The Screaming Skull, by Jonathan Morris, continues with Mike Yates and his close friend, Lt Jane Lucas (Rachel Atkins) under the influence and control of Mr Rees. Captain Matheson is able to break the control using the device Professor Jensen developed back in the 60s.
Sato falls into the clutches of Rees and, although valiantly trying to keep his own mind, Rees is stronger.
Between Matheson, Yates, and Lucas, they discuss what they know so far – including the limited but invaluable insight by Jago & Litefoot from their recording. They surmise that there is a link between the musical box, and Rees’ skull, otherwise Rees would have broken free long before now. It seems that the skull is a recent addition to the Vault.
They don’t have the time to figure out how the musical box works, so Yates decides to destroy it with extreme prejudice. It’s very resilient but, eventually, he succeeds.
Before Sato’s eyes, the skull disintegrates. The controlled soldiers all drop down in unison, dead. All except those who had already been freed – Lucas and Yates, and those not yet fully under Rees’ control – Sato.
Yates begins to mop up, and he sends Lucas to the airlock to assure everyone that the situation is in hand. He reconnects with Matheson and Sato.
Once they all reach the airlock, Lucas is nowhere to be seen. The soldiers waiting outside, however, are all dead. They discover that Lucas has taken the remnants of the musical box. She, and Rees’ mind, could be anywhere. Yates decides that the threat posed by Rees is too great, and he needs to contact a certain Time Lord.
The Screaming Skull ends without anything unexpected or unpredicted happening. The number of deaths, particularly of the soldiers outside the Vault, feel like a ploy to make Rees more threatening that he’s proven himself to be, for little purpose beyond making the tentative prospect of Lucas, Rees’ mind, and a broken musical box, fear more of a threat than they would actually appear. Indeed, as an enemy, Rees doesn’t actually feel like he has what it takes to be this big threat that should involve the Doctor or, indeed, the Time Lords. U.N.I.T. should be well capable of handling the situation and not yet be ready to call in the “big guns”. Nevertheless, that’s what we have to accept in order to have this four-adventure framing story.
By the end of The Screaming Skull, we don’t really know a lot more about the Vault than we learned in the first ten minutes. Just saying “it’s a bit like Warehouse 13” would have been sufficient.
That said, what we do get is a story in which Mike Yates takes a prominent role and one in which he’s surprisingly commanding. I say “surprisingly” because I’ve recently listened to The Third Doctor Adventures, volume 1 in which Yates often felt like a third arm – side-lined by an uncharacteristically domineering Jo Grant and, of course, the Doctor himself. Indeed, if there was a UNIT The Vault series with Mike Yates in command, helped by Matheson and Sato in a not too-dissimilar way to Counter-Measures, I think it would be an excellent series and one I’d welcome immediately. I wouldn’t have said as much in his other adventures I’ve listened to but, here, he comes across surprisingly well. It’s for this reason, the position in the story of Mike Yates, that I would have to recommend The Screaming Skull. Whilst the “Vault” may not have held many surprises, Mike Yates definitely did.
Now, onto the final adventure, and hoping that Yates turns up in that one too…