In 2012, Gods and Monsters marked the end of a story that was a long time in the works. It didn't just encompass a recent trilogy in the form of Protect and Survive, Black and White and Project: Nirvana, with the black and white TARDIS crews, but its seeds had been planted back in The Magic Mousetrap and even with the introduction of Hex in 2004 with The Harvest. The script from Mike Maddox and Alan Barnes, reaps those seeds from some of the earliest Sylvester McCoy audio adventures and even some of his television serials.
That kind of long game is particularly appropriate because that is the game that the Doctor has been all again, as usual. At the beginning of Gods and Monsters we are back to one TARDIS once more and its landing in the birthing moments of the universe so that they and the Doctor can once more play the game of chess with Fenric. For the Doctor, he has been preparing for a long time, even though he is still unprepared. It is up to Ace, Hex, Lysandra and Sally to find him and find out what the hell is going on.
This is the third time that Alan Barnes had co-written a story that wraps up a long running story arc. And Gods and Monsters is a lot more fulfilling that Zagreus and The Next Life. As with those two stories, his contribution is to keep this one from blotting out the smaller ones but this isn't just a story about gods fighting one another, it is about the Doctor's companions learning more about the Doctor and themselves. But perhaps the biggest failing of Gods and Monsters is that the smaller stories don't actually come through in the ways you would hope.
Ace finds herself returned to Perivale, something we haven't seen since Survival and it is nice to see how much she has matured. This is just a short visit and nothing is made of it however. Similarly, Lysandra and Sally find themselves flung into the future where they witness a chilling cliff-hanger but this has more significance to the plot than an exploration of their characters. But it is Hex who suffers here, despite the whole story revolving around him and the shield he is lugging around. The previous stories had proved there would be a reckoning between him and the Doctor but we don't get any of that here.
But if this story was run on just its plot, it would still work. There are a few nice twists and turns and it is filled with some nice ideas and concepts and the return of The Forge. Sometimes it does feel like the characters are just running around a lot but it is all in service of some interesting ideas and some brilliant surprises.
The cast rises to the occasion, though Sylvester McCoy doesn't sell 'crazy' as well as you might think! Sophie Aldred has some pretty iffy moments to contend with but she sells them and Philip Olivier has a couple of fantastic moments. Luckily this wasn't the last we heard from Maggie O'Neill and Amy Pemberton as they returned in the next Seventh Doctor trilogy. From the guest cast, Tim Treloar and Blake Ritson are the stars as two characters both with great tragedy's in their past. It is a shame that they didn't have more to do.
If the story has a weak link in the performance side of things, it would be John Standing as Fenric, though was more than likely due to writing. In the original story, Curse of Fenric, the big-bad didn't turn up till the very end and he possessed already interesting and complex characters. Here, he just snarls and makes grand proclamations and it all falls flat without any emotional and character resonance to back it up. He is a bad villain without any of that and is disappointing.
Ultimately though, that is where Gods and Monsters fails. It is good and great in some places, the ideas are strong and the performances are solid, but The Curse of Fenric is such a brilliant story because it has that emotional and character resonance. Gods and Monsters hit full throttle to get to the epic stuff and forgot to have the emotional stuff too...