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“They’re celebrating the end of the universe.”
“…by the way he was talking, you’d think it was only a matter of days.”
“He said the stars were going out.  Maybe it is.”

Energy is being siphoned from the Tardis, forcing a sudden landing on the dark planet Apollyon.  Arriving in an impoverished shantytown marketplace stinking of rotten food and powered by oil lamps, the Davison Full Tardis discovers a sort of interplanetary memento mori taking place: a carnival of death, celebrating the inevitability of final apocalypse.

Citizens are barred from entering the heavily guarded Citadel…unless they bring a tribute.  The “tribute”, unfortunately, is little more than a sacrifice.  A human sacrifice…

With living beings harvested for energy and mysterious waves of entropy rotting foodstuffs in seconds, things are looking particularly dark for our heroes.  But then there is the matter of the plague to contend with…and the hideous sandmen, a child’s fable brought to horrifying reality…

“What exactly is the entropy plague?”
“The second law of dynamics is infection, incurable and unstoppable, resulting in complete cellular decay and disintegration…unfortunately, it doesn’t always prove fatal.”
“…it transforms the carrier into something else.”

Playing into timely fears of a global pandemic (AIDS, SARS, ebola), Jonathan Morris (Worlds of Doctor Who, 1963: The Space RaceLast of the Colophon, Revenge of the Swarm, Jago & Litefoot Series Five and Seven) offers a grim bit of British dystopian sci-fi that hearkens back to the bleak Thatcher-era likes of Warrior and 2000 AD.  With robotic sentinels and a chillingly pragmatic if not mad scientist whose “cure” is more inhuman than the disease, things are more frighteningly dire than the casual Whovian may expect. 

And when it all comes hurtling to conclusion, there may be a sacrifice after all…and a farewell to more than e-Space…

“You should see it out there, Doctor.  It’s like a war zone.”
“Sandmen and robots killing people, people begging to get into this place…”
“It’s like the world is coming to an end.”
“Not just a world…the entire universe.”

While Davison, Fielding, Strickson and Sutton deliver a wholly convincing distress throughout, this sort of story is not one inclined toward characterization, being more oriented towards a big picture macrocosm than the microcosmic chamber works thespians thrive on.  While there are a few brief bits of business relating to the fate of a re-aged Nyssa and a quick farewell from Cherryanne’s brother, this one’s all about collapse, environmental, societal and interpersonal.  And like many an apocalyptic thriller, there are precious few moments to devote to more individual concerns. 

Drawing on elements of Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green and ostensibly benevolent childhood tales twisted to sinister effect while tagging in everything from pirates and mad scientists to the awful anarchy that results when civilizations collapse, Morris deftly hints at real world concerns while couching the whole affair in a coherent dystopian futurism marked by elements of the purely fantastic.  Once again, it’s the sort of thing that those who were around for the 80’s recognize as being particular to the British strain of science fiction: gritty, relentlessly dark, nigh hopeless, with any concievable resolution being an unwelcome one. 

In a more directly politicosocial sense, the fact that a privileged few are hedging their bets, using the general public to their own ends and providing for their own, exclusive contingency plan when the whole untenable structure falls into an inevitable collapse rings terrifyingly true, and should send more aware listeners to their voting booths, protest marches and the like in droves…but we all know, given a few decades of sheer public apathy, that most are unlikely to heed the warning…falling victim to our own metaphorical entropy plague.

Food for thought.  Or better yet, personal action.