Main Range 226a – Shadow Planet

Most SF characters face an alternate self at some point, so it’s time for the TARDIS crew to have a go.

This story sees the return of Hex, or rather, a throwback to early in his travels when he was still settling in. They all sound younger, especially Ace, whining again and again that she’s bored, bored, bored. She pounces a planet in the TARDIS database, Unity, that promises to help visitors by letting them face their own “shadow.” She’s been around the block a few times; surely she should realise that isn’t the kind of fun she’s looking for?

Poor Hex tags along after her, although this certainly isn’t his idea of fun. The Doctor opts out to go meddling exploring.

Ace: Oooo, maybe you’re scared of what you might find.
Doctor: Maybe what I might find would be scared of me.

The “shadows” that confront Ace and Hex are interesting, although I thought this story missed some opportunities to play with that premise in more depth. The Doctor has uncovered a larger and more dire problem, limiting time this one-hour story can devote to character beats. The guest characters on planet Unity are stripped down as well. Luckily, skilled actors like Nicholas Grace (beleaguered Professor Grove in this audio, the Balancer in Equilibrium) can convey a lot of character in a few lines. The cast is rounded out with callous buisnesswoman Mrs Wheeler, her fretful personal assistant Sandy, and a model employee named Loglan who turns out to be anything but.

The Seventh Doctor sounds like his kinder, more avuncular self, but he’s hiding something with his puttering. You may need to check your cynicism at the door to swallow his solution to the crisis.

Like Alien Heart / Dalek Soul, the first story in this double header is a modest offering, an appetiser before a more intense and experimental main course. It’s not as crucial to hear this one before the followup, but some of the psychological beats here are explored in more depth in the following story, which may explain why they got short shrift.

Warning:  If you don’t want to know where Hex ends up at the end of his Main Range arc that concluded a few years ago, skip the first 5 minutes of the interview extras. Sophie drops a huge spoiler.

Spoilerific Comments

I appreciate a story that doesn’t toss out the entire mental health industry with the bathwater. Instead, this audio takes aim at profit-driven therapy (and by extension medical care?) when financial considerations hamper the goal of trying to help people.

While Unity is set up to help people integrate the inner and outer parts of themselves, it’s ironic that the staff are forced to stay even more differentiated than is natural by banishing and locking up their shadows. Mrs Wheeler takes it one step worse, lording over and enslaving her Shadow, mocking Sandy for all the things she used to be that she hates. Just to prove the point that the shadow is not always the “dark side” of a person, poor repressed Sandy is the nicer of the pair. Even her northern accent conveys a sense of genuineness: unlike Wheeler, she’s not masking her true voice with posh Received Pronunciation.

Let’s step back a moment to review: Jung 101.

A shadow isn’t necessarily one’s dark (evil) side, as this story tries to explain (and the Big Finish summary on the website needs tweaking). Instead, it’s  one’s repressed urges, desires, fears, doubts, anxieties, hopes: everything that one doesn’t realise is lurking behind one’s actions and emotions and dreams. One of the goals of traditional Jungian psychotherapy is to help the patient discover these repressed parts of their mind, find ways to harness them instead of simply being buffeted by them without noticing.

It’s difficult to figure out the parts of a fictional character’s mind that they normally keep suppressed. You need to know them extremely well for those kinds of insights, and it’s very subjective. But to me, the Ace-Shadow and Hex-Shadow felt a little off. Their shadows are apathetic and cynical, which I suppose might simply be buried resentment against the trials of time travel. But their sneering indifference doesn’t sound to me like an attitude either would have, even in reverse,.Not only that, but they both exhibited the same disagreeable traits, despite being aspects of different people. I liked Survival’s take on Ace’s shadow better: her unconscious expresses itself in some very primal ways in that story.

Shadow-Hex’s apathy fits him a little better. But as for repressed thoughts, I’m surprised anger at the Doctor didn’t well up for at least a scene. Ace pretends exactly that for a joke at the end of the story, but in another story that would be a plot point. (Then again, I suppose it’s been many times.)

Also, their shadows’ about-face to save Ace (or at least shout her name into an intercom; I’m not sure how that helped) didn’t seem to stem from any fundamental revelation or character growth. Hex just argues with them for a bit, they refuse, and then they say, “Oh, okay.” Similarly, the Doctor using a holographic dance routine to convince Umbra felt a little glib.

On the other hand, the idea of a sentient planet and the premise of being able to project parts of one’s personality onto an android for purposes of self-examination therapy are both pretty spiffy ideas.