Released December 2009
Following a successful encounter with the Celestial Toymaker to kick off The Lost Stories, Big Finish once more revisits Doctor Who’s past by commissioning writer Philip Martin to adapt his unproduced story ‘Mission to Magnus’ featuring both Sil and the Ice Warriors. Martin had, of course, written ‘Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘Mindwarp,’ two of the stronger offerings from Colin Baker’s brief televised tenure, and so all of the elements were already in place for another strong and progressive outing as the Doctor and Peri arrive on the matriarchal planet of Magnus where so much of the Doctor’s past lays in wait.
Like ‘The Nightmare Fair,’ ‘Mission to Magnus’ must be commended for perfectly recapturing the spirit and essence of the intended era, and Simon Robinson’s sound design and Lisa Bowerman’s direction are indisputable factors related to this achievement. What unfolds is very much a story of two halves which is perhaps wise given the elongated running time of each episode with only one cliffhanger at the story’s disposal, each half highlighting different aspects of the Sixth Doctor’s persona to grand effect. The inclusion of a bully from the Doctor’s Academy days who makes the Doctor cower in fear as no other foe has yet managed is great fun if ultimately somewhat superfluous since the psychology of bullying is sidestepped, but the boisterously irksome and incompetent Anzor adds a unique presence to the story and joyously manages to bring out a different side of the heroic Doctor than usual. Sil, on the other hand, is somewhat more separated from the main action than might be anticipated given his notoriety, but the script still perfectly brings to the forefront his insatiable greed for profit as he tries to tease out the secret of time travel alongside Magnus’s female population and changes allegiances as needed to come out on top, and actor Nabil Shaban shines as always against Baker and Bryant when allowed the opportunity.
The second story changes tone quite dramatically, and it’s intriguing to note that the spectre of climate change was infiltrating stories even in the 1980s. Not that climate change is dicussed in any great detail or the source of great debate while paralleling Earth, it nonetheless adds an extra layer of subtext for the modern audience and provides the perfect entry point for the Ice Warriors who are looking to change Magnus’s orbit to make the world more habitable for them. Their entry is spectacular, and although neither episode’s plot is incredibly deep on its own right, using Sil as the linking force between the two does at least create a coherent bridge as the danger escalates and the fate of an entire planet hangs in the balance as the cunning and might of the Ice Warriors are revealed.
The one unavoidable topic when discussing ‘Mission to Magnus,’ unfortunately, is that it is quite overt with its sexism. This is, of course, a plot device to drive the narrative forward while bringing to light the differences between a society run by men and one run by women and showcasing strong female roles, but the excessively backward-looking views of even an enlightened Time Lord and the notion of simply using males as breeding stock with little other value do make some portions of this story trying regardless of the shifting variance in tone. Still, the notion of one planet wishing to go back in time to stop a neighbouring planet from learning how to penetrate its defences is by itself a strong premise, just not one that necessarily needed the gender-derived components to try to set it apart.
In terms of simply delivering a fun and entertaining story, ‘Mission to Magnus’ succeeds admirably and highlights the immense chemistry between Baker and Bryant while continuing to mellow the televised Sixth Doctor and continuing to portray Peri in a more proactive light. However, for those looking for a deeper story with meaningful commentary on the bullying, sexism, and climate change topics it brings up, it is somewhat lacking. Still, the smarmy and conniving Sil and the powerful and audacious Ice Warriors are true standouts and easily help to carry this divided story to a unified conclusion.