Oftentimes I sit here in Unreality Towers wondering why Big Finish can’t give me my nostalgia. The 1980s Doctors are probably the ones I have the most affinity for, and sure they star in Big Finish the most, but it feels like those stories reference the Hinchcliffe era more than they do the one they came from. We get every single monster from the 1970s back, down to the Vardans and the Movellans, but where are the Terileptils? Alas, still no return for Meglos, but in 2019, Big Finish gave us two different trilogies featuring minor 1980s characters as companions.
The first of those is a trilogy of releases featuring Kamelion. Kamelion, a shape-shifting robot, was introduced as a new companion in 1983’s The King’s Demons, but not even mentioned in the next story, remaining unseen until it was written out six stories later, in 1984’s Planet of Fire. Originally voiced by Gerald Flood, now Jon Culshaw plays the robot in four stories: Devil in the Mist, Black Thursday / Power Game, and The Kamelion Empire.
Alas, I don’t think that the planning behind this trilogy was very good. It seems to have entirely been built around explaining why we never saw Kamelion again until Planet of Fire, with The Kamelion Empire in particular going to over-the-top lengths to do this. In literally every story in this set, Kamelion comes under an external emotional influence and proves dangerous to the rest of the TARDIS team (the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough) as a result. It gets so repetitive it’s almost comedic, and it makes the TARDIS crew look like dunces when they don’t even seem to anticipate it. In Black Thursday in particular, everyone acts like it’s a thing they’ve never seen before, when it also happens in Devil in the Mist, which leads right into Thursday. The same thing literally happened to them 20 minutes ago!
It seems like a bad idea to plan four stories around — it’s repetitive, and it’s backward-looking, and it makes for annoying listening. Who wants to listen to six hours of a companion who the stories keep insisting should not be a companion? It seems to me that these stories shouldn’t have (only) explained why Kamelion didn’t stick around, but instead focused on making us want him to stick around. Make us rue that he only got two television stories. Make him the greatest companion who never was, a great addition to the team of Tegan and Turlough, so that when we watch the Doctor gun him down in Planet of Fire, we cry that it had to be done. Let him be charming and witty, let him use his power of empathy for good, and let his shape-shifting be an asset.
Most of the stories don’t rise above their Kamelionic roots. Cavan Scott’s Devil in the Mist and Jonathan Morris’s The Kamelion Empire both hinge too much on the character to really be enjoyable. Jamie Anderson’s Black Thursday is actively bad, with overly broad characterisation and not much of a story. The only story here that works is — of course — by Eddie Robson, the charming Power Game. A group of 1980s geeks are into a mysterious game show that Tegan becomes an unwilling contestant on. As usual for Robson, it’s a good blending of the fantastic and the ordinary, with good jokes and likeable guest characters.
But even it is brought down by the role Kamelion inevitably must play. Alas, next time I watch Planet of Fire, I will just feel glad we were rid of him, if this is the best the writers of Big Finish can do.
Devil in the Mist (by Cavan Scott; starring Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Jon Culshaw), Black Thursday / Power Game (by Jamie Anderson, Eddie Robson; starring Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Jon Culshaw), and The Kamelion Empire (by Jonathan Morris; starring Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Jon Culshaw) were released by Big Finish Productions in January, February, and March 2019 respectively.