Released April 2011
Following the resounding success of bringing to life what might have been in an alternative season twenty-three for Colin Baker, Big Finish now turns its The Lost Stories range to the end of the classic series as Marc Platt, Andrew Cartmel, and Ben Aaranovitch flesh out their original concepts and storylines for the intended season twenty-seven. When the Doctor and Ace arrive in 1967 Moscow while the Soviets are seeking for a new weapon to give them command of the Cold War, the fate of Earth and the future of Ace find themselves intertwined as the hidden secrets of lost Martian relics are revealed.
Ace is, of course, the one companion who never reached an ending point in the series due to cancellation, and it’s wonderful to hear Sophie Aldred pitch her performance back to the earlier and more emotionally tenuous version of her character in place of the more confident and assured version that her tenure at Big Finish has cultivated. This allows for the continued, nuanced development that the scripts under Andrew Cartmel’s watch started, and her sense of betrayal when she discovers that the Doctor is testing her in order to gain her entry into the Academy on Gallifrey very much fits in with how both of these characters saw each other at the end of their televised run. Even if the Doctor is not nearly as much in control as would be expected, his annoyance with the Time Lords who hold back information just as well as he does is used to great effect and adds an extra layer to Ace’s interventions when the stakes are so incredibly high.
‘Thin ice’ would have represented the Ice Warriors’ first appearance on screen since the end of the Third Doctor era, and the decision to present a lone group of the Martians searching for lost relics rather than forecefully delving into their incredibly rich and detailed- though rarely discussed- culture is a wise one, allowing the action to focus on the drama of the Soviets potentially gaining access to alien technology at a pivotal point in history as well as the very real consequences of the alien relics on the humans who possess them. Nicholas Briggs is able to instill a superb complexity to Hhessh, and his personal journey as he realizes that the resurrection of the very determined Sezhyr is a mistake fraught with peril is engrossing from beginning to end. The dichotomy of these two prominent Ice Warriors allows both for a clear vision of the progression of the Martian culture over the ages and for a dispute into which Ace can assert her own morals and vision and win the respect of everyone involved.
With the next companion known to be Raine, it’s audaciously bold to have her presented in the story before her introduction through birth from a pregnancy sped up by the hybridization of her mother and Martian technology. It’s hard to say if this would have been allowed on television at its intended time, but its impact is nonetheless profound and certainly allows for further dramatic moments in the future. With this and the scene in which Ace finally has a go at the Doctor for once more keeping his motives secret from her truly powerful standouts, ‘Thin Ice’ is able to overcome a somewhat uneven pace and somewhat subdued musical score that don’t quite recapture the end of the McCoy era as intended. Even with quite overt political messaging given its setting, ‘Thin Ice’ is a fairly solid and enjoyable opening to this lost season that only promises to get bigger and better.