Doctor Who: Terminus – Written by Stephen Gallagher writing as John Lydecker and read by Steven Pacey – CD / Download (BBC Audio)
Much like Steven Gallagher’s other contribution to the Doctor Who universe, Warrior’s Gate, Terminus has always had a bit of a love-it-or-loathe-it reputation with the fans. The television production had its own behind the scenes problems (again, much like Warrior’s Gate) but unlike Gallagher’s previous story Terminus is far more straightforward in structure. Here Gallagher (writing as John Lydecker) gets the chance to flesh out the story, and more importantly the internalisation of the characters and their motives, especially Turlough and Nyssa.
Terminus in book form is certainly an oddity in the Doctor Who canon as it is very much a ‘Hard Sci-fi’ style story, with rusting space hulks, big bangs, space plagues and enforced slavery of alien species. You could happily remove the Doctor and his team from the equation and it would sit happily alongside any other science fiction novel. It has a maturity to it that seems almost out of place. The problem with that is however, that this isn’t really what Doctor Who tends to do.
This is a story that at its heart is about people turning a blind eye to the sick and the needy, who don’t care about what happens to them, just that they are no longer their problem. Once the plague-ridden Lazars reach Terminus no one cares what becomes of them. Indeed, the story itself is, I think, deliberately vague on the point, which only accentuates it.
Even those who “care” for them, the Vanir, are second class citizens, left to rot with the rest of them, and only sent the life sustaining drug on which they are totally dependent in ever diminishing amounts in order to ensure they continue their task at hand, which they are so disillusioned with they see as nothing more than glorified ‘baggage handlers’. Gallagher has created a universe of drudgery and illness run by unseen corporations that parallels the real world in which it was written.
The audiobook, read here by Steven Pacey, captures the bleak emptiness of the story well, with some atmospheric music and occasional sound effects that enhance the story, never detracting or feeling out of place. Pacey himself does an excellent job narrating and bringing the characters to life, managing to give each one their own distinctive voice and personality. From his Australian accent for Tegan, to his disturbing recorded messages onboard the liner carrying the Lazars, they all have something to differentiate them from one another. His reading and portrayal of Turlough is so good that occasionally I would forget it wasn’t Mark Strickson reading.
This is where Terminus falters slightly when listened to (or read) as a standalone story. Coming as it does in the middle of a trilogy of stories where Turlough is the agent of the Black Guardian, with his mission to destroy the Doctor, it must focus on that subplot in amongst the main piece. It also has to contend with a companion departure, although that is done with genuine thought and some lovely writing, and more importantly, in a way that make sense for the character. Always a bonus in Doctor Who!
With a running time just shy of 5 hours and spread over 5 CDs this is certainly an interesting and unusual addition to any fans collection. This is Doctor Who driven by its characters, and there is at its heart a lovely, bleak and grim tale that has vast scope, elements of time travel, internal politicking, moral questions and a couple of (fairly inept if I’m brutally honest, but that’s all part of their charm) space raiders. You do however have to crawl through quite a lot of ducting to get there. Jeff Goddard