Written By: Jonathan Morris
Team TARDIS: Fourth Doctor, Romana II
Adversary: The Babble Network
Release Date: April 2013
Range and Number: Destiny of the Doctor #4
Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
The violent, volcanic world of Hephastos is home to a colony of composers, painters, authors and poets, all striving to create the greatest works of art the universe has ever seen. But in pursuit of their goal, artistic collaboration has been taken a stage too far...
When the Doctor and Romana arrive, they discover the colonists have neglected their well-being and their once beautiful habitat, which has now succumbed to decay, and they are enslaved to the Babble network which occupies their every waking moment. Every thought, however trivial or insignificant, is shared with everyone else and privacy is now a crime.
The colonists are being killed and the Doctor and Romana begin to suspect that a malevolent intelligence is at work. With time running out, the two time travellers race to discover the truth before they too are absorbed into the endless trivia of the Babblesphere...
I had THE hardest time deciding which audio story to review for the Fourth Doctor. I just want you all to be aware of this. I listened to a few Companion Chronicles and some of the new Fourth Doctor Adventures range from Big Finish, but none of them were really good enough (in my mind) to warrant a spot on this list. They weren’t bad, exactly, but I wasn’t excited enough about them to want to write much. But Traveling the Vortex (man, how many times have they saved my bacon in this project? They deserve all the publicity I can give them right now - EVERYONE! LISTEN TO THEIR PODCAST!!) is reviewing the Destiny of the Doctor series this year in conjunction with the various 50th Anniversary celebrations (which, Destiny itself is an audio series celebrating the 50th Anniversary, produced by Big Finish and AudioGO). Anyway, I listened to “Babblesphere” a few weeks ago in anticipation of Traveling the Vortex's review of it and I loved it! Truly, it’s the only Fourth Doctor audio story I’ve heard that I enjoyed enough to want to write about. Make of that what you will.
A word on Destiny of the Doctor - This series is most comparable to Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles where one of the Doctor’s companions is featured and the actor playing that companion narrates. One other actor is brought on to play one additional supporting character. The main difference between Companion Chronicles and Destiny of the Doctor is that the story isn’t necessarily narrated from the companion’s point of view (this is how, for the Second Doctor’s installment “Shadow of Death,” you can get Frazer Hines presenting Jamie’s point of view, but he can also step in and do a fantastic scene with just the Second Doctor and... another character that I won’t spoil for you, but it’ll probably be spoiled in this review, so never mind). It’s kind of a blend between traditional audiobooks and Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles and it works really well (at least, it has so far).
"Babblesphere" is narrated by Lalla Ward (who played Romana II on TV and continues to do so for Big Finish audios) and she does a fantastic job. About half of the story is told from Romana’s point of view, since the Doctor gets captured early on in the story. That’s an interesting flip of the typical trope of the companion getting captured and the Doctor has to face down the baddies. It’s a nice twist that I really enjoyed and Lalla Ward seems to have fun with the narration as well. Romana can more than hold her own as she explores the planet and meets up with what could be best described as The Knitting Circle Resistance (seriously - love these older ladies fighting against the Babble Network). Though I think the Babble Network later dismisses these ladies a little too soon when he (she, it, they, whatever) says that he can’t stand boring people. I mean, Romana seems to find them interesting enough. Hell, I think they’re wonderful!
While this entire story is fun and clever, the moment when I think the Fourth Doctor really shines is when he and Romana are overwhelming the Babble Network with mundane trivia. If there’s one thing the Fourth Doctor does well, it’s making a scene with mundane trivia compelling and exciting. Remember - this is the guy that randomly offers jelly babies to hardened adversaries in the midst of great danger. If there was ever a Doctor made for non-sequitur references, it’s the Fourth Doctor (Douglas Adams has his fingerprints all over that, certainly).
One thing that is fun about doing Classic Who stories in modern times is the ability to bring these characters forward into the future. You don’t have to be tied down to the time period in which their stories were originally produced, even though you do have to be careful about what characters from 1960s and 1970s Earth know on their own. Even then, you can handwave it as “Oh they traveled with the Doctor to two-thousand-whatever and saw the internet and smartphones and stuff like that” (but how fun is it to have mentions of creatures introduced in New Who - like the Krafayis and the Ood - in a Classic Doctor story? Not to mention Zagreus from Big Finish! Yay!)
So, it’s easy (and a lot of fun) to depict what I call for this story “Social Networking on Steroids” and have the Doctor and Romana fight against an entity bent on finding only the most interesting people and disposing of the boring ones (though, how the Babble Network got away from duck-faced selfies and Beliebers I have no idea) (and, just to depress you even more - Google Drive recognizes “Beliebers” as an actual word. There is no red squiggly line denoting it as not in the dictionary. God help us all).
As the Doctor and Romana leave the Babblesphere after the Babble Network is defeated (spoilers, sorry), Aurelius and Phyllis voice concerns about how the people are going to communicate to one another, since they’ve been so used to connecting telepathically on Babble. And I laughed at Phyllis’s complaint that people are still sharing more information than anyone wants to hear. And while this song is more about using social networking to project a more impressive version of yourself than what’s reality - it’s still funny (and William Shatner's in the video, so bonus nerd points for that).
Next Time, On Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 4.04 - That Was... A Book. Yup. Definitely a Book.
Review 4.02 - Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before?