Released January 2002
Following an enjoyable albeit uneven first series with Big Finish, Paul McGann returns as the Eighth Doctor alongside companion Charlotte Pollard for another run of adventures. Using his propensity for comedy, writer Mark Gatiss pens an entertaining tale in ‘Invaders from Mars’ that suggests that aliens truly did invade Earth during Orson Welles’s infamous radio airing of The War of the Worlds.
It’s clear from the outset that this is a release not to be taken too seriously, but underlying the wit is a surprisingly layered plot that features the Americans, the Russians, and the Nazis trying to gain access to atomic weapons while the aliens are posing their menace. Accordingly, ‘Invaders from Mars’ featuers a large cast and fortunately- given the debacle that the foreign accents presented in ‘Minuet from Hell’- the cast here is much more convincing in their accented roles even if they do border on cliched. Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson as suave gangster Chaney and aliased Glory Bee, respectively, are superb in their roles, managing to straddle the line between serious and comedy perfectly. Likewise, in a somewhat overshadowed role, David Benson captures the essence of Orson Welles spectacularly.
Rather surprisingly, though, it’s the villain Cosmo Devine played by John Arthur who stands out most for a variety of reasons. Even though his character is riddled with deliberately bad puns and sometimes groan-inducing dialogue, he proves himself to be a truly sadistic man who allies himself with whoever seems the most powerful at the moment, first the Nazis and then the alien Lederplacker. His character is so utterly repulsive and loathsome in his actions- and not afraid to support his boasts- that there is no redemptive factor whatsoever, making him the perfect villainous presence in that sense.
As for the aliens of the piece, Gatiss writes the Lederplacker as quite comic as well, bordering on inept and incompetent in their schemes. Streeth and Norium provide good contrasts to each other even as their differing philosophies and contradictions undermine their threatening presence, and the Doctor quickly surmises that they are not quite the threat they claim themselves to be. Using Welles’s broadcast as a means of tricking the Lederplacker into believing the real Martians are invading is a very clever concept given how effective that broadcast originally was, however unintentionally.
With so much going on, it’s almost inevitable that one or both of the leads would be relegate to the sidelines a bit more than usual, and that is unfortunately the case with Charley. She still gets a few standout scenes such as her assumed raving under a truth drug and exchanging clues with the Doctor, but overall she is given much less to do than in her other stories so far. McGann, on the other hand, is fully in on the action from the start, relishing his opportunity to put a little more comedy into his Doctor. He, of course, is instrumental in stopping the alien menace, but his utter enthusiasm and fanboyishness when meeting and acting alongside Orson Welles is perhaps his most enjoyable scene here.
More than anything, though, it’s the production values of ‘Invaders fromMars’ that highlight this release. Gatiss says in the release notes that he was aiming for a brassy and authentic ole-time New York feel with film noir dialogue, and the production and sound design certainly achieve those aims. As such, the cliched accents can almost be completely forgiven because they do fit in line with that style so well. While it would have been great to hear Welles and the Doctor together for more of the story than just the ending, the multiple storylines in play all coalesce well at the end and offer an enjoyable experience. It may not be the most memorable of Doctor Who tales, but ‘Invaders from Mars’ is a more than suitable beginning to the 2002 run of Eighth Doctor adventures.