Roots: 1984 (totalitarian Excelis is in a permanent state of war, the Doctor alludes to 'Eric's [i.e. Blair - George Orwell's] nightmare writ large; the reference to 'taverns' is from the Chestnut Tree bar in 1984), plus Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, (society is segregated and a legal recreational drug used to keep the underclass docile. See also: Blake's 7, with the use of Pylene-50 to pacify worlds.) The Doctor quotes Captain Oates ('I'm going out for a while, I may be some time.'). To Play the King (Sutton's speeches 'the ethically challenged, the differently moralled...' and ' They are no longer weak, scrabbling in the dark, but a strong, proud, fierce people...' were first aired by Ian Richardson's Francis Urquart). Star Wars (Grayvorn 'feels a disturbance in the balance'). The Doctor name checks the magazine Homes and Gardens and, via Alan Moore's Watchmen comic series, paraphrases Juvenal's 'ques custodies ipsos custodes' ('but who is to guard the guards?'). 1980s thrash band The Meat Puppets. The Sliders episode 'Prince of Wails' (the Doctor borrows Arturo's line: 'The sun will never set on your empire because people won't trust you in the dark'.) The Rocky Horror Picture Show ('A bounty? You expect a bounty?') The rising of the city state recalls aspects of China's Cultural Revolution (destruction of churches, imprisonment of teachers and priests), the Islamic Revolution, Nazi Germany (book burnings) and Pinochet's Argentina ('vanishing' people). The comic 2000AD's series Strontium Dog (a ghastly future for Milton Keynes). Hebrew myth (The Doctor refers to the Meat Puppets as 'golems'). The Babylon 5 episode Endgame (in which President Clark of Earth turns the planet's defense grid on itself.) Tarven's name comes from a corruption of popular London Who fandom haunt, the Fitzroy Tavern.
Fluffs: Sallis says 'You can't meet the ancient composers, can you Brant?' and
'It's Commis-arse Ellis.'
Goofs: The Doctor and Grayvorn/Lord Sutton claim the Relic has been on Artaris for 1300 years, but that was 'Excelis Dawns', at which time the Relic had already been on Artaris for 'thousands' of years since Iris Wildthyme left it there.
Technobabble: Meat Puppets are biomass decanted into a 'protohominid' humaniform vessels combined with a fraction of an Excelis soul. They have incredible strength and limited intelligence.
The conclusion of 'Excelis Rising' saw Grayvorn reduced to a 'psychic matrix' embedded into the walls of the Imperial Museum.
Double Entendres: 'There is always a but, Major Brant, especially where you're concerned.'
Sallis: 'I cannot act against him.'
'You are a tool, Brant.'
'Your enthusiasm for the programme is admirable...'
Dialogue Triumphs: 'As soon as the Doctor arrives, chaos, uncertainty and rebellion spread like a virus.'
The Doctor: 'Scientific Advisor eh? Never trust them.'
'Madness and genius are qualities which are often confused...'
'Now go and gibber in the corner, there's a good boy.'
Continuity: Excelis is now at war with many other countries, mainly the confederacy of Getracht (see: 'Excelis Rising'), but also including Calaan (ditto), Vojtoy, Me-Pha and Cruce. It is the most technologically advanced city on the planet, protected by an orbital defence grid of satellite-housed nuclear warheads. On its surface it is an industrial nightmare, choked with dirt and smog (The Doctor initially thinks Excelis might be Milton Keynes). Noone from 'abroad' is allowed into the city. The Imperial nature of Excelis turned into a totalitarian state 150 years ago, effected by the Reeves. Mattias says there has been 150 years of slavery. Presumably it was during this time the current Excelis City was built atop the old one [Tarven was said to have been exiled to 'the surface', suggesting that the elite live elsewhere - perhaps above ground].
Five years ago, the world leaders meet in secret and signed the Artaris convention, a bill of rights to bring the war to a conclusion. Two weeks afterwards, all the leaders, save for the chairman of the party, were killed, making the other countries more suspicious and frustrating further peace efforts. The war has been deliberately waged to consume the entire manufacturing output of Excelis, quite a feat of socio-political engineering. Without the war, Excelis would collapse. Among the weaponry referred to are nuclear and biological weapons, rifles and machine guns.
