1 December 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Mark Wright and Cavan Scott

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

 

“The year is 2163. Ten years since the Daleks invaded the Earth. One year until the Doctor, in his first incarnation, will help bring the occupation to an end. But for now, their reign of terror goes on.

The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Peri to Scotland – enslaved, like everywhere else on the planet. But there are rumours of Dalek-free islands off its coast. Places where resistors and refuseniks are coming together, gathering arms and armour, preparing to strike back against the enemy.

When the Doctor falls in with an unlikely group of freedom fighters making that dangerous journey to Orkney, he finds himself trapped – but not only by the Daleks, their robotised henchmen and their human collaborators.

By history.

Because history shows that for another year, resistance is useless...

The rebellion must fail – and as a Time Lord, the Doctor can do nothing to help.

***

There are certain things that Big Finish do which could be seen as fingerprints across the main range: the return of characters from the past, the use of actors more recently seen in Doctor Who on TV, and sequels to stories from the original 1963-1989 run.

There are more, but these three often stand out, and it is the latter which is present and correct here in Masters of Earth.  Coming straight on the heels of a story that was simultaneously a sequel to Peri and the Piscon Paradox and Mindwarp (or The Trial of a Time Lord if you prefer), we get another sequel, this time to The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  We’ll be ticking the ‘return of characters’ box with the Rani next month, but there is at least a few weeks’ pause between them both.  This time, it feels rather… brave to have sequels so close together.

Written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, this play starts with a light recap on the last story, though not so much that no newcomers couldn’t jump right in, before we’re plunged into Dalek-invaded Earth and all the horror that entails.  The Doctor wants out, having been here before and ended up integral to the Daleks’ defeat: the web of time has to be maintained, and the usual get-out-of-jail-free clauses which so pepper the series, but of course, things don’t end up like that and before he can stop it, both the Doctor and Peri are involved.  But of course they are.

Before I go any further though: The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

I must confess that my love affair with that tale started rather late in the day, with its DVD release.  I had always liked the Peter Cushing take on the tale, but the TV version had left me cold on VHS… and then we got the DVD, with its incredibly clear sound and remarkably clear picture, and I could suddenly appreciate the drama in a way I had never quite grasped before.  Years later, we got the audiobook recording of the Target novelisation, and the combination of good sound design and CD production, great narration from William Russell, and a stellar adaptation by Terrance Dicks made me fall in love with it all over again… and then! Then we got Big Finish’s own take on the tale’s mythos with An Earthly Child, Relative Dimensions, Lucie Miller and To The Death, all of which were stunning.

It’s fair to say then that I was both hopeful and fearful of this story: Big Finish have previous for doing good things with this setting, but Invasion of Earth is particularly good, so I didn’t want them to mess up.

Scott and Wright are old hands at Big Finish though, and whilst their Project plays concerning the Forge may not have been my cup of tea, I could always recognize that they were well-crafted plays, just not in a genre I especially went for.  Scott has since helmed Iris Wildthyme and I must admit that I was heartened to see their names linked to this play months before: they’re good writers and, as Scott as proven, a safe pair of hands, and perhaps their slightly grittier take on Who would suit the era in which this was set.

I’m going to spoil this review now by revealing my rating now: it’s a nine out of ten.  I don’t want to keep you all in suspense for no good reason.  The truth is, it’s damn close to getting the full ten, but something in particular let it down for me.  Let’s get to that in good time, though.

Despite my preconceptions about this being potentially gritty, Scott and Wright don’t really go down that route, instead telling a good adventure yarn instead, but with an air of hopelessness due to the struggle which the guest cast are undertaking.  The Daleks are brutal, the resistance weaker than they realize, the tension high, and the setting surrounded by familiar Dalek tropes: Varga plants, Robomen, saucers, traitors ready to betray their fellow human… it’s all here.

It doesn’t feel like a slog or box-ticking exercise though, but something that flows nicely and uses the 1960s Dalek trappings well.  It almost should feel tokenistic and cluttered, but no, Scott and Wright prove their worth yet again, with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nicholas Briggs all giving their all as well, elevating an already good script to higher places still.

What about that one point, though? Why only nine of out ten?

Well… sadly, because another Big Finish cliché, and frankly a Doctor Who cliché through and through, is someone getting irreversibly possessed by an alien creature or parasite, but being able to beat it by thinking really, really hard about it. (“No! No, I won’t become possessed because my mind is too strong!”)

It’s probably just a personal taste thing, but it’s a plot device that irks me a lot.  It makes me wonder how dull a story such as Inferno would have been if to stop becoming a Primoid, all they had to do was believe in themselves.

The trouble here is that it’s a big deal and a major part of the final act, and so, to my mind at least, it cheapens the tension and drama by giving us a fairly lazy plot device to wriggle out of a blind alley.

It’s not a minor quibble but a big one, and yet there is enough good elsewhere for me to still be giving this a firm nine.  It’s a far stronger play than this trilogy’s opener, and once again, the reputation of The Dalek Invasion of Earth remains pure.  Good on Scott and Wright, and good on Big Finish.

 

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