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22 August 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: 31st July 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 22nd August 2012

Albert and Peggy Marsden are certainly a very ordinary elderly couple. Living in the North of England in the late 1980s, they go about their day to day business as political upheaval in the East threatens to spill over into Nuclear War.

Albert, following the Government issued leaflet “Protect and Survive” is busy making the preparations to their countryside home should the very worst come to pass. Peggy is expecting their grown up son to be home at any minute, but they are about to get a visit from two very different people. A girl called Ace and a boy called Hex have arrived out of the blue in a strangely white coloured Police Box. 

Taken in by the couple, Ace and Hex begin to see things are very wrong. History is not following its proper course and if that wasn’t bad enough The Doctor has gone missing. Then as the bombs begin to drop on England both companions realise The Doctor will not be there to save them this time.

One of the greatest fears of the 1980s was the potential of any nation armed with nuclear weapons to launch them towards any country it declared an enemy. Nuclear attack was the ultimate in Cold War paranoia and even now it lingers in the memories of those who grew up in that era.

Protect and Survive, the first release in the new series for The Seventh Doctor addresses these fears in an incredibly disturbing way.

Jonathan Morris has clearly drawn on many sources of inspiration for Protect and Survive. Morris uses actual advice issued by the Government to the populace in the event of a nuclear attack. This is given out in a cold and clipped British dialect by the Marsden’s radio. This object not only creates a great deal of tension, but becomes a very important plot device later in the story. This littering of historical details gives the play a disturbing feel of authenticity and for anyone who has ever watched the BBC’s thoroughly bleak Threads it will certainly conjure up many frightening memories.

The first episode is incredibly well written and does an astounding job of balancing human drama amidst the science fiction and apocalyptic elements of the plot. Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier are absolutely brilliant throughout this story but particularly so in this episode. Without The Doctor they are the ones we turn to for familiarity in this incredibly horrifying world. We really get to see what makes Ace and Hex work so well as companions.

The rest of the cast is superb with Peggy and Albert brilliantly played by Ian Hogg and Elizabeth Bennett. Their characterisation very strongly put you in mind of the Bloggses from Raymond Briggs' heartbreaking Where the Wind Blows, quite clearly another source of inspiration for this story. As the characters of Peggy and Albert dramatically change with the development of the plot, the impact is given great gravitas by both actors’ great performances.

These stories were mostly recorded whilst Sylvester McCoy was in New Zealand filming for The Hobbit but The Doctor’s slight absence does not lessen his impact on the story. The Doctor comes in at several key moments and McCoy is of course brilliant, but this is more of a story about Ace and Hex. For all The Doctor’s scheming and planning, this time they definitely do not have him around to explain what is going on. They are left in the frightening position of having to figure it all out for themselves.

There are plot threads here which have been developing throughout the last few Seventh Doctor releases. The most intriguing is appearances of the black and white TARDIS. In McCoy’s solo he has a black TARDIS adventures and a White one whilst travelling with Ace and Hex. With a very surprise ending to this story it looks like this trilogy certainly promises to answer these questions.

Protect and Survive does somewhat lose some of its momentum as the plot verges away from the Nuclear story into one that has hints of interplanetary consequences, but it cannot be denied that this is a very strong opening to what promises to be a new dramatic trilogy for The Seventh Doctor.

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