those who possess it is strongly reminiscent of the wearers of the One Ring and their habit of calling it "precious".

The story structure is a little unusual, as it lacks any episodic cliffhanger endings. The only break occurs when you have to change over to the second CD. Since this story is set between Frontios and Resurrection of the Daleks, with the Doctor (and the unheard Tegan) en route to Kolkokron, the use of "double-length episodes" coincidentally ties in with the original broadcast format of Resurrection.

As with The Fellowship of the Ring, I find this adventure OK, but it doesn't truly distinguish itself as a drama in its own right. Perhaps it will work better in retrospect, as more of the tale is told. Time will tell.

Richard McGinlay