Doctor Who Audio Book Review: #14 – The Holy Terror

Written By: Robert Shearman
Directed By: Nicholas Pegg
Featuring: The Sixth Doctor and Frobisher
Release Date: November 2000

Big Finish Summary:

The TARDIS lands in a forbidding castle in a time of religious upheaval. The old God has been overthrown, and all heretics are to be slaughtered. Obviously it isn’t the sort of thing which would happen every day – just every few years or so.

And when the Doctor and Frobisher are hailed as messengers from heaven, they quickly become vital to opposing factions in their struggle for power. But will they be merely the acolytes of the new order – or will they be made Gods themselves?

An evil destructive force is growing deep within the crypt. And the pair soon find out that they will be lucky to escape their new immortality with their lives.

‘The Holy Terror’ is a relatively experimental audio adventure for this Doctor Who series by Big Finish, but it largely pays off, thanks to a brilliant choice of companion and a narrative that brings several laugh out loud moments and a strong morality tale.

From the outset, it was clear that tonally this story would veer on the lighter side compared to previous adventures in this series. A man is on the verge of being sentenced to execution, only for the guard’s mood to change to overwhelmingly jolly and apologetic when the man agrees to change his faith to the new God. We then enter the TARDIS, where a shapeshifting being, with an accent reminiscent of 1920s America and currently in the guise of a penguin, hunts for a fish during his bath. Yes, this story sees the introduction of another companion of the Doctor, seen mostly in comic strip form, Frobisher. This was my first experience of the character and I found him a hoot, especially considering listeners can only imagine the sight of a talking penguin waddling along the halls of a castle. His presence matched the tone of the first half of the adventure but increasingly became a bit of an anomaly when the tone of the narrative took a darker turn, especially in the final part of the story.

There was ultimately a reason why all of the guest cast spoke with overly eccentric and well-spoken accents and I feel like the build up to the big reveal was done well. From the strange way in which the biographies of previous rulers always ended on the very last page of the book, to the multiple references to roles being passed down from “father to son”, it wasn’t the most complex puzzle to solve, but I am not sure that was the intention of the writer when he came up with the plot. Whilst it did indeed feel reminiscent of certain TV stories from Classic Who (fellow fans of the show will know which stories I am referring to), it had a sense of fun to it, especially when Frobisher is proclaimed as being the true God of the kingdom, that was welcome but also felt off with the serious tone of the reveal. That is ultimately what I feel like the overwhelming feeling towards this story should have been, that it utilised the comedic talents of the cast (particularly Robert Jezek as Frobisher) to create a lighter story than usual but one that could be enjoyed over and over again.

The appearance of The Boy towards the end of Part 3 brought an interesting switch-up to the narrative and subsequently the tone. This character had a terrifyingly childish yet robotic voice and it brings a creepy image to the listener’s mind, of a small boy going on a murderous rampage, with the sound effects suggesting that its victims were literally torn apart. The tone became darker still when the true nature of what the castle and its inhabitants was revealed to the Doctor and Frobisher; the latter increasingly feeling out of place in this kind of narrative. Listeners would have expected the climax of this story but it still was a largely somber affair, a complete 180 from the story’s opening. There was also an analogy made by the Doctor, comparing the true nature of the castle with Frobisher conjuring a computer generated fish to hunt at the start, which didn’t land particularly well. The lighter-hearted aspects of this story made me laugh out loud several times, and the darker ones made me think. They could have worked seamlessly together in a story like this but I found the transition a bit jarring. It is still great that Big Finish experimented with narrative for this story, as it came off for the most part.

Verdict: This is the most left-field Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure to date, taking an eccentric companion from comic strips and pulling together a narrative that veers from overwhelmingly light-hearted to a dark morality tale, even if the transition was a bit too abrupt. Overall, ‘The Holy Terror’ is a successful audio book adventure and its experimental elements, especially the brilliant Frobisher, should be considered a triumph.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆

‘The Holy Terror’ is available to listen to for free on Spotify. It is also currently only £1.49 to purchase for download on the Big Finish website, with this offer ending on the 22nd April, and can be found through the link below.

The next audio book adventure in this Doctor Who Big Finish series sees the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa trapped in a deadly chain of events involving the Daleks, a Thal scientist who has the power to save the universe, and the mysterious Mutant Phase. My review of Audio Book #15 – ‘The Mutant Phase’ will land in a week’s time.

If you enjoyed reading this blog post, then please do like, and subscribe to The Blogging DJ to be notified via email when new posts are published. If you have any recommendations of audio books that you think I would enjoy, or anything Doctor Who related you would like to see in the future, drop me a comment in the section below. I will see you all very soon for my next audio book review in this series.

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