The Night Witches

Posted in Audio by - September 20, 2017
The Night Witches

Released September 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The fourth series of Big Finish’s The Early Adventures begins with a revisitation of the early Second Doctor era and a staple genre of the early First Doctor era, the pure historical. When the TARDIS lands near 1942 Stalingrad, the Doctor, Polly, Ben, and Jamie quickly find themselves captives of the Night Witches, an all-female flying unit tasked with disrupting German forces approaching Moscow. But as the travelers find themselves under suspicion of spying and working within the German Operation Barbarossa, they shockingly find that they will inevitably be involved in the war to a much greater extent than they could have ever imagined.

From the very start when the TARDIS misses its intended target of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, it’s clear that ‘The Night Witches’ will be a much darker and more serious story than most taking place within Patrick Troughton’s tenure as the titular Time Lord. Upon their rescue of fallen pilot Lilya Grankin, the grim and oppressive reality of World War II is ominously present throughout the entire release. Indeed, as the individual Night Witches rather bleakly accept their potential mortality in their continuing efforts to instill supernatural fear into the approaching Germans, the TARDIS team is split up and forced to endure horrendous situations of their own as the group’s leader, Nadia Vasney, seeks to first rid herself of these supposed spies and then to turn their arrival to her advantage.

As performances go, by this time there is no question that Frazer Hines gives the definitive modern performance as Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, and he certainly gives another breathtaking turn in this role alongside Jamie whose younger voice he also recaptures perfectly. Similarly, Elliot Chapman continues to impress as he further refines his uncanny performance as the late Michael Craze to bring Ben into focus once more. However, the standout of this release is unquestionably Anneke Wills who is tasked with a sort of dual role herself when Polly stumbles upon her very own doppelganger, ace pilot Tatiana Kregki. The Russian Tatiana is quite wonderfully played by Anjella Mackintosh, and the internal turmoil she is able to exude as Tatiana contemplates taking her one chance at escaping the war thanks to Polly’s presence is fantastic. However, Wills is also able to superbly bring out a bold yet tentative side to Polly as her character traverses both her separation from the Doctor and the distinct prospect of meeting her demise as she slowly learns the deeper and more sinister truth of her situation that outshines every other aspect of the story and extends deserved depth to this companion who was not as thoroughly explored on television as some others of the time.

In fact, in a story that puts both its core and guest cast through immense turmoil while shedding light on a fascinating corner of history, the only occasional hiccup is that the tone of perpetual and impending doom means that there are only occasional glimpses of any other emotions. While this undoubtedly sells the danger that everyone finds themselves in, it strangely means that the stark uniformity in tone also adds a weightiness of despiar to the claustrophobic setting, events, and pacing that can make the difficulty of the characters’ plight tough to listen to in only one sitting. Nonetheless, ‘The Night Witches’ as a whole is a brilliant testament to the impactful power that the true historical genre can still hold and a fantastic beginning to this newest run of The Early Adventures.

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