Doctor Who Audio Book Review: #15 – The Mutant Phase

Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Featuring: The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa
Release Date: December 2000

Big Finish Summary:

In the 22nd century, the Daleks have occupied planet Earth. By the 43rd century, only a handful of human survive. Still further into the distant future, a Thal scientist must choose whether to betray his heritage, or see the universe destroyed.

When the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves trapped in this deadly chain of events, they must decide who their real enemies are. What is certain is that no matter where the Doctor turns, the Daleks will be waiting for him.

What could possibly be worse than that? The Mutant Phase…

Weaving some great concepts involving the Daleks and time travel together, “The Mutant Phase” focuses on building up tension rather than overly relying on danger and gives the adventure a level of detail and sense of where it belongs in the Who-niverse that future Big Finish adventures should aspire to.

This audio book adventure is the third in the Big Finish ‘Dalek Empire’ series, loosely interlinking the stories featuring the Doctor’s oldest TV enemy. When compared to the previous adventure in this series – “The Apocalypse Element” – the pacing on the surface appears to be far slower. But where that title focused on a chaotic onslaught of action and fighting, this story chooses to instead ramp up the tension. Listeners know that the fate of the entire universe is still at stake, courtesy of the terrifying sounding Mutant Creatures that left Earth a desolate wasteland in the future. The narrative of this is also stronger than “The Genocide Machine” as, despite having more complex concepts including the Dalek’s Time Tunnel, a confrontation with the Dalek Emperor on their home world of Skaro and the fact that Daleks and a small group of Thals – sworn enemies from their very first TV appearances in 1963 – are working together to find a cure for this common threat. It was also great to have part of this episode taking place during the Dalek invasion of Earth in 2157AD, another TV adventure from the 1960s; I always appreciate a story more than has a sense of its history.

A big conclusion I am starting to make upon listening to these audio books is that certain characters are finally being given the opportunity to be showcased after being subject to below-par scripts. Colin Baker’s incarnation of the Doctor is probably the most startling transformation and even characters with mixed reception such as Mel are given some good material to work with. This is truly the story in which Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) comes into her own as a character. After not really been given much to work with in previous audio books, I am very happy that the writer chose to give her such a large role in the narrative. Her character was the one to discover the true cause of the mutation that created the monstrous species whilst everyone was sleeping, and was also the one to synthesize the antidote against this mutation. Her scientific knowledge and expertise were finally utilised in a way that didn’t make her seem as dull as she was in the TV series. I do have one small complaint about her treatment, and that was that she wasn’t apologised to by Peter Davison’s Doctor for his patronising comments at the start of the story when she was fixing an element of the TARDIS.

Despite containing some pretty big concepts, the two hours of this story sped by; this was one of the easiest stories to listen to and by far the easiest in a Fifth Doctor audio adventure. It isn’t a perfect story though, with the portrayal of the Doctor still seeming a bit unremarkable; maybe the strength of this Doctor came with his visual mannerisms and the way he physically commanded scenes. Even though the narrative has its strong aspects, the cliffhangers don’t feel like they occur when the tension is at its highest and the finale, though many others would like how clever it is, felt a bit abrupt in the way it was delivered. These are only minor details though and they definitely do not hinder what was an intelligently written narrative with good links to previous Doctor Who TV stories.

Verdict: In terms of narrative, “The Mutant Phase” is the most successful Dalek story to date. Instead of relying on the destructive tendencies of the Doctor’s oldest enemy, the story intricately weaves several detailed concepts, including references to the Doctor’s past adventures. I also really liked how Nyssa was utilised in this story as well.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆½

‘The Mutant Phase’ is available to listen to for free on Spotify. It is also only £2.99 to download on the Big Finish website, which is available through the link below.

The next audio book adventure in this Doctor Who Big Finish series is the first starring the Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann. He and a host of others, including Charlotte Pollard (India Fisher), are travelling on the maiden voyage of the airship R101 in 1930, only to discover that something unspeakable is also in the stormy sky with them. My review of Audio Book #16 – ‘Storm Warning’, will land in a week’s time, on the 2nd May.

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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