24 December 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jason Arnopp

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st December 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 24th December 2011

On the world of Draxine, the continent of Zelonia is in crisis. The city of Garruk is in ruins, completely obliterated by an explosion of monumental proportions. What makes this tragedy more horrific is the fact that it was caused by the hand of the city’s own leader President Harmon, the same man who was found to be the figure head of a sinister death cult.

As if things couldn’t be worse, Garruk’s twin city Stronghaven is in political turmoil. President Karnex has recently been assassinated, and his replacement, Vallan faces a troubled and distrustful populace, particularly since the assassin has just escaped from prison.

The Doctor and Mary Shelley arrive on Zelonia, as a much more frightening chain of events begins to unfold. Something is coming from out of the dark of the ruined city, and it is growing in number and getting closer. Garruk’s dead is rising, and the bones of those who perished are on the march, heading in one direction; the very centre of Stronghaven. 

The Doctor and Mary are caught in the middle as the skeletons Garruk’s dead converge on the outnumbered citizens of Stronghaven. The Doctor realizes there is much more to this affair than the supernatural, but just what terrible truths will he uncover and will everyone survive?

Army of Death is the final play in this trilogy of Eighth Doctor stories is and it is a real gem. The quality of the previous entries has been built upon and this story can proudly hold itself up as one of Big Finish’s best releases of the year. Everything here is crafted expertly. 

The story is very strong, and the plot is so beautifully constructed by Jason Arnopp that not a dull moment goes by throughout its running time. Arnopp has managed to bring a great mixture of thrills, tension and character and this can be seen in the superb performances from the cast.

Paul McGann turns in a stellar performance as the more youthful incarnation of the Eighth Doctor, and you can see the fun he is having as an actor particularly in a very good interrogation scene opposite President Vallan. His Doctor is well served by the writing, as he is courageous, moral, alien and funny. There is a simple joy to see McGann, let go and have some fun with the character.

Then we come to the sublime Julie Cox who once again impresses as Mary Shelley and qucikly becoming another excellent companion for the Eighth Doctor. Even when the characters are separated by events, she is still a delight to listen to as she portrays Mary’s intelligence, compassion and warmth effortlessly. What is wonderful to see is the mutual trust she and the Doctor have with one another. Although she may not always agree with him, she knows that whatever the Doctor decides to do will be the right thing. 

Their relationship goes through some rather surprising developments in this play and it is a credit to Arnopp’s expert handling of them that they do not jar with the overall story, and work to its advantage.

Army of Death is blessed with a very fine supporting cast and no one, no matter how small the role is not left standing on the sidelines. As President Vallan, David Harewood is magnificent, infusing the character with a real humanity as he tries to confront his own growing terror and the reality of his incompetence in the face of the approaching army. He is a man that just wants to do what is right, and his eventual fate is given a much more horrible edge by the brilliance of Harewood’s performance.

Excellent turns come also from, Carolyn Pickles as Lady Meera, Eva Pope as the damaged Nia Brusk, but special mention must go to guest star Mitch Benn.

Playing two roles, Commander Rayner and the aforementioned Karnex, comedian, Benn shows just what a great actor he is. Rayner is a wonderfully to the point solider and his prescence is always welcome but it is with Karnex that Benn has the most fun. Without giving the game away, it must be said that when Karnex is present, it is both creepy and fun. You can hear self-confessed Whovian Benn having the time of his life in the role, and it is one of the many highlights of this release. 

There is very little to criticize here, apart from one or two minor niggles, but if anything predominately negative has to be raised, it is just that the post credit scene is not as strong as the cliff-hanger that comes before. But that is a minor issue compared to the wealth of strong material on show here.

There has been a theme running throughout this trilogy, helping to nurture the ever growing seed of Frankenstein in Mary’s future. The Silver Turk, The Witch from the Well and Army of Death have all dealt with the very nature of death and the control of life. All three warn of the danger and fear of powers mere mortals were not meant to use. This unifying theme has helped to give the trilogy scope and identity, making them all strong stories which complement one another wonderfully.

After the traumatic conclusion to the Eighth Doctor and Lucie adventures, this exploration of the past has proven to be a winning formula for Big Finish. It has given faithful listeners, not just a breather, but an invigorating and excellent run of stories and one the strongest trilogies that Big Finish has ever released.

Highly recommended.

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