We’re going Unbound this week, as we go into a totally different and anarchic universe; luckily we’re not alone, as Bernice Summerfield, an archaeologist in space and arguably a version of River Song before River Song is also hurled into the unknown. Today, we’re reviewing the second story in the box set, Planet X.
Bernice and the Doctor land on a planet so dull no one ever bothered naming it. Finally something interesting is about to happen here.
Guy Adams really has infiltrated Big Finish this past month, first with Made You Look, then with Fiesta of The Damned and now with Planet X. I gave both previous releases very high ratings, but will Planet X be up there with his finest work?
The story kicks off with Bernice and the Doctor in his rather unstable TARDIS; it’s so unstable that even Bernice thinks that it’s on its last legs. The Doctor, however, has been trying to repair her so he can take Benny on a trip to anywhere in the universe. Well almost anywhere. Well somewhere closeish. Well, she can pick from the three closest planets. The TARDIS really is knackered. Benny chooses the mysterious sounding Planet X, which the Doctor tells her is a planet so dull that they didn’t even name it, they just put a cross on the form, hence the name. As the Doctor says, Planet X is the planet equivalent of cabbage. I’m not a fan of cabbage.
We’re soon taken to the “exhilarating” events of Planet X, where Prime Minister 470 talks to Girl 23,454,113 about her below pass-grade results. It’s nice to know that everyone will at least have a unique name on Planet X if nothing else. It seems as if any strong emotional response to anything is shunted, as Prime Minster 470 ensures that Girl 23,454,113 is only mildly sorry for bothering her. The Prime Minister then greets all of the people who passed this exam, and shows some sign of promise that they could enhance Planet X’s future. Unfortunately for them, the people of Planet X seem to enjoy the mundane, so the intellectuals and the creatives are all gassed until they’re braindead. Considering it’s thought that Planet X is a mundane planet, it’s absolutely terrifying.
Even though the Unbound Doctor isn’t the most Doctor-like Doctor we know, even he hates everything about Planet X; as he says, the only reason people should learn to walk on Planet X is so they can find a building to jump off. I feel like me and the Unbound Doctor have a similar style of thinking, if you can’t be creative and forward-thinking, what’s the point in being alive?
Once the Doctor and Bernice’s arrival has been noted, and a group of soldiers and drones come to question them, the planet goes on taupe alert, (for those who don’t know, taupe is grey with a tint of brown) so it seems not even the alerts can have interesting colours. The drone assesses that the Doctor is way too exciting for Planet X, and has to be processed; which doesn’t go down well with either the Doctor or Bernice. The Doctor doesn’t particularly like being a prisoner, and Bernice is offended that the drone doesn’t deem her exciting enough.
After the Doctor has been imprisoned ready for processing, he demands that he gets to speak to someone in charge; luckily for him, Prime Minister 470 is walking past and hears him, much to the Doctor’s delight. The Prime Minster deems the Doctor and his TARDIS to be interesting, which on Planet X is a capital crime. Being interesting gets you noticed, which means they’re more likely to be a target for war; especially after the events of the Great War.
Whilst the Doctor is trying not to be bored to death (literally), Bernice meets with Girl 23,454,113 who is trying to keep as calm and disinterested as possible for fear of being caught. Bernice tells Girl 23,454,113 that a name like Girl 23,454,113 is way too difficult to remember, so shortens her name to Mille (short for Millions), even though Millie isn’t sure that that’s allowed.
Bernice learns that the TARDIS has been taken away by the government for being way too interesting for street furniture, and gets really irate that their only means of escape from Planet X has been commandeered. Both Benny and Millie get heightened states of emotion and are soon embroiled in a chase with the local police force for being too interesting. Of course, the chase itself is very interesting which just makes things a hell of a lot worse.
Millie takes Benny to the Garden of Apathy, a place where people go to calm down, hoping it will mean their adrenaline will lower and the police will lose their scent. Benny notices though that there’s no plants in the garden, and it turns out it’s because plants are chaotic. All there is in the Garden of Apathy is a tree. And it’s made of plastic. And spray painted white. It’s very dull.
The Doctor learns that 20,000,000 people on Planet X have died in the past five years, meaning that the population is decreasing rapidly. It seems as if Prime Minister 470 has a much darker past than people know…
One thing that I’ve learnt that Guy Adams is exceptional at is understated comedy; it’s not often that I find something so amusing that I actually laugh at loud, I’m normally someone who exhales slightly harder through my nose instead, but there’s a beautiful bit of back and forth dialogue between the Doctor and a barman that just absolutely tickled me:
The Doctor: Good evening barman, you have a lovely place here.
The Barman: I hope not.
The Doctor: Oh, absolutely, it’s just about acceptable, utterly average.
The Barman: You’re vaguely kind.
I don’t know if it’s a Yorkshire style of humour or what, but something about Guy Adam’s writing just gets me.
Benny and Millie head over to the north of the city, where the people who passed the exam that Millie failed are supposed to be relocated to. Of course, when they arrive, they realise that nobody is there, and Millie quickly learns the truth of what happened to the boy she didn’t mind quite as much. Millie learns that her boyfriend is dead and her emotions get the better of her.
Whilst Benny and Millie are escaping from the Blank Squad, the Doctor meets the man who is the only other outlaw on Planet X; the outlaw and the Doctor go to a rooftop and witness a group of people all committing suicide, in protest to the regime that Prime Minister 470 is running. For once, they’ll be doing something interesting. Of course, the Doctor is totally against these actions, as he values life above all else.
Prime Minister 470 is by far one of the most evil characters I’ve heard in a Big Finish story in recent memory; she has no remorse and uses a variety of techniques to torture anyone who has the potential to be extraordinary. Of course, the Doctor tries his best to hide any clue that he’s in any pain, whether it be physical or mental, and instead seems to rile Prime Minister 470 as much as possible.
Now, I’ve no idea if this is a little Easter egg that not many people will understand or not, but whilst the Doctor is being subjected to one of Prime Minister 470’s tortures, he gets the taste of rhubarb. A lot of you won’t know this, but both Guy Adams and myself were born in the city of Wakefield, which is ‘famous’ for the Rhubarb Triangle, where we used to produce 90% of the worlds rhubarb in the winter months. Like I said, I don’t know if the rhubarb is a little nod to Wakefield or not, but it’s certainly a fun coincidence if not.
The conclusion of Planet X is one of those rare moments where you’re not quite sure whether the Doctor is truly a good man are not; especially this somewhat unknown incarnation. He says himself that today he’s not a good man, and you really get a sense of how powerful the fury of the Time Lord can be.
On the surface, Planet X is a story of how creativity and individuality will always trump boredom and conformity, how being different should be embraced and having free-thoughts should be rewarded. However, I think that Planet X has a much more dystopian message; the acts of Prime Minister 470 are so evil and restrictive that I can only liken her reign to that of Adolf Hitler. Her Nazi-like rule was absolutely abhorrent and it goes to show, that in the darkest of times, we could all do with a visit from our Doctor.
Should you want to purchase Planet X, it’s currently available as part of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume 3: The Unbound Universe box set from Big Finish which can be purchased here for £20.00 for either the CD or the download.