Scorched Earth

Posted in Audio by - May 16, 2020
Scorched Earth

Released May 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

When the TARDIS lands in a small village near Rouen in 1944 in Chris Chapman’s ‘Scorched Earth,’ the Doctor, Flip, and Constance find the local French population celebrating liberation as a battalion of Allied soldiers arrives. But with screams amidst the euphoria, the two companions soon find themselves on opposite sides of a much more personal war than the one that has ravaged this land, and a new type of fire seems just as eager to exact revenge as the locals who have labeled others as traitors.

With a few key exceptions, Doctor Who has almost always featured a companion from the era in which those episodes were produced (or intended for as is the case with Big Finish), allowing witnessed events to be put into a modern context that is both relatable for the audience and developmental for the companion and Doctor. While Flip who was introduced as a cashier at Fresh Goods has unquestionably filled that role alongside the Sixth Doctor while boldly recounting her own thoughts and beliefs, this current TARDIS trio also features Constance, a WWII WREN and companion from the recent past who is every bit as strong-willed and set in her own beliefs. A testament to both characters and the writing of their stories together, Flip and Constance have fast become best friends, almost universally in agreement about right and wrong and how best to proceed when a problem presents itself. However, ‘Scorched Earth’ makes the most of its fascinating historical setting to highlight how even just the few years of relative time that separate their upbringing can provide a foundational difference in certain circumstances. Through her travels with the Doctor, Constance has learned of the outcome of World War II, but this is her first chance to truly experience any sense of victory and the celebrations that will ensue. When the Doctor relents and allows his companions to experience the local culture and happiness, the darker side of human nature quickly shows itself as those who collaborated with the Germans during the war are branded as traitors and very much made a spectacle of publicly in the war’s aftermath.

Chapman clearly has an immense knowledge of and respect for these events, and though he by no means excuses this type of collaborator, he very genuinely fleshes out the desire to simply survive that motivated them while using very human emotions as a relatable point of commonality. But with lynchings, arsons, and other events the norm for those individuals accused of collaboration, Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood each give an incredible performance as Constance must confront her own steadfast beliefs and the resulting emotions that she knows would be appalling in other circumstances even as injustices play out right in front of her here. Given Constance’s upbringing and profession, her reactions are ingrained and understandable, but the tension that plays out between Flip and Constance as Flip goes so far as to befriend one of the targeted individuals is superb and adds a tremendous amount of layering to both individuals in the process. Constance may be at least partially validated in her beliefs, but Flip brings with her a more neutral viewpoint and context coming from several decades in the future, and that interpersonal drama, the difficult situations people sometimes face, and the true horror of humanity and mob mentality expertly drive this narrative forward at a blistering pace.

Of course, ‘Scorched Earth’ features a monster, but Chapman wisely uses this sort of sentient fire more as an extended metaphor for hate and to drive the tremendous personal growth resulting from differing backgrounds and personal perspectives on war. The climax does lose its focus a little bit after such tremendous buildup and the resulting fate of the fire off-world seems a bit contrived although fittingly somewhere between the Doctor’s Fourth and Seventh personas’ actions when revealed, but all of the leads and supporting cast are on top form throughout with Colin Baker excelling as a Doctor forced to mediate much more than usual. With strong direction and soundscape as well, this is undoubtedly a standout release for this Sixth Doctor team that has already seen so many, and it bodes incredibly well for the wealth of potential character drama that still remains unexplored for future stories featuring these tremendous comrades.

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