Based on a script by Barbara Clegg adapted by John Dorney, directed by Ken Bentley
Released 31 October 2011
His former hero Omega destroyed, the Doctor decides to take Nyssa and Tegan to Florana for a much-needed respite. Instead the TARDIS lands inside of a domed city populated by blank-faced inhabitants and dominated by a massive cathedral-like structure. Soon, the Doctor realizes that he has placed himself and his companions in the middle of a holy war. The youth are trained by computer ti become brilliant tacticians and fight for the glory of the Elite and the mysterious High Priest whom no one has ever seen.
The Lost Stories releases by Big Finish adapt scripts or treatments that never made it to production while the program was on the air. The first of a trilogy of Fifth Doctor stories, The Elite is an enjoyable and exciting tale that not only fits into the classic series feel from the cast to the synth-flute music but also offers up some startling surprises along the way.
Barbara Clegg is likely a familiar name to hardcore fans of Doctor Who as she penned the classic Fifth Doctor adventure ‘Enlightenment,’ a story so popular that it got a special edition release re-edited and ‘enhanced’ by new CGi sequences. Clegg apparently drafted this story as well, an adventure about a fascistic society where the young are trained for a holy war. The initial idea was that the soldiers would be very young, possibly twelve, which was changed for the Big Finish to under 40. It’s unclear to me how much of Clegg’s draft was rewritten or changed, but John Dorney confesses on the behind-the-scenes portions that he is an admirer of 1980’s Who and did his best to match the period.
I have listened to a few of Dorney’s stories and he is an incredibly skilled author as well as being a splendid actor! In each instance I was impressed by his scripts and the brilliant power of his dialog. However, this story is a real treat for me for several reasons. Not only does it feature the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa specifically set directly after Arc of Infinity, but it also uses a classic monster in a completely inspired fashion. I won’t say much about the monster as it gives far too much away (and not talking about it makes this review frankly difficult), but it does exactly what writers should do in these instances and uses it sparingly and for good reason.
Davison is in prime form in this story and has some sparklingly witty lines. When he is shown a training room full of emaciated youngsters, he offers them a bar of chocolate. When their teacher arrives and is furious, he laughs, ‘You’re not going to have me shot over a bar of chocolate?’ and is then a bit shocked when he is ordered to be killed. When his execution is narrowly avoided, he notes that this seems to happen to him all the time, and still, ‘people talk about death by chocolate, but really…’
His youthful exuberance is ever present throughout The Elite, despite the fact that this is a much older Peter Davison than we saw on telly back in the day.
The Doctor’s companions Tegan and Nyssa are also used very well. Reunited with Tegan, the Doctor admits that he is not jumping for joy to have the brassy Aussie back on board. Nyssa tries to reassure the Doctor that he’ll be fine so long as he doesn’t make any mistakes. Later, the Doctor describes Tegan as a ‘force of nature’ which had me in stitches.
The chemistry between all three lead actors is perfect, but Dorney uses this strength by separating them. As the Doctor becomes embroiled in local politics, first threatened with death and then treated ‘like a shuttle cock’ as he is whisked from one compound to another throughout the domed city, his companions are rounded up as subversives and have their own paths to follow.
Possessing an above-average intelligence Nyssa becomes a member of the Elite just as Tegan finds herself rejected due to her lower IQ and joins up with the resistance, a motley band of youngsters kicked out of the perfect society. Each of these threads weave together as one would expect as the rejects, the military and the church fight over the future of the perfect society as a doomsday device ticks away.
There are several stand out moments that make it so easy to imagine on screen and others that reminded me that it was all but impossible (an all-terrain vehicle smashing through a glass-fronted building and a vast laser-battle in the streets). Even so, that is what these Lost Stories are, a hint at what could have been and a reinvention of Doctor Who as an audio experience.
A terrific start to an all too short line of adventures, the Elite is heartily recommended… and don’t reveal the secret to anyone who has yet to listen as it would ruin a superb reveal (that I kind of called a mile away due to the voice work). A story steeped in 1980’s-style violence and arguments over the future and who has a right to claim it, this is a rather chilling tale of warfare as it depicts a holy war as one which never truly ends.