The Last Colony

Captain Patch

June 2005

Although there is plenty of action going on throughout The Last Colony, this audio drama is fundamentally a character study of the Doctor. The current incarnation, portrayed by David Segal, has always been played as a “hero”: in control, proactive. His nobility shines through any time he finds someone in trouble.

Or, does it?

Because in The Last Colony, we get a glimpse of Doctor’s dark side, just a hint that maybe his motives aren’t as altruistic as we have been led to believe. The Doctor has always been anti-authoritarian, and his disregard for rules can be seen as far back, as, well, as An Unearthly Child. On the surface, his actions in this story seem to continue to reflect these tendencies towards independence and self-reliance. As the Doctor risks his own existence to save a handful of humans at the twilight of the universe, we might see his attempts to circumvent the laws of the Time Lords as heroic and self-sacrificing.

But to writer Robin-Mary Manseth’s credit, that’s not what this story feels like. Her approach is subtle, almost too subtle to describe. But from the first few minutes of this story, we see a Doctor driven by his own agenda to the exclusion of all else. Though his actions seem unselfishly focused outward onto a community in danger of extinction, in spirit he is focused inwards, attempting to shape events to his own will and purpose.

This is not to say that the Doctor becomes an obsessed raving nutter. His “fall” is handled much more subtly than that. There’s not one place I can point to that would clearly demonstrate the trap that the Doctor has fallen into. Rather, it’s a process, a summation of events, actions, and comments; it’s how he treats his companions, and the decisions he makes.

Frankly, when it all comes up and bites him in the end, I wasn’t really feeling sorry for him. And that’s what makes this story so great…how the audience can lose sympathy for the Doctor, the title character of this series they’ve enjoyed for decades, without the Doctor having been turned into an unlikable jerk. Somehow, the Doctor, doing the same kinds of things he’s always done, is taken down a notch right before our eyes…and ultimately, as he catches on to this mistake (after several missed opportunities) and realizes what the listener has sensed all along…suddenly the Doctor becomes more human, more real, more likable than ever before.

I could say more about the production values (a bit dodgy, but probably about right for 1988, the year of production); I could point out that the Time Lords, who I find generally misused in Who stories (BBC and unofficial productions alike) are genuinely scary; I could mention one particular character, a recurring role originated in the original BBC series who shows up in Part 4 of this audio drama (you’ll know him when you see him)…I could mention that he is better here than anywhere else ever (again, in BBC or unofficial stories); I could even point to the unfinished novelization, and mention how it felt very much like a Terrence Dicks Target novelization (skimpy on embellishment but eminently readable and enjoyable)…I wish it was complete because there are a couple of spots in the story where dialog was overwhelmed by sound effects and/or music, causing me to miss chunks of the story; I could mention the plot (which would have stood up nicely on its own, without the character study aspect to dominate it), the acting (reasonable), the effects (often too loud, but often really, really good), the music (ditto)….well, I guess I have mentioned all these things so I’ll stop here.

The Doctor’s dark side is a topic that has been explored before. We see it highlighted in the McCoy era, but have seen hints of it from Hartnell through McGann, not to mention many unofficial Doctors. But rarely is the topic handled so subtly yet completely, and so in keeping with the Doctor’s core character. It’s a reminder that all too often, a person’s weakness and strength, his vices and virtues, are separated by a thin line that is terribly easy to step across.

Last updated: Monday, June 20, 2005