Blurb: On the jungle planet Garros, Earth Forces Knight Commander-in-Chief Greg Saraton and his team are hunting gigantic beasts, for sport. When the Doctor and Leela arrive, they are caught up in a web of intrigue where there is no clear friend or foe.
What is Saraton’s vital connection with Earth’s Solar System’s Defence Shield? Why are the giant reptilian birds of Garros attacking? What terrible secret lurks deep within the trees?
Before the truth can be revealed, a heavy price will be extracted and loyalties will be tested to the limit.
Review: The third season of the Fourth Doctor Adventures ends with a story penned and directed by veteran Nick Briggs. The story also features a returning monster, the titular Zygons that were last seen in the story Terror of the Zygons. Briggs has received a lot of criticism recently for making the Fourth Doctor Adventures too traditional. While not everyone agrees that that is necessarily a bad thing, it does make an interesting point that Big Finish decided to make this story the season closer. The CD cover sports a very obviously photoshopped cover. While the Zygon looks good, the Doctor and Leela look silly with the false perspective and the blur effect just doesn’t seem to be working.
The traditional charge is perhaps a fair one to level at Briggs. He speaks in interviews about how the Tom Baker era came at just the right point in his life to greatly influence him. His direction and writing speak to his love of the era and there tends not to be a lot in his stories that feels very unique. In Zygon Hunt Briggs literally revels in the nostalgia. The Zygon voices, which are great for audio, are recreated in all their echoey whisper glory. The sounds of the Skarasen growling and the Zygon homing beacon are lifted entirely from the story. Even the musical score is an homage to Geoffrey Burgon’s work in Terror of the Zygons. Some sections of it sound like they’re lifted entirely from the story. If you’re a fan of Terror of the Zygons then this story should especially be a treat, but it is made accessible to new listeners as well. Other than a few references which are clearly explained, the story doesn’t rely on familiarity with any others to tell its tale, making it a nice jumping on point for new listeners.
Zygon Hunt is a story about a group of futuristic Solar Knights marooned on a planet that they had intended to be merely a hunting exposition. Among their number is a Zygon infiltrator. The Doctor and Leela arrive on the scene and are mistaken for assassins as the head of this group is one of the most important and powerful members of these knights. This produces the usual Doctor Who tropes of captures, escapes, action, murder mysteries, and alien plots. The adventure is sound and provides suitable excitement to hold most people’s interest for its one hour runtime. The main criticism is that both the cover and title refer to the Zygon infiltrator, but this is treated as a big mystery in the story. While it is very in-keeping with the style of classic Who, the story would have been better served with a more generic title and cover, so that the Zygon reveal is an interesting plot twist rather than something that listener is waiting for. There also appears to be a slight plot hole over exactly when the Zygon substitution takes place. The story really only makes sense if it happened soon after the Solar Knights arrived on the planet but later in the story we’re told that it happened a long time before this. While it allows the character to have some knowledge that they otherwise wouldn’t have had, it does create several other issues with the plot and seems a little strange. Those few issues aside, the story works well.
The main characters are served well by this story. Leela as always is such an interesting character. She tells a lot from body language. She doesn’t see the point in hunting an animal that doesn’t threaten or isn’t needed for its meat and thinks that it’s positively wrong to hunt generally benign creatures with high-powered weapons as there is no “sport”. Louise Jameson has now grown to a point where she is completely comfortable with Leela and can take her all kinds of places. The only annoyance this time is the insistence on having her mispronounce “Zygon” as “Zy-eye-gon”. While she has mispronounced words in the past there was usually some reason and the Doctor would correct her. It’s kind of unclear here why she would mispronounce “Zygon” in the first place as she didn’t see the word written and it seems bizarre that she’d say it this often without the Doctor correcting her. Still, Jameson manages to make these mispronunciations sound endearing and the character of Leela just continues to get better and better as the releases progress.
Tom Baker continues to relish reprising his role as the Doctor. His dialog with Saraton in this story is classic. It is really nice that this story allows him to portray more of his alien side to the Doctor as he shows his lack of interest in the strange goings on and the murder mystery that ends up in his and Leela’s lap. He even suggests that they leave. Tom’s voice sounded a little hoarse in this one, but one has to give a little leeway for the fact that he’s aged a good bit. There’s also a wonderful moment between the Doctor and Leela at the end that puts a coda on how their relationship has developed and it’s really wonderfully played by Tom and Louise.
Michael Maloney deserves special credit for his portrayal of Gregor Saraton. It’s a role that could easily be a one-note self-important, militaristic blow-hard. In Maloney’s hand, Saraton achieves a human portrayal. He’s a jingoist but with some reason as alien powers continue to try and conquer the Earth. He’s slightly paranoid but that’s because he’s been dodging assassins. He’s tough but he also has people that he cares about. Maloney plays the many angles of this character and gives him a little depth as a man who has tried to do the right thing and has made some hard choices in his life. Gillian Kearney also does a fantastic job as Mina Challis. Mina must also make some difficult decisions in the story and Kearney makes sure to give her a vulnerability while also showing her desire to show her loyalty. Mina’s decision is touching and makes for a great ending to the story. James George and Steven Alexander also perform well as Knights Elunas and Ollerie, but do not really have a chance to shine here.
Recommendation: A very nostalgic story, Zygon Hunt has all the trappings that will make fans of the classic series squee in delight while also providing plenty of adventure for those who aren’t familiar with it. There’s some excellent acting and a turning point in the Doctor’s relationship with Leela. I recommend listening to it.
Big Finish Productions
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Produced by David Richardson
Written by Nicholas Briggs
Runtime Approx 60 min.