The Cold Equations Review

The Cold Equations

With it being LGBT Month on GallifreyArchive, we decided to get in touch with Big Finish to see how they could help. Thankfully, Joe at Big Finish was kind enough to gift us a trilogy of old Companion Chronicles; The Perpetual Bond, The Cold Equations and The First Wave, as the First Doctor is joined by an LGBT character. Today, we review the second story in the trilogy; The Cold Equations.

In the remnant of a shattered satellite, far above the ruined planet Earth, Steven Taylor and Oliver Harper are dying. As time runs out, they face their pasts… and a secret long kept is revealed.
The borrowed time is elapsing, and they realize they are facing an enemy that cannot be defeated. The cold, hard facts of science.

When we last left the Doctor, Stephen and Oliver, we learned that Oliver had a secret. Will we learn what it is in this story..?
When we rejoin Stephen and Oliver, they’re in deep trouble. They’re in space, they’re dying and they’re alone. There’s no sign of the Doctor, and there’s absolutely no means of escape. This could truly be the quickest Doctor Who story ever.

It’s not the quickest story ever though, as after the titles, we’re seemingly taken back in time to before the events of the pre-title sequence. The Doctor, Oliver and Stephen are on a space station filled with plants and life. One thing I always enjoy is the companions first trip in the TARDIS; the way they act on their first journey through time and/or space is usually a good indicator for how the rest of their time will be.

One thing I’m really glad about, is just how joyful and fun-loving the First Doctor is at the beginning of The Cold Equations. Most people remember the First Doctor as being a bit grumpy and standoffish, and whilst this is true for some of the time, there were times when he seemingly revelled and enjoyed exploring the universe with his companions by his side.

The Cold Equations has done something that I can’t recall any other Doctor Who story doing to me; it made me realise just how much of a tough time the TARDIS has. It seems there’s hardly a time when it’s not being knocked, moved, bumped, graffitied, stolen, blown up, ejected or taken hostage; yet it always comes back to the Doctor. After all the Doctor puts that beautiful blue box through, it always seems to forgive him and takes him on more adventures. If that’s not the definition of love, then I’m not sure what is.

Once again, I must commend the gentle soundtrack that Big Finish provides with this story; there’s a beautifully subtle and somewhat haunting and mystical piano that underscores a scene, composed by Richard Fox and Lauren Yason. Well done both of you!

If there’s one thing that writer Simon Guerrier manages to do, it’s how to infuriatingly draw out just what Oliver Harper’s secret is. And it seems as if time is catching up with him…

The dynamic between Oliver and Stephen is a really complex one, even though they’ve only shared two adventures with one another; one on Earth with Mr. Flowers in The Perpetual Bond, and this one. Stephen seems easily betrayed by Oliver, especially when he learns that Oliver is keeping a secret from him, and it makes you wonder if there’s more than meets the eye. Or ear; it is audio after all. It makes you wonder if there’s more than meets the ear.

The conclusion to the first episode in The Cold Equations is rather intriguing, as it seems to set up the events of the second episode, which is seemingly where the pre-titles sequence took place. Even editing a story can involve timey-wimeyness.

When we rejoin Stephen and Oliver, they’re in deep trouble. They’re in space, they’re dying and they’re alone. There’s no sign of the Doctor, and there’s absolutely no means of escape.

In the second episode, Oliver really seems to prove himself as a worthy companion, and Stephen reminds the Doctor that he doesn’t have a TARDIS key. He really should have one.

Stephen also really proves himself with his scientific and mathematical intellect. We learn about how to work out space in six dimensions and how important a cone really is. If you liked the Doctor’s explanation of a Bootstrap Paradox in Before The Flood, you’ll probably love this explanation. Who says Doctor Who isn’t educational?

The second episode is extremely sombre in comparison with the first in The Cold Equations, even if we get to know Oliver’s secret. Oliver Harper is gay. When he tells his secret to Stephen, Stephen’s reaction is probably not the one that Oliver expected. As Stephen is from the future, he doesn’t see any reason as to why being gay should be a secret, or a crime at all.

Tom Allen’s performance as Oliver Harper in the scene where he comes out to Stephen is so brilliantly emotional and well performed; he doesn’t make a big deal out of his sexuality, nor does he let it define Oliver’s character at all. This, in my opinion, is how an LGBT character should be portrayed, in Doctor Who and any other media for that matter.

The conclusion to The Cold Equations is almost a happy ending for all parties involved. It’s not often that a Doctor Who story gets a happy ending, and I’m really glad that this one did. Oliver almost decides to stay behind, but in the end he opts to stay with the Doctor, Stephen and the TARDIS, for more adventures, including that that happens on the planetoid Grace Alone…

Overall, The Cold Equations is a great story, adding to the character of Oliver Harper, as arguably the Doctor’s first LGBT companion; the story itself is really well written and it’s one of those great character pieces that Big Finish does so very well.



Should you want to purchase The Cold Equations, it’s currently available from Big Finish for £8.99 on CD or a £7.99 download which you can purchase here.


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