The Sixth Doctor lands in the Excelis imperial museum just in time to get tangled up in a robbery with roots in a distant past he remembers all too well. Steampunk, etheric ministers, psychometry, stray mentions of warring principalities and other cultures—there’s something about this setting that reminds me of The Golden Compass, or at least the stuffy university before they go haring off on their adventures. This Excelis audio feels more embedded in the wider world of Arteris than any of the others, despite the fact that the whole story takes place within the walls of just one building.
Have a trailer.
All the guest characters are good, solid archetypes, from the tough and competent female police warden (investigator of crime) to the cultured yet oily Reeve who’s up to something to the affable old museum curator. They all turn out to be a little more shrewd than is typical for their role. Six is in great form, exchanging wit, flippancy, philosophy, and a certain sympathetic understanding with those around him.This is the mature sixth Doctor I don’t recall TV ever giving us. In fact, while this isn’t really an exceptional stand-out story, it’s the audio that finally helped me appreciate Six properly.
For that, I remember it fondly, although on a re-listen I’m more keenly aware of its one-hour, one-episode format.
“When you’ve been falsely accused of serious crimes as often I have, you learn to recognise the oncoming inevitability of the next one.” — The Doctor
In fact, the lack of cliffhangers in Excelis eliminates the need to have sudden, artificial crisis points where someone’s about to die. So there’s no armed combat, no gadgets or machinery to build or defeat or hack, no physical conflict at all. Instead, it’s an old-fashioned stage drama where the conflict is between characters, based on their personalities, their histories, their needs and their agendas.
It’s short and simple, and it feels quieter than the main range, but it’s a solid little story. In some ways I’m sorry that it wasn’t expanded to a four-part adventure in order to let us see more of this steampunk era, but I suppose there’s not really enough plot to sustain a more complicated tale.
There’s not too much to say on this one, but I will say that the Reeve-character is a distinct improvement on his previous incarnation. He’s a sympathetic antagonist, even though he’s still morally bankrupt, thanks largely to the capable acting of Anthony Stewart Head.
There’s two oblique references to Trial of a Timelord.
Reeve: There’s recognition in your eyes— recognition and caution, as they would be when facing someone you were not sure was an ally or an enemy.
Doctor: I’m a little uncomfortable with authority, these days.
Doctor: This sort of thing— interfering with other people’s problems— has got me into trouble lately.
So I take it that this adventure is one of several following that mess, when the Doctor had lost Peri and not yet picked up Evelyn. (Presumably the Frobisher adventures are in the same gap.)