Faction Paradox: The Ship of a Billion Years Review
by Vanessa Bishop
Previously published in Doctor Who Magazine Issue 375
Lawrence Miles’ Faction Paradox/Sutekh story The Ship of a Billion Years picks up where previous audio play Coming to Dust left off. Faction member Cousin Justine, imprisoned on a billion year cruise across the universe, has been enslaved by powerful deity Lord Upuat and is being introduced to the Machiavellian politics of the Osirian Court. Meanwhile, in Naples 1763, Cousin Eliza is a guest in the house of adventurer Corwyn Marne. Her purpose - together with Marne and his colleagues - is to find Justine with help from the exotic Merytra, owner of the Sarcophagus time-tunnel through which Justine has traveled 12 hours previously.
Whereas Coming to Dust largely concerned itself with the exploits of Marne and his friends, this sequel concentrates more on Upuat, Sutekh and the crisis brewing aboard the ship over Osiris’ disappearance and Sutekh’s attempts to snatch his Throne-world. Steeped in myth and legend, Miles’ script is grand and epic, and soaked in the kind of overripe dialogue that only warring deities can get away with. Alistair Lock’s operatic musical crescendos also contribute a lot to the story’s scale, capturing a real sense of power and divinity, from the tumultuous roaring winds signalling the arrival of Sutekh to the angelic heavenly chorus celebrating the Sun God Ra.
Performance-wise, Gabriel Woolf’s Sutekh and Julian Glover’s aristocratic Upuat steal the show. Woolf’s velvet-voiced evil bristles with chilling superiority, particularly during his nightmarish penetration of Eliza’s mind in the time-tunnel, accompanied by some agonisingly shrill ‘drill’ sound-effects. Glover, meanwhile, strolls through the production dishing out blasé observations and impertinent put-downs in a manner not too dissimilar from his City of Death character Count Scarlioni and remains permanently unruffled, responding to Sutekh’s “Submit or be destroyed” with “I’m not keen on either, to be honest.”
True to the tradition of Faction Paradox audios, The Ship of a Billion Years is tense, dark and sinister, embroiled in magic and necromancy, and has a dense plot that requires the listener’s full attention at all times. This installment doesn’t finish so open-ended as the last, but it’s encouraging to know that Sutekh is alive and well and out there available for further confrontations.