Blurb: Having escaped an ambush by pirates, the Doctor and Vicki are stranded on a strange world, in the shadow of vast rock formations and islands in the sky. The only way home is through the treacherous Etherlands, where the invisible Ether alters the perception of anyone who enters…
Review:Over ten years ago, Big Finish used to publish short story anthologies about Doctor Who. They referred to these as anthologies as Short Trips. Soon after the new series debuted, the BBC removed Big Finish’s license to publish Doctor Who books. Yet, the Short Trips live on in the form of narrated audios of Doctor Who short stories. Nick Wallace’s Etheria is one of these, set during the time when the Doctor traveled with Vicki and Steven and is narrated by Peter Purves.
Etheria is packed with a lot of interesting science-fiction ideas. The idea of a world where sky islands house villages that sit above the Etherlands where a hallucinogenic fog alters the perceptions of those who venture in is certainly original. There’s also a good amount of danger. The travelers must tie themselves down at night for fear that they may sleepwalk to their deaths in an Ether-filled stupor, and there are metallic tumbleweeds that roll across the countryside belching fire at intruders. Add that to the ever present danger of getting lost in the Etherlands, and there’s a good amount of material that should cause a feeling of suspense and create some interest in the audience. Yet, the main problem with Etheria is how colossally boring it is. It could be a clever way of connecting the listener with the characters, by causing their minds to wander in the same way that the Ether does. It becomes very difficult to pay attention to the story, a monotony that’s only broken by one brief action sequence. It would have helped if the pirates were anything beyond a hasty description, but their one brief appearance doesn’t even make them threatening, so there isn’t a whole lot of interest to be gained there.
This is also a story that couldn’t exist outside of an audio and narrative environment. There are secrets within the story, hidden by the medium in which it’s told. There’s two ways that a story like that can go. Either the reveal is the end of a logical buildup of storytelling that makes the listener feel satisfied or it comes out of left field and seems more like a plot hole rather than a logical conclusion. Unfortunately, Etheria is from the latter group. There’s a reason why some elements of the planet may be vaguely familiar, but the familiarity is so tenuous and isn’t really commented on until the reveal, so it doesn’t really enhance the story. There’s also the fact that the Doctor and Vicki begin the story having already escaped from the pirates and having found a guide to take them through the Etherlands. Perhaps if the story unfolded naturally it would create more of a feeling of engagement, but this beginning causes the listener to already start questioning the who, how, and why of the story. It’s not a good start for a story of this kind.
Thankfully, the performances are still top notch. Peter Purves’ many years as a presenter come to the fore, and he does his best to make the story live and breathe. The narrative just works against him every time. As usual his performance as the Doctor is also excellent. He has a problem doing Vicki. Having done a Dodo voice for so long he has a hard time doing anything else, so for some reason Vicki sounds just like the other companion. It’s a minor nit, but it does make the story somewhat distracting to listen to if you’re very familiar with the characters and this era of the program. The music and sounds are also fairly good, although the action music for the tumbleweed battle gets a little over-the-top. Mostly, though, the music is far more subtle and used to convey feelings and impressions, and is very effective when used in that way.
Recommendation: The cure for insomnia, Etheria isn’t a bad story, it’s just not a very good or interesting one. Purves puts in a fine performance and the production values are good, but the story is written in such a way that it just engenders apathy in the listener. It may be a clever post-modern way of getting the listener to identify with the characters, but if it is, it’s a poor choice. There are some interesting elements, but they’re not presented in a way that can save this from being a really dull slog even at thirty minutes. I don’t recommend listening to it.
Big Finish Productions
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Produced by Michael Stevens
Written by Nick Wallace
Runtime Approx 30 min.