Excelis is now made up of a controlling inner party (including the Reeves), an outer party (which includes Wardens) and the city's labour force, the proletariat. The outer party and proles are controlled by the drug Treasure, put in the food, the water, even the air. There are information screens, some protected by security screens (although the Doctor considers that there isn't much in the way of Excelis security that could get in the way of him), which can also narrate their output.
During the Founding of the current Excelis city state all the philosophers were hanged and all the churches were razed to the ground. Books from the Imperial Museum and Arcane Library were apparently burned (although Major Brandt has a full collection of works of history). Dissidents and known rebels routinely 'vanish'.
Grayvorn is considered a hero by the inner party, and Reeve Maupassant an architect of reason. As a psychic matrix, Grayvorn managed to possess someone permanently after trying for a century, moulding the body in his image, and granting it immortality. In 'Excelis Decays', he is Lord Sutton, a genetic engineer, and has created the Elite, a proto-humanoid form activated by pieces of souls merely to fight, that he calls Meat Puppets. They were deployed two years ago, and are used to keep Excelis in a state of permanent war. Their existence is a secret kept to the inner party. He also faked his own death recently, to hide his existence. His laboratory is the old Imperial Museum (see: 'Excelis Rising'). Lord Sutton considers the soul to be malleable, divisible and immortal. He still believes the Doctor to be a 'demon' (see: 'Excelis Dawns'). One soul can animate tens, hundreds, thousands of the Elite (Tarven's soul goes into 10,000 Elite, including Lord Sutton's personal guard, and 'Mattias's soul into three entire legions). As the Doctor's soul was part of the Relic, Grayvorn knows a lot of what the Doctor knows, including about Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans, and presumably also how to operate the TARDIS [This knowledge may explain how Excelis has advanced so rapidly in technology.]
According to the Doctor, the Relic is a pan-dimensional artifact, created by beings from far away. They lost it, and settled on Artaris trying to locate its whereabouts. Eventually it was brought to Artaris 1300 years ago (see goofs). It was built as a repository of the souls nearby it. The Doctor doesn't know why. (See 'The Plague Herds of Excelis'.) The Mother Superior is still inside the Relic. She knows (and tells him) that the Doctor's end [i.e. his impending regeneration] is near. Somehow, the Doctor knows how to set the souls in the Relic free.
Daleks are more miserable on a Monday morning. This is the Doctor's third visit to Artaris. He has just given the TARDIS a new console room ( The 'Doctor Who' one being the obvious choice. [The sound effects are the same as those from the eighth Doctor audios]). He can give the TARDIS autonomous control to let her decide on her own destination. The TARDIS can shut off her external sensors, but not the scanner, it's on a different circuit. The Doctor can 'feel' it close by.
The Doctor has been drawn to Excelis as his soul is part of those in the Relic. He likes parties (cf. 'Neverland'), but not dictatorships. His clothing makes others think he is in the inner party. The Doctor has done plenty of rewriting history in his time. He has his sonic screwdriver.
Location: Excelis City, Artaris (about 2301 Humanian Era).
The Bottom Line: 'Legends often contain all the answers'
Grim, and commendably not afraid to deliver a downbeat ending. The lack of answers concerning the Relic means that this 'trilogy' still isn't quite complete, but we see do Grayvorn out in style. Finally Stewart-Head gets to play the mad scientist, which he does very well. Ian Collier and Penelope MacDonald, despite sharing a very short amount of time together, are a great couple.
A quirk of Big Finish chronology means that both The Settling and Excelis Decays feature scenes which indicate recent changes to the TARDIS console room - clearly suggesting that in these stories the Doctor has established the 'TV Movie version' at last. Excelis Decays, released first and the later-released The Settling both feature sound effects as well as CD booklet visuals which support this, and indeed most subsequent Seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex stories seem to stick to the TV Movie form TARDIS interior (It is certainly the TV Movie TARDIS interior in Black and White). On the other hand, we must exercise caution with non-audio story descriptions as they can provide continuity problems in themselves (Excelis Decays has the Doctor in his TV Movie costume, rather than the traditional cream ensemble described in stories with Ace and Hex). Therefore, if audio details do not otherwise contradict the assumed appearance of the TARDIS regulars (or indeed the TARDIS interior) then a readjustment of chronology can be made. In this instance we have elected to place Excelis Decays (which describes the ship's interior change as "brand new") directly before The Settling, presumably taking place while the Doctor is companionless, and while Ace and Hex are at large in Monaco (The Veiled Leopard)