Strange as it might seem, I don’t remember the Perpugillium Brown years. I have far stronger memories of Logopolis, the Keeper of Traken, and Earthshock, for example, than of Trial of a Timelord or Vengeance on Varos. Hardly surprising I guess, as the quality of the TV stories had begun to deteriorate by that point. Plus, I got distracted by Dungeons & Dragons¹. But there’s a fair-sized collection of Peri/Fifth Doctor tales, all of which take place (quite obviously) between Planet of Fire and Caves of Androzani, so I’m hoping for good things.
Red Dawn, by Justin Richards
Humanity’s first manned mission to Mars – a new age of exploration! But this brave new world is not quite as barren as the Ares Mission have been led to believe: they’ve landed right next to a sealed tomb. And somebody’s already inside…
We’re back to the early days of Big Finish here, as you can probably tell from the slightly lacklustre cover art. This play was in fact #8 in the now long-established monthly run, released back in May 2000, so perhaps it would be unfair to expect the same level of sophistication from this as from, oooh, The Emerald Tiger². Clocking in at 86 minutes, and thus the shortest of all the Fifth Doctor plays so far³ the play itself is as disappointing as the cover.
The plot is nothing special; neither are the human characters – of the four astronauts, one is plain-spoken and down to earth (sic), one dies quickly, one is the obligatory villain, and the last is the clue to the mystery. Added to that, the aliens this time around are the Ice Warriors – never my most-favoured aliens, they are voiced in low hisses that don’t work well in the confines of a commute, and the play has to slow to a drag to allow them to finish sentences.
While we’re on gripes, at points some characters sound like they’ve been recorded inside tin drums, and you can hear the separation. The final act is too drawn out as well, and the peril is never entirely convincing. There are high points to meantion as well, though – most notably the foresightedness of the script to focus on the way that space travel and future expeditions to other worlds will undoubtedly rely far too heavily on the will and direction of big business. The jargon in the dialogue is also a good touch, as is the reintroduction of the Fifth Doctor’s more analytical, scientific side, presumably reinvigorated by Peri’s background.
In all, however, this isn’t one of the plays I’d recommend to new listeners. For something with more pace, verve, and emotional impact, we’ll need to wait for this new partnership to settle into its stride.
¹ What? Didn’t everybody? As an aside, you may like to read Mark Barrowcliffe’s excellent paean to teenaged stat-fudging, The Elfish Gene.
² Yes, I’m going to mention this one over and over again… get used to it…
³ Just to clarify, I mean all plays of four episodes or more. Three-parters and single-episode stories aren’t included. If you’re interested, the second shortest by my count is Phantasmagoria.