Classic Doctors, New Monsters 1.3 – Harvest of the Sycorax

Sycorax strong, Sycorax mighty, Sycorax tedious. This heavy-handed satire on our over-medicated culture runs smack dab into one-dimensional villains. To my mind, it’s the weakest outing in an otherwise superb collection.

At some point in the future, everybody has talking apps that constantly announce their health and emotional status in loud voices, because that wouldn’t get in the way of work or conversation at all. People take drugs for every twinge of mood or symptom throughout the day. Into this over-the-top Star Trek parable of a society steps a Doctor who, unlike everyone else, isn’t very keen on medicine.

“And what about you, Doctor? Do you just pop out of nowhere and be rude?”

He does his best to shepherd these “foolish humans” through a life-or-death situation with some bullying Sycorax. The harrowing scrapes that result slowly transform from artificial satire to real drama with an emotional element.

The chief flaw of this audio is that an in-universe element made it difficult to connect with the characters or feel immersed in the adventure. The first half-hour was peppered with a steady stream of intrusive computer announcements such as “X is feeling upset” or “Y is experiencing accelerated heartrate.” The Sycorax speaking of themselves in third person was more of same. It’s difficult for an audio drama to “show, not tell,” at the best of times, and that was a very clunky form of telling.

Once that dials back, and the characters stop narrating their feelings in a similarly stilted fashion, the story becomes more engaging. Zanzibar Hashtag, standing in as a surrogate companion, begins to develop enough of a personality that I wouldn’t have minded her staying on. There’s still the problem of one-dimensional monsters, and Seven’s flippancy sounded rather callous at times. But there are also witty one-liners, a lot of dry humour, and a diabolical plot on the part of the baddies which results in a great set-piece between the Doctor and Zanzibar towards the end.

It’s fine, as far as Who adventures go, and I enjoyed it much more on a re-listen (I had trouble getting through it the first time). It’s just one of those Planet of Evil stories: action, drama, and some moments of pathos, but less effective than Big Finish at its best.

Spoilerific Comments

Full disclosure: I was mildly irked by this audio partly because (a) I have to take several medications for chronic health problems, and this hit a little close to home, and (b) props for trying to toss in a same-sex relationship just for a change of pace, but their emoting was too flat to be convincing, and it was patently obvious that they were going to fulfill to 2016’s “bring out your dead [lesbian]” quota, an overused trope that’s gotten a ton of press coverage this year. “Here we go again, yawn” saps the drama out of character death.