Red Dawn

Posted in Audio by - February 21, 2016
Red Dawn

Released May 2000

For the second consecutive release, Big Finish revives one of the Doctor’s classic foes, this time switching focus to the Ice Warriors. Featuring an underused lead pairing in the Fifth Doctor and Peri and written by the proven Justin Richards, all of the pieces are in place for a fantastic tale. Unfortunately, ‘Red Dawn’ fails to live up to expectations and marks a definite misfire for a range that has generally been growing in confidence and overall quality.

The reintroduction of the Ice Warriors is handled very well, and their unerring sense of morality and their code of honour comes across very well in the audio medium. Still, it’s apparent that this meeting between humans and Martians is not going to be a cakewalk as Zzaal attributes a human’s death to a misunderstanding, creating an inescapable sense that one mistake could prove fatal to everyone involved. Paul Webster’s agenda independent of the mission controller’s threatens matters even further and leads Zzaal to attack the NASA Mars module, putting- amongst others- Peri in peril. Ultimately, it is down to the Doctor’s understanding of the Ice Warriors’ code of honour and then willingness to show mercy when he has Zzaal defeated that allows any semblance of hope and peace to survive.

Without question, Matthew Brehner is superb as Zzaal, but the entire race of Ice Warriors is brought back to life excellently, perfectly recapturing the sound and tone of their televised counterparts. Ultimately, Richards proves how knowledgeable he is regarding the Ice Warriors, and giving background information about the legendary Izzdahl’s role in saving his people as well as of their very ritualistic nature is a very nice touch that helps to explain their motivations further. Given the lofty pride and history, it speaks untold volumes that, as Zzaal commits suicide via Red Dawn to allow Sstast to kill their enemy, he comes to call the Doctor friend.

Aside from the characterisation and actions of the Ice Warriors, though, there just isn’t that much to distinguish ‘Red Dawn.’ More often than not, a good deal of success for an individual story will rely on its villain; unfortunately, Stephen Fewell’s Paul Webster just isn’t that intriguing or beguiling. The script certainly does him no favours, but he comes off as simply an irrational man who just wants to make a point rather than someone trying to achieve so greater meaning. At the same time, though, he always seems to be outshined by the Ice Warriors as he flounders through his plan, and it seems more luck than skill that he lasts as far into the story he does before his tale is so abruptly ended.

Pacing issues and predictability are also quite noticeable, too. Particularly in the first episode, given that the cover makes it clear that this is an Ice Warrior story on Mars, nothing of importance seems to happen until the Ice Warriors reveal themselves for the cliffhanger. The attack on the NASA module are the focal points of the middle two stories, but even with Peri’s presence on board there just never manages to be a true sense of danger. And even the big ending twist about Tanya was quite overtly hinted at in earlier episodes. The big emotional punches that the story is so clearly aiming for just never manage to manifest when the Ice Warriors themselves are not directly involved.

Surprisingly, given how instrumental the Fifth Doctor is to all of the events in the story, it still somehow seems as though Peter Davison is underused in this script, spending the majority of his time on the sidelines commentating. It’s an odd non-union of his achievement versus listener perception, possibly, but the Doctor just does not have a lasting impact despite Davison’s usual strong performance. Peri, on the other hand, is treated a little better. Richards writes her as an intelligent and level-headed woman for the most part and, though there are some moments where her nagging gets the best of her and where her comprehension of seemingly high-brow concepts perhaps strains credulity, she is certainly a welcome return to Davison’s side.

There’s nothing egregiously bad about ‘Red Dawn,’ then, but it still fails to live up to expectations and the level of quality Big Finish has already started to quickly establish. The Ice Warriors seamlessly make their dangerous presence felt in audio, but otherwise the script’s pacing and the villain’s motivations and sensibility do nothing to help create a complete and sound story.

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