Doctor Who and the Iron Legion

Posted in Audio by - March 18, 2019
Doctor Who and the Iron Legion

Released March 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Throughout its long history of producing Doctor Who audio dramas, Big Finish has never been afraid to delve into the continuity of the comics and novels for characters and settings that suit a particular story. It’s unsurprising, then, that following the success of The Novel Adaptations which gave the written word the full-cast audio treatment for fans old and new alike, that beloved comic panels should next receive that treatment. Beginning the first volume of The Comic Strip Adaptations, fittingly, is Alan Barnes’s adaptation of ‘Doctor Who and the Iron Legion,’ the Fourth Doctor adventure that was the first to be published in Doctor Who Weekly and the first to feature the village of Stockbridge that would become so prominent within the medium.

‘Doctor Who and the Iron Legion’ is an intensely visual tale in both scale and content and is thus perfectly suited for the comic and now audio mediums where it can breathe and develop much more grandiosely than unfolding within a 1970s television serial could have allowed. With a tie to then-modern Earth to lend an added sense of familiarity and dichotomy, the Iron Legion led by General Ironicus conquers the village of Stockbridge in 1979, and the Doctor pursues them through the great Dimension Duct to an alternative Earth where Rome never fell. Facing a world in which arena battles and chariot races dominate and gods still rule supreme, the Doctor must use every bit of his intelligence and even humour to slowly uncover the truth at the heart of this empire.

Given that the original comic only covered some thirty-four pages, Barnes must naturally add some new content while expanding upon some of the original to allow the audio adaptation to unfold over four parts. Fortunately, the old and the new blend seamlessly, and though it may seem convenient that the exact same people would exist in multiple dimensions so long after the divergence in their histories occurred, the innocent Stockbridge bystanders of Doug and Viv help to add a very human element to this story while proving surprisingly relevant to its resolution. However, it’s just as much the supporting characters from this alternate dimension that make it such a dynamic setting, and Morris whom the Doctor meets when enslaved on the Imperial Air Galley is a particular highlight. This cyborg who was likewise enslaved when trying to enhance his bionic components has continually tried to escape and continually been repaired when injured doing so, and he quickly becomes a tragic but heroic figure while helping the Doctor escape. Additionally, the elder robot Vesuvius helps the Doctor discover that the gods are actually the Malevilus, and he proves vital to stirring an uprising to help free Rome that sees him rewarded in the most unexpected fashion when all hope seemed lost. While mechanized characters are always difficult to place tonally and vocally, both Joseph Kloska and Toby Longworth do exceedingly well in their respective roles to add a believable degree of emotion and weight that helps the story resonate all the more.

While no real degree of empathy is afforded the petulant boy emperor, Adolphus, he nonetheless provides a focal point through which the empire’s actions can unfold. Yet while he fittingly seems involved in more of a fringe capacity as most rulers are, he soon learns that his entire life has been guided by a figure who is not who he believed and that his future is not his own to control. This is a clever narrative swerve that puts into context the split between these dimensions, and Magog quickly proves just how powerful the Malevilus are to form a highly credible threat in short order as their scheme of setting up puppet emperors and supplying the Romans with advanced technology in exchange for human sacrifices is revealed. Again displaying the full powers of his intellect after unleashing the uncontrollable genetically-engineered Bestiarus that acted as soldiers for this Rome before the advent of true robotics, the Doctor is able to show the people the true faces of their gods while then trapping Magog in an empty dimension within the TARDIS, putting an end to the threat in fairly peaceful fashion compared to the downfall the other Malevilus meet.

Some of the scenes are just a bit too padded and the resolution comparably a bit too rushed, but this is understandable given the relative brevity of the source material. Fortunately, the atmosphere and tone never waver, and the pacing overall is tight and provides a rollicking adventure from beginning to end. Tom Baker is marvellous throughout and gives a profound performance that matches the epic scale of events, and the supporting performances all help to further develop and refine the monumental story being told. Capturing the intensely visual nature of this story and its original illustrations with words and sounds is an incredibly difficult undertaking, but everyone involved in the production has managed to achieve just that with true style. Whether compared to other stories at the time of its original release in 1979 or to more modern stories, ‘Doctor Who and the Iron Legion’ holds up quite well and bodes well for the quality that this new range can continue to achieve.

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