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“Don’t you see how monstrous this is?  I refuse to believe any society can be this blinkered, this stifled, all of its own accord…this isn’t how life works!”

In search of the Tardis’ missing interface stabilizer, the Peter Davison Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough land on the icy planet kingdom of Isenfel – a flat Earth of sorts, with clearly defined boundaries…and more than a few secrets. 

While Turlough captures the fancy of a self-rescuing princess, the Doctor uncovers the cynical truth behind the locals’ insistence on maintaining a strict ratio of equilibrium between consumer and supply…

What is the “black snow” that dissolves all in its path?  What strange alien clockworks govern the lives of this frozen kingdom…and what is the strange secret of the Balancer? 

“That’s the trouble when you’re trapped inside a system…you can’t see any other way.”

Joanna Kirkland imbues her lusty Princess Inger with a likeably vigorous enthusiasm and naivete, leaving her adventures with Mark Strickson’s ever-welcome Turlough as the real heart and soul of the story – and in fact, serving as the sole positive note within a very bleak nocturne.

Peter Davison offers his usual thoughtful, make it up as you go take on The Doctor, and Janet Fielding’s brassy, overemotional Tegan has become an increasingly necessary foil to both Davison and the far drier, contemplative Nyssa of Sarah Sutton (who’ve come to function more as two gender-divided halves of the same character than any sort of complementary pairing over the past several years of Big Finish audios). 

“You can’t make a bargain with entropy.  Every system will always tend towards collapse.”

Depressing overtones about death and aging mark a grim tale touching on such uncomfortable subjects as overpopulation, eugenics and environmental collapse, not to mention the breakdown of societal structures in the modern age.

“They may not have more than a few generations…”
“They don’t need to know that.  They’ve been living long enough under one death sentence, they don’t need another.”

Utilizing a vaguely medieval fantasy setting, author Matt Fitton seems to be commenting on issues ripped directly from contemporary headlines and the often quite ugly unspoken questions and decisions to which our collective actions (or conversely, inaction) have brought us. 

With an increasingly poisoned environment and a rash of man-made diseases brought on by improperly regulated experimentation and adulteration of foodstuffs, groundwater, soil, ocean and atmosphere, it’s an unavoidable fact that the human race is coming to a global breaking point.  And in answer to all of this, a growing tide of frustration with compromised leadership and corporate/industrial malfeasance is dragging humanity kicking and screaming towards societal, economic and environmental collapse…and men’s hearts are growing cold in consequence.

Fitton’s script seems to be begging the question, is delusion necessary for survival? 

The Isengardians operate under one set of draconian lies and misconceptions, and The Doctor’s arrival poses no solutions – only a bit of bought time, thanks to a poignant self sacrifice by a well meaning, guilt ridden member of the ruling elite.  But this is all they get in return: an undefined span of borrowed time, marked by The Doctor’s lie of omission. 

A resigned populace, Fitton herein opines, has the choice to remain fatalistically realist, or stick their heads in the sand and pretend that because all is well at present, it will so remain in perpetuity.  Neither is a desirable option – life without hope, or faith in a lie.  It’s an unrelentingly pessimistic statement for an ostensible light sci-fi fantasy script, and not a conclusion I care to accept or stand behind. 

But it leaves a lingering discomfort nonetheless.