The Outliers – the latest in the Early Adventures range of Doctor Who audio adventures from Big Finish – takes us back to the era of Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, with companions Jamie, Polly and Ben. It’s a space-faring tale of the far future from Simon Guerrier, with a big drill, a big company, a potentially lethal mineral, and an ocean where something is going very quietly, very creepily wrong…
In terms of what The Outliers is about, technically it’s “Jaws In Space”: a human colony of miners are threatened by a seemingly malevolent sea that picks off people when no-one else is looking. As a threat, the ‘hungry sea’ feels like it should work a treat, but it actually comes across as a second-string villain compared to the more philosophical evil here, which is wilful human blindness motivated by profit. ‘How much suffering and death are human beings prepared to turn a blind eye to, if it’s in their interests to do so?’ is the main question of the piece.
The ‘outliers’ of the title are rogue numbers in a calculation that can be dismissed or discarded from a trend, and it’s this that brings the sinister in this story. How many lives will we allow to be snuffed out as ‘outliers’ to maintain our way of life, especially if they’re not immediately presented to us? If we have to ask questions, defy authority, and go beyond what is told to us by trusted sources, would we actually want to know how many people suffer and die to keep us comfortable? Those are the really troubling questions that pin the drama to your ears, as the TARDIS team arrive on an unnamed alien world and start asking awkward questions about the disappearing people and the eerily empty houses of the miners, flooded with water…
The early “Jaws In Space” comparison grows more valid when you realise what you’re dealing with: all of the TARDIS team are one composite Chief Brody shouting about sharks, while Richard Tipple – the mining operations manager with a silly title and superciliousness to spare – insists that there’s nothing to be afraid of in the water, and that the number of unexplained deaths is merely an outlier, a nothing, an insignificance compared to the importance of his work.
In case you need even more deep and meaningful philosophical roughage in your Doctor Who, the decision over who lives and dies on the planet of the creepy hungry sea has another message hidden inside it: being certain of your position is often a dangerous mistake, and that the future is written not in the stars or by the gods, but by the decisions you make today, tomorrow, and the day after that.
Balanced against these deep themes is some cracking characterisation, especially from Frazer Hines, who takes on two roles: Jamie, the companion he played on TV in the Sixties; and the Second Doctor, in which role he has an uncanny ability to make you forget he isn’t Troughton. Meanwhile, Alistair Petrie makes Tipple him a very Sixties villain, very snide and sure of himself, while delivering 21st century marketing-speak, so you really want him to get eaten by the sea; and Matilda Ziegler deserves some characterisation props too as Chatura Sharma, the good company woman whose mind is opened to questioning the truth she knows by the arrival of the TARDIS.
The Outliers has a somewhat questionable ending, but short of a fairytale magic ending where everyone comes back to life, that’s almost unavoidable. However, in terms of pure Sixties atmosphere, philosophical clout, characterisation and creepy, tension-building pace, The Outliers is a story you’ll come back to listen to again and again.
Big Finish until November 30th 2017, after which date it will also be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailers.DOCTOR WHO – THE EARLY ADVENTURES: THE OUTLIERS is available to buy now exclusively from