2 May 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Scott Handcock

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"Daniel Hopkins thought he knew what he was letting himself in for when he joined the top-secret UNIT organisation as its latest Medical Officer.

Racing about the countryside, chasing strange lights in the sky? Check. Defending the realm against extraterrestrial incursion? Check. Frequent ear-bashings from UNIT’s UK CO, the famously no-nonsense Lt-Col Lewis Price? Check. Close encounters of the First, Second and even Third kind? Check, check, check.

But he had no idea what alien beings were really like. Until the day of the Fallen Kestrel. Until the day he met the Doctor."

The start of this year has been a joy when it comes to writing these reviews.  The main range has been well and truly riding high and each month has presented us with something funny, something well-constructed and something downright enjoyable.  It is far more fun to write a review praising something to high heavens than to write one explaining why a certain release has utterly failed to grip you.

But all good things must come to an end perhaps.

I want to state here that I have enjoyed Scott Handcock’s work elsewhere. His direction of The War Master was very strong, for example, as it was in The Worlds of Big Finish (a much underrated release) and a lot of Gallifrey. His first outing as a writer for the ‘main range’ of Big Finish plays, World Apart, was a triumph of character study and understatement. Handcock is a very capable and strong writer, producer and director, of that there is no doubt in my mind at all. It just wasn’t to be, here.

The play starts as follows: the Doctor lands on Earth, drawn there by a signal of extra-terrestrial origin. He is not alone though. UNIT are also on the scene, but this is a UNIT the likes of which the Doctor has not encountered before. Gone are Lethbridge-Stewart, Bell, Yates, Benton and the rest. In their stead is a far colder and harder military outfit headed by one Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Price. Sometimes, it’s the lack of familiarity on your home soil that can be the biggest threat of them all…

There is a problem here. The problem is quite a big one because it goes on to undermine and underline everything that comes next. The problem is that this new version of UNIT are fully aware of who the Doctor is and his past with UNIT: and they still treat him as an alien hostile, threatening him with execution, giving him orders and acting as if he could be a traitor to the Earth and an enemy of humanity. Which makes no sense whatsoever. If they just thought he was another alien wandering around with significant intelligence, then so be it, but the Doctor? He of heroism and daring do? He who helped UNIT so often?

It doesn’t work and renders these soldiers utterly inept and stupid, thus making a huge aspect of the story just a bit… well, silly. UNIT has moved on, yes, but they know the Doctor of old and all he has done, so to try and make him out to be a threat to the planet just doesn’t wash or hang together at all.

This isn’t helped by the aforementioned Lieutenant-Colonel, who is as drab and one-note a character as the range has ever seen. There is no nuance or depth; no subtlety or, crucially, believability. He shouts, he snarls, and when the plot needs to wrap up he has a slight change of heart for no explicable reason. Everything about this character is painfully dull. It is utterly flat and this extends elsewhere sadly. The plot feels overfamiliar: aliens fall to Earth, humans experiment upon them. Aha, though! There is a twist!

Because of course there is, because you expect there to be, because nothing here feels new or exciting or fresh at all. It feels like we’ve been down this path many, many times. Misguided humans, the power of love, the Doctor poised against the authorities, a token ‘good’ character who is on the Doctor’s side against their commander’s wishes.

The same goes for the Morden Clinic and those who work there. They never convince as real people. They’re plot devices and twists. They’re there to try and make you think the story is going one way when in fact it’s going quite another: only you never believe it’s going just one way, because that sense of familiarity from the off means you never expect to be surprised.

In the end, it all makes for a rather boring play.  I don’t think I ever once failed to see what was round the corner, and even if I could not spot the specific incident about to unfold, I was certain that a twist or incident was incoming because it’s that sort of Big Finish play. The plot would be competent at least, but the UNIT element in the wider world of Doctor Who means it stumbles on that front as well. 

Across the past three releases, I’ve talked about how exciting and fresh the plays have felt; how new and interesting. This feels like a massive leap back, into predictability and stale writing; into characters poorly executed and an absence of shock. Lewis Price is the worst of them all, but he is by no means alone.

Perhaps this is just a blip; a small hiccough and no more. I hope so. Because as it is, this has been as disappointing a release from Big Finish as I think I’ve ever heard.



RSS Feed
News Key
News Home
General
The New Series
The Classic Series
Spinoffs
Merchandise
Site
Blog Entries
Reviews Key
Reviews Home
Books / Magazines
DVD / Blu-ray
Audio
Toys / Other
TV Episodes
Search
New Zealand Mint
Mineran