The violent, volcanic world of Hephastos is home to a colony of composers, painters, authors and poets, all striving to create the greatest works of art the universe has ever seen. But in pursuit of their goal, artistic collaboration has been taken a stage too far...When the Doctor and Romana arrive, they discover the colonists have neglected their well-being and their once beautiful habitat has now succumbed to decay. What's more, they are enslaved to the Babble network which occupies their every waking moment. Every thought, however trivial or insignificant, is shared with everyone else and privacy is now a crime. The colonists are being killed and the Doctor and Romana begin to suspect that a malevolent intelligence is at work...
Written by Jonathan Morris.
Surprisingly, writer, Jonathan Morris has truly captured the essence of the Fourth Doctor and his relationship with his assistant, Romana, in addition to the developing a flavour of DOCTOR WHO season 17 for those new fans who never enjoyed (or endured it, depending on your point of view) it the first time round. And, thankfully, it’s not a parody or pastiche, plastered with beleaguered humour that benighted that era (season 17) under the guidance of (Douglas) Adams and (Graham) Williams.
However, the fifth ‘chapter’ of DOCTOR WHO: DESTINY OF THE DOCTOR, BABBLESPHERE (a co-production between AUDIOGO and BIG FINISH PRODUCTIONS), at times, feels like, in stark contracts to the previous ‘chapter’ [VENGEANCE OF THE STONES] a cut-and-paste aural exercise with disparate elements thrown wildly together in the hope that the listener will not be able to see that plot is (memory) wafer-thin, and that it heavily focusses on his companion rather than the Time Lord himself (so much so that that it if it was a four-parter television story then the Doctor would be only appear in the first and final episode only due to the lead actor taking a well-earned vacation).
Additionally, for me, it sounds like a BIG FINISH audioplay from their first set of releases (circa 2000-2001); draughty, raw and desperate to be different.
Following an excellent reading of the Douglas Adams’ ‘inspired’ novel penned by Gareth Roberts, DOCTOR WHO – SHADA, Lalla Ward returns to AUDIOGO as BABBLESPHERE’s narrator & Romana, providing a thoroughly convincing, engaging and tonally accurate performance, supported by Roger Parrott (as Aurelias).
“…nobody want to give up pointless gossip…”
BABBLESPHERE delivers the listener to a disembodied planet, Hephastos, where its technology-augmented inhabitants are connected to the “Babble Network” forcing millions to share their every thought no matter how whimsical, boring or mundane. Think of it as bypassing your computer or mobile phone when you use ‘social media’ to share your own thoughts, connecting you instantly so everything you think is uploaded automatically. This, for some, like technological oligarchies financially exploiting its Users, may be informational nirvana but for other as dull as watching paint dry even before it has left its sealed & lidded can.
With this single-disc story, Jonathan Morris has proffered an allegory for modern life, holding up a mirrored touch-screen to the nonsensical nature of thoughtless communication, littering the script with contemporary abbreviations such as ‘OMG’ (though, in 1917, it seems that Winston Churchill first used that format) and ‘hash tagging’.
Certainly, it sounded as if Morris enjoyed purloining the most iconic elements of the Time Lord’s dynamic relationship (disrespectful appreciation of each other) and the scripting-style of season 17. The “…in reply…” power play between the Doctor and Romana is wholly representative of Douglas Adams’ voice as if had been penned (and then exorcized to retain brevity of the episode) from DOCTOR WHO – CITY OF DEATH (1979). Certainly, this ‘Ping-Pong’ conversational technique is suitably attributed to the Fourth Doctor and his observation was engaging, however, in an attempt to play another winning hand he repeats the technique (with the Time Lord’s effectively playing a game of Sonic Screwdriver ‘Top Trumps’) far too readily and, subsequently, it feels empty as if he’s run dry of narrative. Less is more?
As per the previous “chapters”, bleeding into the action is a message from a future Doctor incarnation (the Eleventh) but, unlike the said “chapters”, the Fourth Doctor immediately recognises the support is from ‘himself’ and, as per his persona, patronisingly immediately dismisses his future self’s involvement with haste. Sadly, Matt Smith was not engaged to voice the ‘message from the future’ and, as such, it’s a weak inclusion without depth and urgency. It’s a shame.
Sadly, the conclusion is predictable, mirroring that of THE IDIOT’S LANTERN and, in part, THE SHAKESPEARE CODE. And to avoid spoilers, that’s all I will say. And there’s an appreciative nod to the 11th Doctor’s episode, POWER OF THREE, which I will let you identify.
The sound treated – special sound effects and incidental music – is cleverly designed with the series’ own contributor, Dudley Simpson, in appreciation without parody. Whether footfalls across a rock-strewn landscape, or sparking energy discharging, or mechanical hatchway central locking, the sounds effects are professionally expedient that the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop’s legendary Dick Mills would be applaud.
At times, DOCTOR WHO: DESTINY OF THE DOCTOR - BABBLESPHERE is perfunctory and uninspired, but, at times, given the allegoric subject, is insightful and a social warning (“Communication Change” as opposed to “Climate Change”). Like Morbius (see THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS), whilst the phrase ‘cobbled together’ would be harsh, this release may be closer to “…the sum of its parts are greater than whole…”