1 March 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Scott Handcock & David Llewellyn

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“Times change…

Romana is approaching her final term of office, and hopes to leave her world in a state of peace and harmony. Narvin is concerned about the implementation of a controversial Precog programme, one that seeks to predict the Time Lords’ future. Ace is an operative for the Celestial Intervention Agency, having learned the art of interference from one of the best…  

And somewhere, across the stars, an ancient force is stirring: one of the Time Lords’ greatest heroes is returning to our universe. But he may also prove to be their greatest threat.

When the history of Earth is threatened, and an ancient conspiracy reaches the heart of Time Lord government, can even Romana’s closest allies truly be trusted?

Time will tell… but by then, it may already be too late.”

***

Gallifrey.  Ah, Gallifrey.  Much like the planet itself, this is a series that stubbornly refuses to actually die despite us being told it has gone for good: it’s the Hex of the Doctor Who spin-off world.  Series 3 was the end, but then came all the others, years after, and that was definitely the end of it all, and then came this play, with a series announced to follow in 2016.  For a dead series, that’s quite some staying power.  I know of series alive and well that would kill for that longevity and dogged determination for survival.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though.  Let us instead look to Intervention Earth, this year’s entry for the series.  Set several years (lifetimes, even) after one of the many conclusions to Gallifrey, this four-part story takes place on Gallifrey itself and features the third incarnation of Romana, Ace and Narvin trying to thwart ne’er-do-wells from bringing Time Lord despot Omega back from the universe of anti-matter and into ‘our’ world.

For the most part, this serves as a really good reboot for the series, giving us a good flavour of the treachery, political bickering, Gallifrey mythology writ large, and action that the series large dealt in with spades.  True, the politics here are slim and largely centred around Narvin wanting more respect in his profession and, true, the treachery is more pantomime villainy than grand betrayal, but it’s a good flavour for aspects we know well.

We’ve had two performances prior to this from Juliet Landau as Romana III and she continues well here, giving us a blend of the haughtiness and confidence of Mary Tamm crossed with the acidic wit and blistering intelligence of Lalla Ward, with her own, reserved and timid but calculated cool.  I am certainly keen to see where she takes the character next, if afforded the opportunity to by Big Finish.

Sophie Aldred here is in her all-grown-up Ace-guise, an agent of the CIA and unsure as to when and how she arrived in that position.  Big Finish have rather flip-flopped around with Ace over the years, initially changing her fate from that which was always planned for her in Season 27 (and indeed changing much of what was planned for Season 27 at all when making that season year later, or at least what purported to be that season at any rate), and then showing us in UNIT: Dominion that, actually, she did end up on Gallifrey after all.  We’ve had whispers that all this is to come since, and now here we are, with Ace a fully-fledged CIA agent, the best of the best by all accounts.  As a glimpse of what’s to come, it’s interesting, I’m just fearful that the journey leading to it will take another six-or-so years whilst Ace’s direction is steered in various directions once again.

Of the guest cast, Stephen Thorne is marvellous as Omega, delivering his lines with a punch and authenticity, as if he only recorded The Three Doctors a couple of weeks ago, but he is sorely underused.  The same can be said of Gyles Brandreth, who puts in a great performance as Rexx and, for me at least, was the star of the show.

As for the script and play itself, it is clear that writers Scott Handcock and David Llewellyn are having fun with it all, but things fall apart in the final episode.  For a start, Omega’s great plan isn’t half as clever or unexpected as the writers seem to think it is, and having the cast repeatedly tell us how clever the plan is doesn’t endear me towards it any further.  Instead, it just makes the regulars look fairly silly, as traitors can be spotted a mile off, the twists likewise.  Where it really scores an own goal is at the very end, which will completely alienate anyone not familiar with the series’ past, thus totally blowing the notion of it being a jumping-on point for new listeners out of the water.  To put it mildly, it’s frustrating.  To be stronger on it, it’s an incredibly bad move.

Added to this is a sound mix which isn’t up to usual standards, with dialogue often sounding muffled and hidden, a fair distance away from Big Finish’s usual high standards.  The music was fine but not the best, going for bombast over any real mood enhancing, but worse than that is that it is overwhelming in the mix, rendering some lines very hard to pick out.

So, it’s not all glowing for Intervention Earth by any stretch.  The ending suggests more to come, though whether this will be what we see come 2016 and the new series of Gallifrey is a mystery at the time of writing this.  Perhaps like Ace’s fate we’ll be waiting a while longer.  I’ll certainly be listening, but hope that some of the flaws from this escapade are gone by the time the future unfolds.  Gallifrey falls no more: let’s just hope it lives up to the glory days of the past.

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