“I should think it’s more a habitat than a ship…think of it like a city, or a small country.”
The Pat Troughton Doctor, Jamie and Victoria land on a scientific research station cum mass population center orbiting just outside the ergosphere of a supermassive black hole…an artificial one, with no pre-existing star or supernova to account for its existence.
So close to this galactic anomaly, time has become fluid for those onboard…the perfect setup for the villain of our piece…
With tens of thousands onboard and within a single astronomical unit of the crushing infinite gravity of a black hole, can The Doctor outsmart one of the greatest of his old foes, without running afoul of the Blinovich Limitation Effect?
It’s a pleasure to hear the old gang together again. Much like our experience with them at a local event last year, getting Frazer Hines in the same room as Deborah Watling (much less, as was the case at that time, with Wendy Padbury as well!) is a recipe for sheer delight. One lives in hope that the bulk of their long-lost televised era will eventually surface from some international affiliate or fan source or other…
As a four parter very reminiscent of its intended era, things do tend to bog down a bit in the middle – specifically, the fairly static and somewhat expository events of part 2. After a strong beginning with an appropriately mysterioso introductory conundrum, the Doctor and Jamie are sent off on a side quest of sorts*, while Victoria is left to fend for herself with the baddie of the piece.
* and one which kicks off a fair amount of moebius strip time loop/event revisitation…
Of course, there is a plot mechanic to explain this, and it bears dividends come part 3. Even so, it really comes off as if The Black Hole were intended as more of a two parter, artificially extended to pad things out to four part length. It’s a dynamic well familiar to Classic Who fans, particularly those accustomed to the ever-unnecessary 6 parters (which even the surviving authors regularly admit to falling victim to easily-excisable padding at the midpoint).
And the motivation for our malfeasant’s misbehavior…is money? Well, there are a few reasons playing into his actions herein, but yes, the most banal of reasons does in fact drive the plot, and openly admitted as such. It’s a real failing, for a series so generally high minded and high concept as Who. This isn’t exactly a cliched crime drama, you know…
It’s also unclear as to why an ostensible scientific research station also serves as a habitat for 20,000 private citizens, or why there only appears to be an effective police presence and a single scientist running the thing(!) I’m sure there’s some explanation buried in there somewhere, but despite revisiting a few expository moments in the story in hopes of finding these answers…there appear to have been none to find. Perhaps other listeners may pick up the hints or bits explaining this particular point.
Another oddity: for no apparent reason, the story is narrated by none other than David Warner, whose authoritative tones are nonetheless very much appreciated. But why a narrator not already part of the active cast, or better yet: why didn’t Warner get a more active part in the proceedings? Who knows.
Frazer Hines is his usual lively self, working both his patented Pat Troughton impression and his own eternally youthful Jamie McCrimmon with aplomb, and Deborah Watling is always a pleasure to hear in these audios, particularly with the two of them working together.
With the “big bad” being something of a personal favorite Who adversary* and a general “mystery in space” setting that taps, however lightly, theoretical (astro)physics, Simon Guerrier and company do earn themselves the nod this time around...in spite of the aforementioned concerns about plot and script dynamics, which do leave this one feeling a bit…dashed off, at times.
* and one well essayed by Rufus Hound, I might add.
But could the story…like many televised Hartnell and Troughton-era Who serials, it should be noted…have used a bit of tightening up, perhaps reducing a bit of the static chatter and repeated events to more of an in situ exposition?
You bet your Tardis key.