Iterations of I by John Dorney is the second adventure in Big Finish‘s The Fifth Doctor Box Set and includes the same regular TARDIS crew as the previous adventure. Psychodrome ended with Tegan’s insistence that she wanted to return to Heathrow and yet, in Iterations of I, she’s over that now and is happy to stay. It takes a moment, through the writer dropping the title of the book the Doctor is apparently reading, to work out that this adventure doesn’t follow on from the post-Castrovalva story. Instead, it’s some months later and takes place some time after Black Orchid. So, in terms of continuity, we’ve (at least) had Four to Doomsday, Kinda, and The Visitation as well as Black Orchid between the two stories present on The Fifth Doctor Box Set. At a later point in the story the Doctor wishes he had his sonic screwdriver with him (in the TV series it was destroyed in The Visitation).
With the Doctor busy in the TARDIS library reading the aforementioned book, Adric attempts to use his mathematical skills to operate the TARDIS, with a little bit of (albeit reluctant) help from Tegan and Nyssa. The Doctor returns to the console room, flustered with their attempts, only for the TARDIS to land safely.
However, instead of being at Heathrow (Tegan wasn’t responsible for the choice of destination, Adric just wanted to prove he could navigate better than the Doctor), they land on a cliff-edge. The team go outside to explore, and Tegan is convinced they are on Earth – just nowhere near Heathrow. The Doctor finds the weather quite pleasant and bracing, but to everyone else it’s cold and windy (prompting Tegan to conclude that the Doctor “must be British”).
Adric figures out his mistake in that he was using negatives in his calculations instead of positives due to forgetting that he wasn’t in E-Space anymore. Before he can return to the TARDIS, the cliff gives way and the TARDIS plummets to the shoreline. They espy a path down the cliff, but the sudden arrival of torrential rain has them rushing towards a dwelling – an apparently abandoned mansion in the middle of nowhere. They find much clutter inside, together with a tape recorder which the Doctor believes the TARDIS could use to determine the exact date.
Nyssa is accosted by a psychic wave of undetermined source.
Meanwhile, a man visits the police to inform them of his missing girlfriend and that she’d been staying on Fleming Island – something in the name alerts the officer, stating that the island is “evil” and they should see if they can locate the missing woman.
What follows really depends upon how the listener takes the story. The plot involves aliens that are wholly mathematical in nature and, as such, the story would have fit right in with the Christopher H Bidmead stories towards the end of the previous season and the start of this one. Back then we had the logical-based Logopolis and the Escher-themed Castrolvalva. Here we have alien beings existing as numbers.
A missing cult sought to find God in numbers, as numbers exist in everything and God exists in all things, their logic was to find the number that represented God. They hired a mathematician to work for them and she discovered beings that exist as the imaginary number represented by ‘I’. These beings killed off the cult members one-by-one, which the Doctor determines was due to a misunderstanding over communication. He traps the beings, only to discover there’s something more malevolent out there and that not all threats come from numbers.
Sound a bit confusing? Well, the story is filled with a lot of mathematically-leaning technobabble but, and here’s the thing about it, the writer John Dorney has a way of putting it that makes sense. Most of the third episode feels a bit like a massive infodump but, actually, through the persona of the Doctor, the writer explains all of his thought processes and the story actually makes a lot of sense.
The listener can then either go along with that which the writer is presenting, or just imagine the aliens as “from another dimension” and dismiss all of the mathematical technobabble as window dressing. In either case, it works. In the former it feels a lot like a thoughtful approach to the “monster of the week” adventure, whilst in the latter it feels a bit extended too much to be more comfortable than tedium.
Following the technobabble, the adventure reverts back to the “big bad” to give the story a sense of jeopardy and drama whilst the Doctor attempts to save the day. Dorney has laid on several layers by way of characters with ulterior motives which gives the adventure extra spice where other four-parters may have been stretching out the concept thinner and thinner until the end.
As can be expected, with all of the mathematical stuff going on, Adric gets a big slice of the adventure (something he didn’t get in the previous story of The Fifth Doctor Box-set). Sometimes he seems a little too clever for his own good, but I think this is more down to memories of how the TV series historically treated him as a third arm. This is probably how his character should have been written.
Apparently, Iterations of I by John Dorney was awarded the Winner of the 2015 Scribe Award Best Audio release. I’m not sure what competition it had, but in my mind it’s certainly a lot better than many other audio Doctor Who stories I’ve listened to recently. It gets my vote.
The Fifth Doctor Box-set concludes with a music suit followed by an hour-long behind the scenes feature which includes some insight from Matthew Waterhouse on his return as Adric for the first time since the TV series.
I bought the set in one of Big Finish‘s sales for £20.00 plus £2.50 postage. Even at the full price of £30 (£25 download), it’s a set I would recommend.