The first Fifth Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan trilogy comes to a close with Zaltys, a fun story with some good twists and turns along its runtime. A very enjoyable trilogy overall, made better by the freshness of the lead cast, after nearly a decade and a half of Fifth Doctor releases, it’s good to hear this period of the show getting new stories at last!
In the Vortex, the TARDIS comes under a form of psychic attack – resulting in the abductions of first Adric, then Tegan. Following their trail, the Doctor and Nyssa arrive under the lurid skies of the planet Zaltys, whose entire population has vanished in strange circumstances. Soon, they discover that Zaltys is now the target of treasure seekers, come to scavenge this so-called Planet of the Dead…
Meanwhile, deep below the planet’s surface, Adric learns the earth-shattering reason why the people of Zaltys disappeared… and why they were wise to do so. And Tegan is, quite literally, in the dark – enduring interrogation by the mysterious Clarimonde. Any friend of the Doctor’s is Clarimonde’s enemy… because theirs is a blood feud!
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
The Doctor (Peter Davison) – Always worried about his group of companions, especially now since he’s misplaced two of them!
Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) – Despite his vast mathematical knowledge, Adric is still young, young enough to be talked into trying to pilot the TARDIS, and young enough not to know that’s probably not the best idea…
Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) – Smart and sensible, Nyssa spends most of this story by the Doctor’s side, though she does get a brief glimpse into her future…
Tegan (Janet Fielding) – An attempt to get out of the cramped TARDIS and back home leads her to become stranded on a ship full of vampires. That’ll teach her a lesson!
Clarimonde (Niamh Cusack) – Head of one of the last remaining ships of vampires, or Necrobiologicals, as she prefers. Despite a long, long wait, she still hasn’t forgotten who chased her people down and into hiding in the first place…
Gevaudan (Phillip Franks) – Hairy, werewolf-looking person with minor psychic powers. Despite everything pointing towards him being a bad guy, he’s actually a stand up guy, or er, stand up psychic werewolf, once you get to know him…
Sable (Rebecca Root) – A scavenger, wanting nothing more than a way to get rich quick with minimum risk to her own life.
Perrault (Sean Barrett) – Leader of the Custodians of Zaltys, and the man in charge of protecting his people from the impending threat… or then again…
Plenty of clever photoshopping going on in this cover!
I’ve said this about the past two stories, and thankfully it’s still relevant here, all four members of the main cast are served well here. Tegan goes off on her own adventure on board the vampire ship, eventually helped by a strange fishgirl, a story that doesn’t end until the end of part 4, meaning she is literally having her own adventure away from everyone else. The Doctor and Nyssa get caught up with Sable and the local Zaltys… Zaltysians? … the local populace, while Adric encounters the few woken people first then crosses over to being caught up with Sable. Somehow all these individual plot lines neatly converge with each other and give a satisfying ending.
The big twist, that seemingly untrustworthy Gevaudan is actually innocent, and it’s Perrault who had betrayed his people, was a good one. The return of the vampires was well handled as well, I like how they wrote in a currently unseen adventure between these vampires and the Third Doctor and Jo to give Clarimonde a reason to specifically hate The Doctor rather than just all Time Lords.
I did enjoy the teasing of Nyssa’s psychic abilities. I’m so used to them being established fact that I forgot the time period these stories take place in is before The Doctor or Nyssa find out about them. It was a shame Gevaudan sacrificed himself to kill the vampires. In fact, by the end of the story, he, Perrault, Sable, the vampires and even the fish-person who befriended Tegan were all dead. One of those stories, I guess!
Perrault willing to freeze his entire population under the false pretence of potential extinction level event, only to then give their frozen bodies over the vampires to feast on is pretty… crazy, even for a Who villain. Now, I’ll admit, from the few living … people of Zaltys you hear, they’re not a nice bunch. They’ve very isolationist, to the point that they are insulted by the mere thought of someone from another planet on their shores, but I don’t think they deserved genocide, and I find it hard to believe Perrault was so disillusioned that he’d go along with it just to gain immortality and the means to travel around the place. He didn’t seem … crazy enough, or stupid enough to think that vampirism wouldn’t have its drawbacks.
I didn’t really like Adric reading Dracula at the start of the story, telling Tegan that it’s just in case they face them again, and then sure enough, here they are! It was unnecessarily tipping the listen off on a big reveal. Also at the end of the story there is another wink-wink, nudge-nudge reference to Adric’s death, which… can we not do that now? I get it, he dies, we know he dies, but can we not make that obvious when they characters don’t actually know it?
Beyond the returning vampires (last seen in 4th Doctor TV serial State of Decay) there wasn’t much. Plenty of planet name-dropping, from various character’s homeworlds to the Doctor comparing this planet’s awful colour scheme to that of Thoros-Beta, saying that was the reason he never went there (the Sixth Doctor would later arrive there in “Mindwarp” the second story of the Trial of a Time Lord TV story arc)
The Doctor also mentions the Silurians (Third Doctor TV serial “and the Silurians”) and the Cybermen of Telos (Second Doctor TV serial “Tomb of the Cybermen”) as example of races freezing themselves to avoid a great catastrophe.
Much like Contingency Club, this isn’t quite up there with The Star Men, but it is still a really fun story of follow, with a great guest cast and a motivated lead cast. The story is nicely paced and branched out, and comes together in a satisfying way. Just a few little niggles take it down a peg, but still definitely worth your time listening to, as is the whole trilogy.