Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Colony of Fear
The final solo Sixth Doctor adventure in the monthly range of Doctor Who stories from Big Finish has arrived, featuring a classic Doctor Who setup; with an introspective and dark character piece taking place amid a lurid, monstrous base-under-siege scenario. The Doctor and Constance land on a human colony in desperate need of their help, facing annihilation from a hive of intelligent, single-minded insects. But there’s also a shadowy figure from the Doctor’s past standing between the colony and salvation.
Colony of Fear has been written by Roland Moore, and directed by John Ainsworth. It’s available to purchase at the Big Finish site here, before going on general release from the 28th February 2021. Here's the synopsis…
Answering a distress call from the out-world of Triketha, the Doctor and Constance Clarke discover human colonists battling against an onslaught of giant, malevolent insects. The insects’ sting induces a coma, and it is only a matter of time before all the colonists succumb.
The Doctor is curious as to the origins of the insects, which appeared from nowhere, and offers his assistance to the colony’s governor. But is this the Doctor’s first visit to Triketha, or has he been here before? The Doctor must confront a past that he has no memory of and take responsibility for the consequences of his actions.
The Doctor and Constance (Colin Baker and Miranda Raison) land on Triketha, a florid alien world, in answer to a distress signal, a few kilometres away from their destination. There’s a scent of cinnamon in the air, and the earth under their feet is purple - it’s a vividly realised setting. At their destination, the planet’s scientifically-minded human colony are trying to revive one of their own from a coma. Among them are Mollis (Nicholas Asbury), the governor, Edwin (Leighton Pugh), the longest-serving colonist, and Solara (Misha Malcolm), headstrong and “ready for payback.” But payback from what?
Another colonist, Mollis’ wife Dresha (Rachel Atkins), is waking up with the help of a stimulant, as an alien venom leaves her system and slowly brings her back to reality. An army of two-foot long wasps is the culprit, and their regular incursions on the base have left the majority of the colonists in a catatonic state. More worryingly, those revived are hearing the voice of the alien hive in their own minds, urging them to join their collective...
The colonists have weapons to defend themselves, but are soon to be overwhelmed by the swarm massing outside the perimeter, and accept the help of the Doctor and Constance as their rescue team remain days away. The wasps are no mindless horde - they’ve been systematically attacking the base’s power generators - and the Doctor is intrigued. He suggests looking for the spacecraft which brought them to Triketha, and muses that they may have been unleashed deliberately. While he sets off with a scouting party, Constance remains behind and makes a stunning discovery - another TARDIS, identical to the Doctor’s, right in the middle of the human’s base.
Although there are a few clever complications along the way, Colony of Fear lovingly pays tribute to the conventions of a vintage Doctor Who story. You won’t get any bonus marks for guessing how the conflict between the wasps and the colonists will unfold. Instead, Colony of Fear is at its best when it takes big steps and challenges our understanding of the Doctor. We’re used to seeing this enigmatic, powerful figure regarded with suspicion by those around him, but the scrutiny tends to be superficial. This is a story that asks big questions about the Doctor’s duty of care to those around him, and interrogates what happens when he fails. Roland Moore’s script, his second story for the Sixth Doctor, marries the thrills of classic Doctor Who with the curiosity and emotional literacy of the new.
“There’s always a body count where the Doctor’s involved. Or hadn’t you noticed?”
The Doctor’s expedition yields the discovery of a crashed ship, crowded with a menagerie of alien species, and a crew member in stasis who identifies himself only as the Collector (Andrew James Spooner). It’s here that the story raises the stakes, and becomes a white-knuckle fight for survival. The colonists also quickly learn that the wasp’s power doesn’t stop at mere mind control.
Colony of Fear borrows more than a few touches from John Carpenter’s The Thing, both in its narrative and in its bleak, last-stand ambience. It barrels towards a dark conclusion, with just a few rays of hope shining through. It’s also an excellent creature feature, and the monsters themselves are realised with clever and visceral sound design: their buzzing will seriously aggravate headphone users, in a good way.
All of the cast are typically excellent, but special consideration must go to Colin Baker, who has rarely been better in his work for Big Finish. The Doctor’s vexation with his human companions and his gutting sense of shame at leaving people behind are both excellently realised by the TARDIS legend.
Indeed, the fear of abandonment is the thing which animates some of Colony of Fear’s most powerful moments as a story. It’s difficult to discuss without spoilers just how real this gets: all I can say is that listeners will be richly rewarded, whether they come for hard-hitting psychodrama, the mutant space wasps, or both.
The trailer for the penultimate monthly Doctor Who adventure officially has us tantalised. The Blazing Hour, featuring Peter Davison and Mark Strickson as The Doctor and Turlough, promises science-gone-wrong and apocalyptic terror on Testament, “the powerhouse of the human empire”.
Three excerpted tracks of music from the story serve chunky synths and low-level dread from composer Steve Foxon, which recall 80s horror flicks and are a joy to listen to all on their own.
Colony of Fear ends with the usually insightful and funny interviews with the cast and crew behind the story. John Ainsworth, producer, director, and script editor, reveals that lockdown restrictions forced the story to be recorded entirely remotely, a new status quo which Big Finish is managing with aplomb. Each of the actors involved, luckily, had access to a home recording setup.
Roland Moore, the story’s writer, reveals that he sees the story, a hybrid of base under siege and the “deeper element” of the Doctor’s duty of care to his companions, as a fascinating idea.
The supporting cast also feature, including Nicholas Asbury as Mollis, who talks about how he interpreted his script notes - a capable newbie, slightly timid - into his performance. Rachel Atkins, who plays the brilliant pharmacologist Dresha, reveals her lack of scientific knowledge, while Misha Malcolm, appearing as both Solara and the voice of the hive, talks of the fun opportunity to voice a dual role. Andrew James Spooner remarks of his character that he’s “smart, erratic… shall we say his morals are a bit loose?”
Finally, Colin Baker reveals that a recording malfunction caused a day’s work to be lost, and remarks on his affection towards Constance as a complement to his Doctor. This is their final monthly range story together, but there’s no mention of a sending-off - and it seems very likely the pair will reunite again.