Monday, 27 January 2014

WHO REVIEW: The Lost Stories 4.3-4.4



Among the mad rush of events that overtook the world of Doctor Who at the end of 2013, Big Finish reached the end of its Lost Stories range. Originally created to bring the unmade 1986 season of Doctor Who to life, later series moved beyond the adventures of the sixth Doctor, recreating unmade serials for the Doctors from Billy Hartnell through to Sly McCoy. The fourth and final run has reached its culmination with two six-part adventures, one for the second Doctor and one for the third. Naturally, each of these is in the enhanced audiobook type of format, somewhere between a reading and a performance. Indeed, these two releases are as close to a full-cast performance as you can get with several key cast members no longer extant.

Lords of the Red Planet is the gloriously named third and final story drawn from the archived notes of Brian Hayles, following the previous releases The Dark Planet and The Queen of Time . It involves the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie arriving on Mars and becoming witness to nothing less than the creation of the Ice Warriors. With the genesis of the Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans all now established, it's not surprising that the Martian menaces would get there own treatment eventually. What is more unexpected is that this was actually proposed right back in 1969, intended to be the second appearance of the creatures. In the event, The Seeds of Death was made in its place. It's hard to say which was actually the stronger story; what we have here is not a final script, but is based on two slightly different draft treatments by Hayles. John Dorney has done a good job of crafting them into a cohesive story. The performances are uniformly good, although Nick Briggs does overstretch himself a little by adding even more alien voices to his roster.

Where the serial falls down is in its length, something it has in common with many Troughton stories. It's a more interesting concept than what we got in The Seeds of Death, but perhaps a less televisually exciting one. It certainly would have been expensive to produce, with the sheer numbers of Martians of various stripes being a likely reason it was vetoed. Hayles paints a picture of Mars that sees it as a dying planet inhabited by the last vestiges of a once powerful culture, driven to indolence and marking time till their extinction. The Gandorans are the architects of their own maltreatment at the hands of their genetically enhanced mistress, and the ensuing power struggle has an air of inevitability to it. The actual origins of the Ice Warriors, accidentally christened as such by the Doctor here, is intriguing. There was always a sense that there was something artificial about them, yet they are clearly organic. Here we learn that they are forcibly evolved and technologically upgraded, transforming them from mere beasts to a powerful fighting force. A martial culture in both senses, then, and destined to inherit the planet. How easily this account fits with other tales of Ice Warrior history is harder to say, but given that this is penned by the real-world creator of the creatures, it should perhaps be considered the truest history.

I found The Mega rather less enjoyable to listen to. The first, and only, third Doctor release for the Lost Stories range, this one comes from a treatment by Bill Strutton, author of intergalactic bug-fest The Web Planet. It's at the same time a talky piece and an action-oriented one. It takes an age to get going, and once it does, it never really manages to do the action justice. Hailing from the hinterland between seasons seven and eight, The Mega is a story in the gritty, near-future style of The Ambassadors of Death. It's the plausible future from the point of view of a writer in the 1970s, with plenty of international political action, then-topical references and corrupt officials, with a hefty does of high-concept science fiction mixed in. It probably would have looked fantastic on television. The problem being that neither the action setpieces nor the bizarre, extraterrestrials (the Mega themselves) come across terribly well on audio. Simon Guerrier stresses that this was the toughest script assignment he's had, and it shows. I'm just not convinced this story was well chosen for adaptation to audio, particularly in light of the death of so many of the original cast. Both Richard Franklin and Katy Manning do their best, but it doesn't really come off. As much as I adore Manning, and as much as others have praised her attempt at Pertwee, her im-Pert-onation just doesn't work for me either.

While both the Lost Stories and the Companion Chronicles ranges are now over or winding up, Big Finish intend to move forward with an Early Adventures series. While the gradual development of these releases has shown that there is clearly a way that stories for the first three Doctors can still be produced, there are still some kinks to be ironed out. Although the Troughton stories have been largely successful, Pertwee adventures are harder to get right, something that is true both in the Companion Chronicles line and The Mega. With the sad loss of Elisabeth Sladen, Nick Courtney and Caroline John in recent years, this vibrant era of Doctor Who is slipping out of our grasp and may never truly be recreated.

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