Released November 2006
World War I brings with it the horrible imagery of trench warfare, soldiers on each side protecting their zones with weaponry and praying they would not have to enter No Man’s Land, the area between trenches dangerously filled with landmines and barbed wire. It’s one of the most shocking and brutal settings in human warfare history, and it also helps to create a wonderfully atmospheric tale as Big Finish releases another historical serial.
The Doctor, Ace, and Hex, awake in a British hospital in Northern France designed to help British soldiers regain their desire to fight as quickly as possible. Lieutenant Colonel Brook is in charge of the proceedings as the hospital, using prosaic questionnaires and morning hate sessions to achieve his aims. Yet even as Hex demands to leave and the Doctor becomes distinctly uncomfortable and angry with the methods, Brook demands that they stay, having received orders that three civilian advisers will be arriving to investigate a murder at the hospital, a murder that has not happened.
‘No Man’s Land’ features a well-constructed plot that is filled with enjoyable secondary characters and plenty of misdirections. Even as it brings in elements of technology and the supernatural, though, the script never veers too far from the soldiers themselves as individuals. The Doctor is tasked with a solving a mystery of which he has no knowledge, meaning that the men themselves become the driving force of the narrative, and writer Martin Day does a good job in writing characters with varying sentiments about returning to the front lines. ‘No Man’s Land’ is a lengthier Big Finish script, though, and there are some scenes that do wander a little bit too much, creating an unsteady pacing along the way.
In an interesting twist, the Seventh Doctor is not primarily obsessed with war and all of its implications, instead turning his attention to the mystery of the murder at hand in a chance to save a life. McCoy shines in this story, first as he inquisitively investigates and later as he lets out his mistrust of the military in general and tries to escape from the worsening situation. Both Ace and Hex get standout moments as well, Ace taking on more a mentorship role with Hex as the newcomer and unafraid to discuss the more adult nature of her character around the men who hold the information she needs. Hex, meanwhile, is faced with the cruel truth of being a nurse around wounded men and unable to help them for fear of changing history. The script would have done well to further explore the ramifications of Hex being trapped in the hate chamber, but otherwise the characterization of the two assistants is very strong.
The supporting cast is on top form as well. Michael Cochrane is superb as Brook, a man who truly believes he is doing his patriotic duty to win the war even as he goes down a very dark path. The revelation that the experimental data of his choosing is being passed onto his superiors in the Forge is a nice inclusion of previous continuity, but ultimately it doesn’t truly affect the story that much. Rob Dixon, Oliver Mellor, Rupert Wickham, and Michael Adams all offer realistic variations of a typical soldier from the coward to the bully, filling out the environment ably and culminating in a very satisfying story and conclusion.
‘No Man’s Land’ spares no detail in creating a living warlike environment and the end result of telling a war story through the eyes of individual soldiers is excellent, even if some scenes take a while to get where they’re going.