‘The Ultimate Evil’, originally written for Doctor Who’s Season 23, became a casualty of the show’s enforced hiatus. With the whole season replaced by ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’, the story finally came to light as a late-eighties’ Target novelisation.
When Big Finish started their run of The Lost Stories, they were not able to secure the rights to the tale. Now available, it has been adapted for audio alongside Stephen Gallagher’s ‘Nightmare Country’. Some thirty-three years on, we can finally hear the story of the Doctor’s and Peri’s visit to Tranquela.
A Holiday for the Doctor?
With the TARDIS apparently faultless for once, the Doctor is at a loss and Peri suggests a holiday. After some slight resistance, he opts to choose their destination with a gadget pulled from the TARDIS storage cupboard.
Tranquela offers blue skies, swimming and fishing, as well as a friendly populace. They have enjoyed fifty years of peace, following a truce with the planet’s other inhabitants, the Amelierans. However, Tranquela is currently besieged by a mysterious “hate ray” causing violent and murderous impulses. While their scientists work on this, the people chain themselves up to avoid harming each other.
Waly K Daly’s story concerns itself with the machinations of an impish alien. Mordant, an intergalactic arms dealer, gleefully provokes the right market conditions in order to sell his wares. It also plays with the politics of the state. Tranquela’s leader Abatan is under constant pressure from the devious Escoval, who eyes power.
From 2019, it is easy to judge ‘The Ultimate Evil’ harshly. It has more than its share of bwahaha villainy and a fairly straightforward plot, although there are some good ideas in the mix, like travel by thought alone. Unusually, the villain gets away with little more than a ticking off! For us, Mordant is rather too close to Sil, who only debuted the previous year. Pleasingly, we notice he has shed the unfortunate appellation “dwarf”.
The story also suffers one of the frustrations of the era: the regulars waste an ungodly amount of time in the TARDIS before joining the action. Had it been produced, we suspect it would not be regarded as a classic.
In this version, Colin Baker recreates his bombastic early days, but the banter between his Doctor and Peri remains aimable. For her part, Nicola Bryant’s Peri gets stuck primarily with Locas, the nice-but-dim son of the first family leader. She does however get a brief dual role, as his lost love Mariana. Among the guest cast, the standout performance surely comes from Robin Sebastian as the amoral, scenery-chewing Mordant.
On audio, the story sounds uncannily like an eighties’ production. Director Helen Goldwyn keeps the tone sufficiently stagey with big performances, and there is excellent sound design, as well as a authentic sounding score, from Nigel Fairs.
For regular listeners, the extras interviews can be much of a muchness: the limitless audio format, the lunches, etc. On this occasion, both stars are in contemplative mood: while Colin Baker expresses his gratitude for the role and the opportunities it has brought him, Nicola Bryant considers the different versions of Peri she has played.
Ultimately this release might be one for the completists, but it certainly is fun to finally hear.