After arriving in the middle of a forbidden zone of space, Flip goes well beyond impulsiveness to the realm of utter stupidity by allowing the “cute” Drachee into the Tardis in mid space, kicking off an odd story about…smothering mothering!?!
Seriously – the old Sting trope of ‘If you love someone, set them free’ is trotted out once again, as the Doctor makes a sort of peace with the living moon of Erys in teaching her not to hold her progeny quite so closely tied to the apron strings. I’m not kidding here.
OK, let’s backtrack a bit.
The Doctor steers the Tardis to a “random part of spacetime” to recalibrate its accuracy (“kind of like when you first set up a wireless controller for a games console”, as Flip helpfully explains). Naturally, they’ve materialized within the bounds of the aforementioned zone, which they discover by picking up one of the many radio warning beacons set up around its perimeter.
In short order, they are beseiged by the obnoxious, rather out of control Drachee, literal imps and children used to getting their own way. Flip finds them “adorable” and lets them in, which gives them the idea they can utilize the Tardis to escape mother’s clutches…
In expected Whovian fashion, Flip finds herself kidnapped and has her own little adventure within the caverns of Erys, while the Doctor rescues a mystery girl from a doomed “space yacht” and makes a trip to the planet Erys orbits. The mystery deepens accordingly.
As it turns out, the inhabitants of the planet Asphya are cipher ‘avatars’ provided solely for the ‘entertainment’ of the cruel and sadistic Drashee. Tellingly, said entertainment is intended as distraction to keep their minds off the real issue of escaping from the bonds of their current, tightly managed situation…
Erys has an unfortunate habit of keeping her progeny close by gravitationally crushing any spacecraft unwise enough to enter the bounds of its abandoned galaxy. Worse, the sentient planetoid further kidnaps any inhabitants or crew from said unlucky visitors, ‘integrating’ them into the repulsively wombIike state of Erys innards (which come complete with amniotic caul and nourishing nutrients to keep them alive in vitro) for use as the template for the Asphyean avatars.
Care to make the metaphor even more blatant and obvious? Her main weapon against dissenting outsiders? Dredging up bad memories and throwing them in their faces. Wow, what was missed here, the “guilt trip”?
In the event, there’s a somewhat elaborate if ultimately botched sabotage attempt and a whole lot of complaining from Flip, whose brash naïveté got them into this situation in the first place.
Author Andrew Smith (of the televised Adric introductory episode Full Circle) puts forward some truly fascinating sci fi concepts (seriously – a very Ego-esque living planet as the sole inhabitant of an abandoned dark galaxy surrounded by dire warning beacons?), but these are more or less tossed to the winds by being tethered to what is ultimately a rather banal and obvious subtext about good and bad parenting styles (particularly in terms of motherdom per se).
Given the emphasis on dysfunctional family on display in his earlier Full Circle, it’s apparent that Smith has something of an affinity for exploration of this particular area. What remains to be seen is whether he has some new and unrelated tricks in his auteureal bag or no – but that’s a question only time and further scripts will tell.
Director Nick Briggs keeps things moving along at his by now trademark brisk pace, and there’s plenty of action and adventure which the above synopsis merely provides the background to. Steve Foxon provides suitably dark and dramatic music cues, Nicola Sian essays an impressive turn as mystery girl Sarra, and Colin Baker delivers his usual high standard of performance, with an ever-impressive dramatic range only strengthened and given heft and gravitas by his many years of experience.
Lisa Greenwood’s Phillipa “Flip” Jackson is as effervescent as ever, with enough amusing snide asides slipped in to keep the listener sufficiently entertained. That said, while she’s nowhere nearly as adversarial as her turn in last month’s Antidote to Oblivion, the bottom line is that without her brassy and unthinking impulsiveness, they wouldn’t have been in this mess in the first place…
All told, The Brood of Erys proves a bit of a mixed bag, with good acting, well paced direction and fascinating concepts offset by a rather simplistic if not tired core sentiment. Whether you absolutely love this one or dismiss it as something of a middling effort likely hinges on whether you grew up under this sort of domineering Yiddish or Italianate stage mother or no.