Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Kamelion Empire
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March brings to a close the Kamelion 'trilogy' (or quadrilogy, if you consider that February's Black Thursday / Power Game were two stories), featuring the return of the robotic companion brought to life by Jon Culshaw. Once again, he is joined by Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan and Mark Strickson as Turlough.
The Kamelion Empire has been written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley. It is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 30th April. Here's the synopsis:
Once upon a time, a people of great artistry and great knowledge ruled the planet Mekalion: the Kamille. For a thousand years, they prospered peacefully.
Then came disaster, when their sun set forever. Facing extinction, the Kamille made the Locus, a device to sustain their minds; and fashioned shape-changing machines, to act out their wishes on the physical plane…
Servants they called the Kamelion.
Once again, I'll be joined by my son Ben to discuss this latest release...
Baz Greenland (aged 37)
The Kamelion Empire is a strong conclusion to this new range of Kamelion stories, finally making the most of his character by fleshing out his past and telling a tale that move beyond the 'Kamelion gets possessed / influenced' story of previous instalments. As fun as they were, The Kamelion Empire gives a new and very dark expansion on his character as he returns to his home world and the Doctor learns just how powerful his people once were.
A slave-like artificial intelligence rising up to kill their masters and reign supreme is nothing new in sci-fi. But here it gives a disturbing back story to a companion that has largely been an amiable figure when he hasn't been influenced by others. The concept of the mind war that brought the Kamelion Empire to its destruction is a brilliant idea; the idea that a vast empire can be destroyed by a battle of wills in a matter of hours is staggering and adds to the grandiose feel of the story. The emergence of the chaos mind infecting Kamelion is another disturbing concept, that raises the stakes higher as the story progresses.
Once again, the bond between Tegan and Kamelion is nicely developed, built upon over the course of this year's three tales, but we also get the first real steps in the connection with Turlough, who has largely felt second fiddle to the other main cast members up to this point. Turlough's attempts to disable the Chaos entity possessing Kamelion make for a desperate it ultimately futile act to defeat the big bad in the story's climax, making Kamelion's final act all the more tragic as he puts himself in danger to defeat his emerging race - and nicely tying into his 'absence' from Doctor Who from The Five Doctors (which immediately follows this tale) and Kamelion's encore appearance in Planet of Fire almost a year after The King's Demons.
The Kamelion Empire might thrive on the character revelations and Kamelion's intriguing back story, but writer Jonathan Morris also manages to keep the listeners on their toes with an ever-evolving narrative. The first part conjures up moments of disturbing body horror, with the discovery of the dissembled Kamelion's on the dead planet, while the trips into the Locus delve into pure Matrix trilogy (Deadly Assassin or Keanu Reeve's action movie trilogy - take your pick), with a couple of fun, though slightly predictable fake outs, between the artificial world and the real one.
The final trip into the heart of the TARDIS then takes things into a more intimate scale, as the Doctor tries to stop the Chaos-possessed Kamelion from launching a new deadly army with the time machine. The cliff-hanger to part three and the tease of the TARDIS's destruction is another bold moment, even if the resolution lacks a little bite; but it does give another outing to the wonderful dark wooden second TARDIS control room of Tom Baker's era, so all is forgiven.
The Kamelion Empire is certainly the strongest of the Kamelion main range releases this year, absolutely fulfilling its mission statement to expand the story of the robotic companion beyond the limitations of his two TV appearances. And while possession is still involved, it gives something rather different for Culshaw's impression of the robotic companion to play with, in a tale that takes Kamelion's past, present and future to another level.
Ben Greenland (aged 13)
For the final story in this year's Kamelion trilogy, it is time to explore the origins of the robotic companion, picking up after the cliff-hanger to last month's Power Game, which saw the TARDIS crew picking up a signal recalling Kamelion back home.
The story felt a bit dull to start with, until part two where the main bulk of Kamelion's origin is explained, which does somewhat contradict part of what we learned of him in The King's Demons. The alien race the Grolls who are there for a bit of part's one and two, feel a bit shoved into the story, a bit like the Sontarans in The Two Doctors, and they are only there to give Tegan and Turlough something to do while the Doctor learns of Kamelion's past.
The last of the warring factions of the planet, Chaos, has possessed Kamelion's mind, and the rest of the story is a bit of a run-around flicking through different times and planes of existence. One of the weaker elements was the fact that I couldn't see how cliff-hangers could be put into play here, with them being dismissed almost immediately at the start of the next instalment.
Part four especially feels a lot like filler, with just over half of it being set in TARDIS corridors, which is a shame as I like long TARDIS scenes in classic Doctor Who. That being said, it was nice to have the secondary control room first introduced in The Masque of Mandragora, being included. It was very lovely to see how the absence of Kamelion in future TV stories was explained also leading nicely into The Five Doctors.
The music suite for The Kamelion Empire is a dramatic ten-minute track that flits between heavy, atmospheric chords and the ethereal, lighter score associated with the Davison era, while the section with the heavy thundering synth rock is certainly something rather different to what you might expect from the music of classic Doctor Who.
There is also a trailer for April's main range release The Monsters of Gokroth, featuring Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor and the return of Jessica Martin's Mags from The Greatest Show In The Galaxy.
The interviews with the cast and crew are the usual high standard too, offering engaging insight into the character of Kamelion, Culshaw's attempts to revive him on Big Finish and how he has been developed outside of his TV appearances. The banter between Peter Davison and Janet Fielding is also a real treat, proving that the loveable bickering between the Doctor and Tegan exists with the actors too!