This time out the Big Finish Doctor Who range tackles the long belated defrosting of the Ice Warriors, who haven’t been seen, or heard, since way back in the Jon Pertwee era of the original TV series. Would the second dip into Doctor Who’s rogues gallery prove more successful than the first? Please join me to find out.
“It’s surprising what you can cope with if you have to.”
Episode 1: The Fifth Doctor and Peri step out of the TARDIS and into an unknown structure, where the air is breathable, and the odd green walls look strangely organic. As they progress deeper inside, they see huge blocks of ice placed by each of the doorways, each with a faint outline of something frozen inside…
You know, I always had a bit of a soft spot for the Ice Warriors. Whether it be the hissing menaces of the Troughton era, or the more manipulative diplomats of the Pertwee one, there was just something about them that I always enjoyed. Maybe it was the lisp. After all, who doesn’t love a Martian with a speech impediment? With or without Earth-shattering kabooms.
As such, I have been quite looking forward to this one. After all, on paper it seems to have all the right ingredients. Nicola Bryant seemed one of the most successful companions at stepping seamlessly back into her old role, and was one of the parts that I liked most in previous outing Whispers of Terror. Peter Davison has gone from strength to strength, and has, for me, had a pretty much flawless run of stories so far, and I have genuinely enjoyed each and every one. And I’m a fan of the Ice Warriors, as I said. However as even Sir Mix-a-Lot could probably guess, there’s a huge but coming. And that is, but none of it matters. Why doesn’t it matter? Oh, let me count the ways.
First up, somewhere between Whispers of Terror and here Nicola Bryant has forgotten how to do Peri’s voice, which is both immediately evident, and hugely distracting. And it is not only that her accent is worse than ever (and it never particularly bothered me before), it is that she is barely even recognisable as Peri, particularly early on. Now of course the obvious problem with this is that this is audio, so the only recognition factor we have as far as these characters go is their voices, so when something that familiar sounds so far away from what we are used to hearing it quickly becomes very disconcerting as a listener, not to mention distracting. And too often I found myself wondering why she sounded like she did, rather than focussed on what she was actually saying. Which is just about the last thing you want in an audio drama.
Not that it mattered particularly anyway, because this story isn’t just a whole lot of nothing happening, it is a whole lot of nothing happening very slowly. Honestly, Red Dawn may well be the shortest Big Finish Doctor Who audio release by a rather significant margin, but it also somehow manages to feel like the longest. By a lot. It really was a struggle to get through this one for me, right from the start. And worse still, that first episode was probably the strongest of the bunch. And that is damning it with the faintest of possible praise.
“Nobility and honour.”
Episode 2: Having encountered an Earth expedition crew, The Doctor finds himself separated from his companion, and face to face with the newly defrosted guardians of this mysterious place. Meanwhile Peri discovers that not all of the human crew are quite what they seem.
Which brings me to the story presented here, and really this could have been called Tomb of the Ice Warriors. But while it cribs a great deal from that classic Troughton era Cybermen story’s set up and execution, it does so in particularly laboured fashion, turning the Ice Warriors into bargain basement Klingon knock-offs, and spreading a virtually non-existent story and a bunch of wafer thin characters out way beyond any sustainable point, to exceedingly dull and predictable results.
After the disappointing Whispers of Terror, and now the flat out tedious Red Dawn, it’s safe to say I’m just not a fan of Justin Richards Big Finish Doctor Who audio work. Apparently he is quite a well respected Doctor Who novelist, or so I have been led to believe, but even in saying that I doubt I’ll be on his Christmas card list this year. Although if he could send me a gift certificate with a couple of hours of my life back, that would certainly be appreciated.
As the story limps on, we move into episode three…
“Take care that you do not exhaust what remains of my patience.”
Episode 3: As Peri attempts to help prevent the destruction of the Earth Lander Argosy, The Doctor desperately negotiates with Lord Zzarl of the Ice Warriors for the lives of the Earth crew.
Where things suddenly don’t get any better. However I have, by this point, managed to find one solitary bright spot, and that is in Lord Zzarl, who must surely be the most passive aggressive Ice Warrior of all time. The kind of Ice Warrior that would buy you a mechanical dog, then kick it to death in front of you, then buy you another one. And then set it on fire. For which he would sincerely apologise. For there is honour in setting things on fire. And in apologising. And in everything else, apparently. Honestly, it’s enough to make a Klingon puke.
It also doesn’t hurt matters that to my ears he sounds eerily similar to Paul Darrow, if indeed Paul Darrow was an Ice Warrior (and in my world Paul Darrow can be whatever the fuck he wants).
The image of the Paul Darrow Ice Warrior, in his requisite cape, no less, sustains me for a short while. But it simply isn’t enough, and soon the crushing banality returns full force. And we still have another episode to go.
“A pragmatic solution. An honourable bargain.”
Episode 4: After yet another betrayal, and with The Doctor’s negotiations failing, Lord Zzarl sets out to show what it truly means to be an Ice Warrior.
Has Peri’s voice gradually been getting better? I quickly decide that I don’t really care. Which I guess brings me to the performances.
Peter Davison deserves a medal for trying so hard, but even he can’t do much with the material he is given here. He still makes a damn good go at it, though. Nicola Bryant’s performance seems patchy, even putting aside the accent/voice issue. But at least part of that I think is down to poor characterisation, and some truly dreadful dialogue that is forced upon her.
The guest cast, meanwhile, are mostly adequate. Peter Davison’s little girl, and destined to be Mrs David Tennant, and, rather creepily, also the Tenth Doctor’s daughter, Georgina Moffett is fine, if completely unremarkable. Thus I have remarked upon it. Her part here also shares some rather odd similarities with her future guest starring role in the TV series episode The Doctor’s Daughter. At this point I firmly believe she’s stuck in some weird kind of temporal loop built entirely out of coincidences and cheesecake. Although the cheesecake may be a lie.
Soon-to-be-Frobisher Robert Jezek gives a perfectly solid performance, though his character has precious little to do, and basically stands around on the sidelines for much of the story. The various Ice Warrior voices all do the job as well as could ever be hoped for, and there’s no doubting who, and what, they are. While Matthew Brenher does all he possibly can to inject some small semblance of life and interest into Lord Zzarl, and it worked for me, though perhaps not for the reasons that were intended. On the other hand, Stephen Fewell doesn’t do much to add anything at all to what is clearly one of the dumbest, whiniest, and least effective villains I have ever encountered, while the rest of the supporting cast do what is required of them, if little more. Except the ‘merkin voices at Mission Control, whose accents are so bad they have the potential to cause a diplomatic incident.
Oh, and you know how I like a good cliff-hanger? Well this didn’t have any. In fact it had one of the lamest cliff-hanger resolutions I have ever heard. Ever. In my whole history of owning ears.
To me this was the absolute nadir of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range so far, and I sincerely hope it remains that way, because this one truly was difficult to get through, and it is not an experience I would care to repeat. I generally get some level of enjoyment out of even the least successful audio releases, despite any inconsistencies there is always something there worthwhile to enjoy and help pull me through, but this one just flat out bored me from beginning to end. So much so that had it been my first Big Finish Doctor Who experience, I honestly don’t know if there would have been a second.
I love Doctor Who and I do sincerely try to find the positive in things as much as possible. So let me just positively say, in the words our Ice Warrior friends, for me thissssss one absssssolutely sssssssssuckssssss. It may not be witty, but it is, unfortunately, true.
Next up: Colin Baker returns in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor