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Dr Who Monthly: Cobwebs by Jonathan Morris

1/09/2010. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Dr Who Monthly Series: Cobwebs in the USA - or Buy Dr Who Monthly Series: Cobwebs in the UK

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pub: Big Finish. 2 CDs 120 minute story. Price: CD: 14.99 (UK), Download: 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84435-472-6) cast: Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, Mark Strickson, Helen Griffin, Raymond Coulthard, Adrian Lukis and Charlotte Lucas.

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'Cobwebs', part of the 'Monthly Series', sees the return of the Fifth Doctor's three companions from relative oblivion. Much heralded, these stories need to be something special to make it worth the listeners' attention. I am pleased to report that this is indeed the case with a stunning atmospheric beauty of a story from Jonathan Morris

Set after TV's 'Enlightenment' where Turlough's complicity with the Black Guardian has been revealed, Tegan is still unhappy with his presence. Most of this stems from the feeling that he is just an incompetent assassin but some of it is because the Doctor obviously prefers Turlough's company to hers. Not really surprising when she is as whiny as ever, giving us no real reason why she is still on board given her aversion to adventure. It's a cruel trick that was played on the female companions at this time. There is a twist as the new team, who aren't really a team, are forced to land on a planet with a strange set of alien ruins and an abandoned base.

Within a few minutes, the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough meet up with Nyssa and her protective robot, Loki. But for Nyssa it's been over 50 years and she hasn't been sitting around neither. Her work on Terminus has lead to other work on plague-like diseases. She has come to Helehim to try to find out if there is any evidence of a cure for a virulent plague decimating planets. The team at Helheim had been working on a cure but the base is long abandoned. The base computer can't throw any light on the matter although individuals are subject to visual and audio hallucinations.

Before long the newly reunited team have to go into the past to find out what went so badly wrong. They meet the three resident researchers but are almost immediately in trouble. Things couldn't get any worse but then there are the Cractids, giant spiders in the shadows. Giant spiders mean giant cobwebs and they do clog up the Hoover.

This is a circular story in all that has happened, will happen, etcetera but we have the central mystery as to how it all comes about. It is actually a time-travel story in that the use of the TARDIS is central to how the plot functions. We do have yet another mad computer and also a cowardly robot who is supposed to be protecting Nyssa. They are both essential to the progression of the plot but we had a mad computer in 'The Song Of Megaptera' and it gets repetitive when the nutty software turns up too often.

It is no mean feat to glue together the four rather disparate characters from the 1980s Peter Davison series. It didn't work that well on the screen but this tries much harder to integrate and think about how the characters would really react to each other.

Tegan is quickly established as moany but feisty. She drives what happens, though, because of her desire to establish the truth no matter how much it hurts. Turlough is initially subdued due to his very recent encounter with the Black and White Guardians no doubt. Nyssa is, of course, more mature and very much interested in the scientific issues rather than renewing acquaintances and the Doctor is positively anal in his desire not to interfere with the natural flow of events.

My only complaint is that there are some complex methods that have to be employed to get the past to marry up with the future. They are on occasion more obvious than they should be. All in all, though, I was happy enough by the end and this is a fitting story to bring the three companions back together.

There is also a lot more to this than just a happy reunion. For a start, there is velvet-voiced Helen Griffin (an actress who was in the recent 'Doctor Who - Rise Of The Cybermen') as the Director of Helheim Base. Then there is Adrian Lukis as the nicely deranged Enforcement Officer Bragg. There is enough in this not to place a groaning burden on the companions and said companions do get used nicely rather than being locked in the TARDIS. There are few enough characters to allow the claustrophobia to develop and a sense of menace and Lukis does play mad as a box of frogs very well.

It works very well because the voices are well differentiated and the characters feel well established. Jonathan Morris has risen to the challenge of giving everybody something to do was always the complaint in the original show. There is not much in the way of developing the companions' relationships with each other as this does fall between the TV series so there is a limit to how much things can be moved along. However, I did leave with the impression that this was something worth doing, that these three had more to offer than was ever used in the original programmes.

Sue Davies

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