27 November 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Chris Chapman (Warzone) & Guy Adams (Conversion)

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


Warzone by Chris Chapman

"At Warzone, competitors gather from across the galaxy to test the limits of their endurance and achieve their personal best. So, when the TARDIS materialises in the middle of a racetrack, the Doctor and his friends must literally run for their lives."

Conversion by Guy Adams

"On the fringes of the galaxy, techno-pirates and research medics fight for the secrets of advanced extra-terrestrial technology. For the Doctor, however, a more personal battle awaits as he confronts his own guilt and the creatures that killed a friend: the Cybermen."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers for both plays. You have been warned!

Warzone 

Warzone and Conversion are the final two plays in this latest trilogy for the Fifth Doctor. We kicked things off with extended episodes in Tartarus, then had a pair of adventures last month. This follows that trend, but with the two stories joined at the hip. This varying story structure has felt like a breath of fresh air and a welcome kick to the range.

What of the stories themselves this time around though? We begin things with Warzone by Chris Chapman. Back when I reviewed Iron Bright, I said it was a good story but that I felt Chapman had something rather great to bring to the table. I think Warzone is possibly that play, and if it's not then it's pretty close to being.

Weaponising Parkrun (and the current trend for running, Couch To 5K training routines and suchlike) is a superbly Doctor Who-ish idea which Chapman melds with a comic book setting: a race to the death across a planet of pitfalls and killer obstacles. The idea may be familiar, but the execution is what counts and Chapman milks it for all it's worth.

Better still, the slow segue into the second story is well done. We all knew the Cybermen were back in Conversion but the reveal that their plans start here is a genuinely good and slightly unexpected surprise. The penny drops a couple of scenes before the reveal, and it's a thrill when the hunch is proven correct. Again, more of this is always welcome and credit must go to Chapman for hiding the reveal in plain sight and still pulling the wool over the listeners' eyes: or should that be ears?

Warzone ends with things looking bad for Marc, who is dying and has unwittingly started to become conversed into a Cybermen.



Conversion

Cue Conversion by Guy Adams, the final play in this run. We start with the Doctor uncharacteristically angry and hell bent on revenge; indeed, he does not so much exit the previous story as flee it.  Even Tegan comments on this and the Doctor admits he's not being rational. Back in Tartarus, the spectre of Adric was raised and a dark fate for Marc hinted at, and Conversion ties this all together.

It's a great idea in theory, but the play itself suffers where Chapman's flourished. Where that may have had familiar elements executed well, here such elements feel overfamiliar and as such a bit dull. It doesn't help that we've very clunky exposition at the start, with a supporting character speaking in a way no-one ever does in day-to-day life.  I know the listener needs to be brought up to speed about characters' roles and power dynamics, but there is surely a better way of doing this than having characters say things along the lines of "As well you know, my role here is leader and I'm an expert scientist and so you should trust me!"

It's awkward to listen to and drags the listener out. This isn't the first time I've raised this complaint, but it's a valid one all the same.

Unfortunately, the rest of the play feels similarly clunky in its execution. The idea of the companion turning into a Cyberman has been done better, by Gareth Roberts in Closing Time and Steven Moffat in The Doctor Falls (Craig counts for the sake of this comparison). Here in Conversion though, it feels under baked.

Arguably though, the true cardinal sin in this play comes from confusion thanks to several actors all sounding the same. I genuinely found it hard at times, especially near the cliffhanger to Part One, to work out who was talking, so similar are the accents and tones and line delivery. This is a huge no with audio, and I'm staggered it passed any sort of checks.

The release ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, if the Doctor leaving to mope alone while his companions are abandoned on a nice holiday location can get counted as such. He is sad; sad that Marc is now part Cyberman as he could not save the day, and sad because it reminds him of Adric. Whilst I appreciate the attempt to do something more with Adric's death, again I am not at all convinced it works as it feels very out of character for the Fifth Doctor to be as he is here. The desire for repercussions and more believable responses to trauma is not necessarily a bad thing, but trying to reconcile any of this with the show we saw on screen in this era is, at best, a bit of a leap. I'm not wanting my characters to be one-dimensional, but the lack of fidelity here leads to a lack of conviction. (Speaking of, the modulation on the Cybermen voices is off throughout. It's nearly but not quite close to being right, which makes it all the more distracting.)

There are hints at better things for the main range across these past five stories. Not every one hits it for six, but it's a start. I just hope the writing is a bit more consistent going forward.


+ Warzone / Conversion is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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