Favorable Mutation

Review of The Mutant Phase (#15)
Big Finish Release Date: December 2000
Doctor/Companion: Five and Nyssa
Stars: Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Preceding Story: The Holy Terror (Six, Frobisher)
Succeeding Story: Storm Warning (Eight, Charley)

You know that feeling you get when one of your friends is really excited about a story—be it a book or a show or a film—and you've got no problem with it, but it just doesn't excite you? That sense that you're either about to disappoint your friend or that an unpleasant conversation about your differing opinions is about to ensue? That's how I felt coming into The Mutant Phase.

You see, although I've always liked Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor, I've also found him slightly bland—nothing to get excited about (I know I have several friends who are about ready to dump me upon reading that...). So when I got a nudge from one such friend to try one of Five's Big Finish (BF) audios next, I agreed with a certain trepidation. My unease increased when I realized the first one on tap from the list of recommendations I have co-starred Sarah Sutton's Nyssa—another of those dichotomous "friend's favorite/just okay for me" characters.

Imagine my relief when I realized I was quite enjoying the adventure. With no need to come up with something nice to say simply to appease the Five and Nyssa fans, I could relax and take the story as it came.

Apparently the way to ensure I'll like a story is to build in some jumping around to different time zones, and stir in either some paradox or general timey-wimey goodness. Several of the BF adventures I've reviewed have elements of that sort, and those tend to be the ones I come away from happy. The Mutant Phase sets itself on the path early, combining Daleks with Thals (whom we've only seen on screen as a spacefaring people in Planet of the Daleks) and using a time corridor to manipulate the TARDIS onto Earth in both the 22nd and 43rd centuries.

That 22nd century setting is a bit of fan service for those familiar with the First Doctor serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth; the Doctor and Nyssa are at one point apprehended by a robo-man, and the Doctor realizes they've landed a few years before the Daleks' eventual defeat. In the later time zone, though, the Daleks are desperately seeking the cure for a mysterious genetic imperfection—known as the mutant phase—that threatens the purity of their race.

How the Thals have been drawn into helping their mortal enemies and the lengths to which the Daleks are willing to go in order to save themselves are both tied up with the overall puzzle the Doctor and Nyssa face. Though the denouement is somewhat confusing, we do get a follow-up in the TARDIS where Nyssa's questions guide us out of our "what the hell just happened?" stupor.

I appreciated seeing hearing Nyssa be bright and confident, holding her intellectual own next to the Doctor, since that was my favorite part of her character before. The Doctor both reassured the audience with his clear knowledge of the players and overall stakes (if not the details) and unsettled us with his reluctance to share all he knew. In other words, he was perfectly Doctor-ish. I can imagine learning to like Five more than his on-screen persona similarly to (though not with as extreme a difference as) the way I've warmed to Six.

With a plot that's convoluted enough to stay interesting but familiar enough for a clever listener to stay a step ahead of the reveals, The Mutant Phase was a satisfying drama. Call-backs to previous televised episodes—robo-men, Thals, and (my personal favorite) the HADS (seen most recently in Cold War)—add a flavor of nostalgia for fans of the Classic series, but don't feel out of place or off-putting for those unfamiliar with the referenced tales. If you can stomach another adventure full of Daleks, you can do far worse than spend your time with this one.

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Comments

PaulGreaves's picture

...and the next Fifth Doctor audios on the list are Loups-Garoux and The Eye of the Scorpion! One Nyssa, one Turlough and one Peri. Good to get an all round view, I think :)

By PaulGreaves --

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mrfranklin's picture

I noticed that as I was looking at the lineup. :) I figured you were just being extra clever to suggest such variety! ;)

By mrfranklin
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