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15 June 2020

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Chris Chapman

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2020

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"July 1944. The TARDIS materialises in a small village near Rouen, where celebrations are in full swing. A joyful France is in the midst of liberation as the local population welcome a battalion of Allied soldiers – along with a colourfully dressed Doctor and his two rather excited friends.

But there are screams amidst the celebrations as an angry crowd dish out their brand of justice to one of their own that they have branded a traitor. While Constance and Flip find themselves on opposite sides of a war beyond a war, the Doctor has other concerns. 

The local community is used to the fires of battle, but a new type of blaze is burning – leaping from aircraft to aircraft, man to man – and this fire seems to be just as eager for revenge as the village mob."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

Scorched Earth by Chris Chapman takes us back into the war, landing us in France after its liberation. It feels like you cannot move for World War II-related things when it comes to Big Finish right now. We’ve the ersatz Third Doctor and Churchill in Operation Hellfire, Churchill again bothering the Seventh Doctor but a couple of plays ago, and now this. Whether this was all done to coincide with the VE Day celebrations in 2020 or just a coincidence, it does feel like we’re riffing on the same territory time and again right now, which made me slightly sigh as the play started up.

This is unfair really as there is a lot to celebrate in Scorched Earth. The sound design seems to be back to its usual strength after last month’s notable blip, and Chapman paces the script really well. We move from action to drama to quiet character moments to big incidents with ease. Were it in print, you’d call it a page-turner and as it is, it passes two hours very quickly.

That said, there are some strange moments in here. Flip seems to be playing some sort of game where she is only allowed to talk in quips and pop cultural references, which feels forced and lacks credibility. I know the point of her character is often to contrast with Constance but we move into the realm of being unbelievable here. She also seems to be fire retardant, able to withstand standing in a burning building, smoke and all, for ages. Perhaps it’s not real fire though, as the Doctor is also able to stand in the middle of the inferno and spout some exposition before saving the day.

Elsewhere, there is drama to be had with Constance realising just where, and when in time, she is, but the Doctor’s anguish over it seems to evaporate fairly quickly so that the plot can get on with telling a story. This is probably for the best, but again it ranks as one of the play’s strange moments.

Likewise, soon after the play starts we witness a woman, Clementine, being called a traitor and singled out for punishment by a braying mob, and rather than stop this, as Flip wants to, the Doctor decides to let them be, for the sake of blending in with the locals. This leads to clashes between Constance and Flip throughout the rest of the play. Constance believes the woman should be punished if she has betrayed the town to the Nazis; Flip just sees a scared and crying woman. The clash between them both on this is not subtly drawn but works well, reminding us of their different timeframes and perspectives, and it remains a thread throughout, with the play siding with Flip and agreeing she’s in the right. Whether or not you personally agree, it is inarguably the stance Doctor Who usually takes in such matters; the Doctor, too.

On the one hand, you can see just why the Doctor does as he does, not interfering, but on the other it feels very atypical of him to just stand by and let these things unfold. It’s not like in Rosa where inaction is key, it’s just slightly strange and hard to really justify. Colin Baker clearly feels the same way as he goes to some lengths to do just that and defend the scene in the extras, but not entirely with conviction. For me, it left a slightly bad smell in the air, reminding me a little of Timewyrm: Genesys and its rather infamous excusing of sexual assault as a ‘product of the time’.

Still, it’s nothing compared to the Doctor later on thanking a couple of Nazis for their help. A notable part of this play is Chapman, rightly, pointing out that many were forced into fighting against their will and even against their own beliefs, but it’s still a slightly strange thing to hear. Nothing wrong with being a bit challenging in your content though, so hats off to Chapman for that.

We end the play with things largely resolved between the TARDIS team after Constance is able to help save the day with a nice speech (a personal grumble of mine in Doctor Who in general. It feels a very tired resolution, and almost never a convincing one), though it will be interesting to hear if actions here prove to be the first cracks in an otherwise mostly watertight team.

Is Scorched Earth perfect at all? By no means, and the WWII fatigue doesn’t help, even if that’s not Chapman’s fault but that of scheduling. However, it’s also a largely enjoyable affair with neat sound design and very good ideas in there. A definite up after last month’s outing.


+ Scorched Earth is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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