The second story included on the Big Finish First Doctor Box Set is The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance. The same actors return for this story that were in Farewell, Great Macedon. William Russell and Carol Ann Ford reprise their roles as Ian, Susan, and narrators. John Dorney’s role is much smaller here, portraying the character Rhythm. The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance was also written by Moris Farhi. Unlike Macedon, this story was never considered for production. It makes a great “special feature” for the set, but the story is, I think, much weaker.
We join our characters at the end of a visit to a utopia planet named Fragrance. Rhythm shares a tender moment with Barbara, where he expresses his love for her. It is most unfortunate that Barbara doesn’t share his feelings because, unknown to our characters, The inhabitants of Fragrance are only able to fall in love once, and if this “bridge of love” between two people ever collapses, the individual dies. In the context of Fragrance, that means if one lover dies, the other dies. Here, as Barbara does not reciprocate Rhythm’s feelings, he must die if she leaves and never returns. Rhythm’s family attempts to persuade the characters to stay, but they cannot understand this alien trait. Aboard The TARDIS, prior to take-off, Barbara debates the decision to leave and seems to make the decision to stay. “Open the doors,” she tells The Doctor. He nods, flicks a switch, and The TARDIS dematerializes, taking our characters away from Fragrance. The Doctor, Ian, Susan, and Barbara watch Rhythm die in the sun on The TARDIS scanner.
Let’s start with the positives. I love the idea of culture shock in this story. Generally on Doctor Who aliens aren’t all that alien. This story truly presents something different, and the clash of views is a great phenomenon. The story is short, which works in its favor. This is a short story in the mold of older science fiction. It is thought-provoking first and foremost. Unfortunately, there isn’t a compelling reason given for the need for death when love dies. The people on Fragrance say that they can only fall in love once, but no reason is given why. Granted, they are alien, but an explanation would have been nice.
There is an ominous tone as The Doctor shows members of Rhythm’s family The TARDIS. He actually goes in to detail on TARDIS operation and materials used to construct it. We are almost led to believe these aliens are planning something malevolent in order to force our heroes to stay on Fragrance, but this never happens. These aliens are peaceful, so it would be out of character, but the tone of the story speaks otherwise.
The ending is very dark and shocking. While it isn’t out of character for The Doctor to take such an action at this point, for Barbara to react as passively as she did is out of character. It is a powerful ending, but man, what a downer. As it is, I would say this story is special due to its historical significance as a spec script that was rejected. It is an interesting curiosity, something collectors and completists would likely love. Like I said, a great special feature, but it pales in comparison to the brilliance of Farewell Great Macedon. If it wasn’t included as part of the set, I wouldn’t bother getting it. Perhaps this is a good reason to chose the download over the actual CD from Big Finish. The download is cheaper, and well worth the money to get Macedon. The CD is more expensive, and Fragrance just doesn’t come up to the same quality. Definitely go with the download on this one.
Starting next week: Season Two.