1 April 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: John Dorney

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“The Asteroid - notorious hideaway of the piratical Rocket Men. Hewn out of rock, surrounded by force-fields and hidden in the depths of the Fairhead Cluster, their base is undetectable, unescapable and impregnable.

In need of allies, the Master has arranged to meet with Shandar, King of the Rocket Men. But the mercenaries have captured themselves a very special prisoner - his oldest enemy, the Doctor.

What cunning scheme is the Doctor planning? How does it connect with Shandar's new robotic pet? And just what has happened to Leela? The Master will have to work the answers out if he wants to leave the asteroid... alive…"

***

The Rocket Men were arguably one of the greatest successes to come from The Companion Chronicles.  Nasty, beautifully 1960s-ish in their style and approach, and the central antagonists in two of the range’s best and best-loved releases, it was perhaps only a matter of time before they made the transition to another range and another Doctor.  Whether this needed to happen is another question altogether, but happen it has and John Dorney’s Requiem for the Rocket Men is the result.

The third story in this series of Fourth Doctor Adventures, it carries on the tradition set down so far this year by being perfect for the two-episode format and the regular cast.  Leela, K-9 and the Doctor alike are all served well by Dorney’s script and scenarios, and the addition of the Master turns out to be a really smart move, showing the Rocket Men to be smaller players than they perceive themselves to be and remnants of an era that has past them by.  Indeed, one of the cleverest things about this play is how they reflect the change in Doctor, and era they’re aiming for, by making the titular Rocket Men feel very… retro now; outdated and outpaced in this new world of robot dogs and rival Time Lords and female savages.  It’s no wonder they need the Master to give them a hand, and no wonder he treats them with such patronizing contempt.

Just as Dorney subverts his own creations, so he also plays with the traditional Master/Doctor set up by having the Master stumble into one of the Doctor’s plans and adventures rather than the other way around which is the norm.  It could be a gimmick in the wrong hands or so post-modern it hurts, but here in Dorney’s capable hands it’s a lot of fun and never once feels out of place in the story being told.

Another good thing is the fact it isn’t slavishly trying to recreate the Fourth Doctor’s era, something else in common with the plays so far this series. (Speaking of changes, the pedants in us will probably be interested to note that the font on the back of the CD has changed for this release, the sort of heinous crime that usually generates half a dozen protests on the forums and threat of a boycott or alternative cover. Let’s hope they didn’t look at the spines for the first series of Early Adventures, eh?)

I’ve noted before that I have found this quest for authenticity to be a foolish one; one which has stunted the growth of the series or stories, so I am glad to see it gone at last.  It also makes the ability to mix ‘traditional’ stories with character development less of a messy fit.  We get more depth of character for the Master in this story than we ever had on screen during Doctor Who’s original run, and Leela gets to grow stronger and braver here than she was ever allowed to.  One of The Fourth Doctor Adventures’s strengths is the interplay between the Doctor and Leela, far wittier and cosier than we ever saw on screen, and the final scenes of this play give us a warmth and pleasure and— dare I say it? — closure we were robbed of in Invasion of Time.  It’s nice to see that addressed here.

It’s hard to fully judge the story in its own right as it leads directly and explicitly onto Death Match, next month’s release in this series (which isn’t a spoiler as such as it was advertised by Big Finish themselves in publicity for the series, though I will admit that I missed it somehow, which made the ending far more surprising than it perhaps should have been!) but in its own right it’s another damn good play from John Dorney and another good release for this series.  I hope next month proves to be every bit as strong.

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