And so this season of Seventh Doctor stories limps to a conclusion. Not helped by simultaneous release with another outing for this incarnation set on a starship where things are going wrong, Earth Aid fails to maintain the listener’s interest for far too much of the time.
It doesn’t help that if these stories are meant to be set straight after the broadcast Season 26, Ace has knowledge that she simply couldn’t have, unless for some reason the Doctor’s got a box set of Star Trek: The Next Generation DVDs hiding somewhere in the TARDIS, and she’s been watching them avidly. How could someone who left Earth in 1986 have knowledge of TNG otherwise, since the show didn’t start, even in America, until a year later? Her Picard-isms make for a good gag – once – but they become a key plot point, and it’s hard to shake the memory of the New Adventures Ace who would have been perfectly at home in this situation.
That aside, there’s also too much predictability: in the weakest cliffhanger for some time, Raine is discovered (to maintain some degree of spoiler-free effect, I won’t give away where, but it’s not hard to guess), while the return of the Metratraxi (given away on the cover and castlist, if not the blurb) is a little tiresome, even if we do get some insight into their backstory… The CD extras give away, perhaps, a little too much about how unplanned some of their arc was, which explains some of what feel like inconsistencies in their portrayal.
Many years ago, Farscape executive producer David Kemper said that he would get an image from a story, and would work out how the characters involved got to that point. With the exception of the first tale, this season of Lost Stories would seem to have derived from a similar starting point, but they haven’t lived up to the promise of the key images. On other Lost Stories, such as P.J. Hammond’s or Barbara Clegg’s, the powers that be have wisely matched an audio-savvy author with the outlines/draft scripts provided by the original writer; this time out, the stories have been written, effectively from scratch, by people less familiar with making Who work in this format (Aaronovitch has various Blake’s 7-revamp credits to his name) and, sad to say, they haven’t been as successful.
Should there be further adventures for the Doctor, Ace and Raine? In many ways, they’re a good team, and Beth Chalmers is a fine addition to the regular cast. But, as Earth Aid proves, turn their story creation over to people better versed in the medium…
Verdict: A missed opportunity. Not as painful as some of the Lost Stories in terms of their reworking of the core concepts of the show, but not vital listening. 4/10
Click here to order Earth Aid from Big Finish.