Hello sir/madam, my name is Hargreaves, robot assistant to the HMS Aquitaine. Welcome to the GallifreyArchive review of my debut story, Aquitaine. I hope that you will enjoy this review and that you gain full satisfaction from both reading this review and listening to my debut story from Big Finish. Those people are marvellous aren’t they? I don’t want to intrude your reviewing time, so I will let you have some time alone to acquaint yourself with this review. Please enjoy your day aboard the HMS Aquitaine!
Today should be much like every other day for Hargreaves, the computer consciousness that co-ordinates daily life aboard the spaceship Aquitaine, stationed on the outer fringes of a black hole. Water the plants, run the diagnostics, cook the Captain’s breakfast; then tidy the plates away, rotate the ship, clean the windows of the observation deck. When at last the day’s work is done, Hargreaves will dim the lights in the sleeping quarters. But no-one will sleep aboard the Aquitaine tonight. Because the Aquitaine’s crew is missing.
But today will be different. Today, a space/time ship called the TARDIS will materialise in the botanical section, bringing the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan aboard the Aquitaine. Together, they’ll seek to discover the truth of what happened to Hargreaves’ crew…
… if only the ghosts will let them.
It’s not every Big Finish release that starts off with a monologuing poetic gentlemanly robot, but Aquitaine is such a release. The robots name is Hargreaves and he is extremely polite, thank you very much. I don’t think there’s ever been a Doctor Who character who I have ever fallen in love with so quickly as Hargreaves; even if he does occasionally come across as elitist and arrogant. The HMS Aquitaine has a great mission, studying the outer fringes of a black hole. When I listened to this I was immediately reminded of a Doctor Who storyline where they also studied a black hole; The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit anyone?
One thing that was interesting was that Hargreaves isn’t actually just one robot, he’s installed in most of the robots on the HMS Aquitaine; a bit like the Ood with the hive mind. This story seems somewhat familiar.
I’m glad that Tegan, the gobby Australian is back with the Fifth Doctor and part of the Big Finish family again, as her character really seems to challenge both the Doctor and Nyssa. Tegan seems to ask the classic companion questions such as ‘What are those?’ ‘Who is that?’ ‘Where are we?’ ‘DOCTOR?!?’ etc, but her personality and sharp wit gives it a brand new slant, making her most welcome in these Big Finish releases.
The first episode of this four episode story seems like a fairly standard opening episode from a Classic Who storyline; we arrive at the destination for the tale, this time the HMS Aquitaine, we are given the exact premise of the story, in this case the fact that the missing crew of the HMS Aquitaine appear to have vanished and become ghosts, and we have a great cliffhanger in that Nyssa has been separated from the Doctor and Tegan and Hargreaves has been seemingly transferred from the version of the HMS Aquitaine with the Doctor and Tegan to the one with Nyssa. Also there’s an impending doom; you know, classic cliffhanger.
The second episode opens by making you think that you’re stuck in a loop. It gives the impression that this story might be more ‘timey-wimey’ than most classic episodes of Doctor Who. Whilst I do enjoy the more timey-wimey episodes, I think that it’s somewhat jarring to have these kind of stories featuring classic Doctors, I’m sure that the more I listen to these type of stories from Big Finish, the more I’ll get used to them. My favourite aspect of the second episode of Aquitaine is undoubtedly the introduction of Dr Sergei Akunin, one of the crew on the HMS Aquitaine who seems to be an extremely multilayered character. I really love these type of characterisations, when you’re not quite sure if they’re somewhat of a hero or a villain. These ‘grey’ characters are very difficult to understand as you’ve got to try and get inside their minds to understand if their motives are for the greater good or if they’re doing things in malice. Another thing I’ve thoroughly enjoyed whilst listening to the second episode of Aquitaine was the rather tragic revelation about Hargreaves; normally when I talk about tragic revelations, I mean that they shook me to the core, but in this release it’s much more of a tragic revelation for Hargreaves than the listener. His poor to-do list. One thing that I thought was slightly underwhelming was the cliffhanger to the second episode which didn’t really seem to add any jeopardy.
Aquitaine starts its penultimate episode in a way I didn’t expect; whilst the previous two episodes start extremely familiarly, I’m not sure if it’s the writers trying to pull the rug from under your feet or whether it was somewhat of an oversight. The third episode does have parallels with the second though, by introducing a new character Lt. Maurizio Savinio. In these extremely timey-wimey stories, I think it’s a great narrative device to drip feed the listener new characters, as it gives the impression that all of these characters are stuck in slightly different time loops. We also get to meet Captain Anna Maynard, albeit not in the same time as Maurizio. I told you that this story was timey-wimey. With every main character splintered from one another, it becomes a great showcase for the three leads; the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa to prove themselves as companions and the Doctor by making them all independent with one another and working with a stranger.
Traditionally, the third episode of a classic four-part story is normally when the majority of the action starts to take shape, all the pieces are getting into position, ready for the final episode to have the ultimate resolution. One thing that I really loved in the third episode was that Nyssa kind of becomes a mixture of Captain America and the Hulk. (Nyssa smash.)
One of my favourite parts about the Fifth Doctor is just the sheer speed that Peter Davison can speak and deliver lines, there’s a moment toward the end of the penultimate episode that showcases Davison’s fast speech. The fact that the Doctor can ream off tons of thoughts and information in such a short space of time really does give the impression that the Doctor is supremely intelligent and his mouth has to have a workout to try and keep up with his intellect.
The ending of the third episode has a very unforeseen twist that could easily be part of The Day of the Triffids (Or Big Finish’s sequel, The Night of the Triffids) which really changed the direction of the story from the one I anticipated.
The final episode gives us an insight into how Tegan feels about herself, the Doctor and Nyssa which could account for some of her abrasiveness and standoffishness, as she thinks herself as lower than Nyssa and the Doctor. One of the great parts of having a two hour long story like the Doctor Who Monthly Range tends to do, is that you have time for these small moments that develop the characters, even if we first met the character 35 years previously. The final act, the thirty minutes seems somewhat devoid from total action, there are no massive explosions, just the HMS Aquitaine riding the Time Storm. There is a transformation that could have been developed further, but for fear of spoiling the story, I won’t tell you what or who transforms and into what.
The resolution of how certain characters escape from the impending doom of the HMS Aquitaine felt like it made the most sense for the story, however it would have been nice for the resolution to have been something slightly more unexpected and unique.
My favourite part of the final episode is that Hargreaves seemingly becomes a lot like a character from The Night of The Doctor, and it’s a shame that the character of Hargreaves won’t be present in next months adventure, The Peterloo Massacre.
The ultimate resolution is extremely timey-wimey and reminded me of The Girl Who Waited, using the timey-wimeyness to the plots advantage. All in all I think that Aquitaine is a great mix of Classic Who and New-Who, even if it has some minor flaws.
Overall, I think that Aquitaine would be a great jumping on point for fans of New-Who to start enjoying the monthly releases of Big Finish, being the perfect blend of the classic and the new. If you’ve ever wanted to get into the world of Big Finish releases; Aquitaine is a great reason to start.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For Aquitaine, I will give a rating of:
Should you want to purchase Aquitaine it is available now from from the Big Finish website. The price is £12.99 for the download and £14.99 for the physical CD.