Sunday, October 26, 2014


"Zagreus" was eagerly anticipated. First of all, it's the followup to the tremendous cliffhanger from the end of the epic story "Neverland". Furthermore, it was billed as the 40th anniversary story featuring all four of the Big Finish Doctors united for the first time. I can imagine the excitement of fans in 2003, speculating that Doctors 5-7 would team up to somehow help their future self, who had been corrupted by anti-time and transformed into the evil, Zagreus. Earlier in the year, Big Finish teased a multi-Doctor story starring the 6th and 7th Doctors in "Project: Lazarus" which ended up not being the case. Surely, for the big 40th anniversary release, they wouldn't pull that bait and switch again would they? Would they?!

I came to "Zagreus" somewhere between 1-2 years after it's release. I didn't know any details about it, but I had heard some rumblings that it was considered a disappointment. Even knowing its reputation, I savored listening to all the stories in between "Neverland" and "Zagreus" (in part because most of them were quite good), building up my anticipation for this epic story. Looking back, the 10th and 20th anniversary multi-Doctor stories are pretty underwhelming. Sure, they have a lot of fun multi-Doctor interactions, but I know few people who would hold them up as classic stories. (The less said about the 30th anniversary "special" the better.) So, I expected "Zagreus" might not be all that it was cracked up to be, but at the least it would be a fun time with all the Doctors squabbling and eventually teaming up with each other, and would provide a nice resolution to the anti-time infected 8th Doctor. How wrong I was. Plus, I was very curious how all of these old companions (actors) were going to be thrown into the mix. (The giant cast list is prominently advertised.)

Well, we all know by now that "Zagreus" is not what is billed to be. Instead of a reunion of Doctors and companions we just get a lot of "holo-projections" from the TARDIS where all these actors do not play the roles they made famous in Doctor Who. Plus, these roles aren't even truly real people, but simple TARDIS projections. So, Big Finish has the audacity to once again yank the rug out from under fan expectations, and do it for the 40th anniversary of the program! This might be forgivable if the story had at least been satisfying, but it's really just a long winded bore. McGann spends almost all of the first third of the story running around the TARDIS ranting. The idea of the TARDIS turning on the Doctor was just.... horrible. All of the allusions to "Alice in Wonderland" lose their charm quite quickly. The three events Charley are shown by the TARDIS are not really to aid the Doctor, but to simply introduce the Divergents. This could have been done much more quickly, just by skipping ahead to everyone being in Rassilon's foundry. And, what's the deal with Rassilon anyway? Is he dead or not? This is never really made clear. Romana encounters him in the matrix. But, by the end he is physically shoved into the alternative Divergent universe. So, what was the deal? If he wasn't dead, who is the body in the tomb? And, what were they possibly thinking in dredging up the old recordings of Jon Pertwee? Many of the clips are impossible to understand, but even when they are comprehensible, the conversation between him and McGann is so stilted and awkward. Finally, the fact that they shoved so much Doctor Who continuity into this and provided unneeded (and unsatisfying) explanations for so many parts of Doctor Who lore was terrible. Any one of these revelations might have been a bombshell in a Doctor Who story. They are all greatly diminished by just being haphazardly thrown out one after the other during this unending bore.

There are a few parts that I do end up enjoying. Colin Baker's performance as one of the vampires, is quite sinister and entertaining. The revelation that the vampires didn't feed on any sentient creatures until after Rassilon waged war on them, could have made for a fascinating reveal in its own story. But, instead it just gets lost in all the other flotsam that's thrown around in this mess. It's also worth noting that McCoy is fabulous as Uncle Winkie. Truly, the perfect character for McCoy and the 7th Doctor to be pigeon holed into. Of course, the entire idea of the robots at the amusement park being at war with each other, is completely ridiculous. But McCoy is a riot as the character. The meeting between Leela and Romana, and the acknowledgement of there being two K-9's on Gallifrey is great. It sets up a nice dynamic between the two which would be followed up nicely in the "Gallifrey" series, but again just gets swallowed up and mostly wasted being in this mess.

Perhaps worst of all, is when the 8th Doctor (still infected) decides to leave our universe forever, and won't take Charley with him. The 8th Doctor and Charley dynamic was so wonderful, and you can feel it being completely and irrevocably shattered in their painful "farewell" scene in the TARDIS. Her awful whinging over being "dumped" just makes me want to smash my iPod. This dynamic will never, ever be the same again. At the end of the story, it does seem genuinely interesting that the Doctor and Charley will be entering a brand new universe. It seems like a bold idea to thrust new rules and adversaries into the show. When the Doctor was exiled to Earth and worked for UNIT, it revitalized the show and was better than ever. So, a new universe and robbing the Doctor of time travel could have been a bold, refreshing change for the show. Of course, once we get to this new universe, we'll just be counting the stories until we get back home. Clearly, the TARDIS had to jump over a shark en route to the Divergent Universe.

Obviously, I find this story to be an epic failure. It also signals the start of what I consider a major down period in the quality of Big Finish. There are many more great stories ahead from Big Finish in the main monthly Doctor Who range. But, for a while, we are going to have to get through a lot of woeful stories, while enjoying only a few bright spots along the way. A truly bloated disaster of a story and the worst "proper" anniversary special.

Rating: Poor

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