Released March 2013
The Doctor, Romana, and newly-elected Earth President Sheridan Moorkurk continue their investigation into and battle against business tycoon Cuthbert and his all-encompassing Conglomerate started in ‘The Sands of Life.’ However, with Cuthbert intent on seeking revenge against the Laan creatures he believes have personally attacked him and an interspecies war looming large, the stakes have never been higher as Earth finds itself hanging in the balance.
The central conflict here is well-written and lends an air of gravity to the Laan that the introductory story didn’t quite manage to achieve because of its expository nature. With the Laan needing to use Earth to spawn in an act that will annihilate the human population, there’s an inherent moral question that needs to be asked regarding how aggressive humans have the right to be. Of course, Cuthbert believes that humans are in the right to take the fight to the Laan, but it’s the President who explains the morally-ambiguous nature of a potential attack best to fully flesh out the inherent drama that the situation poses. Fortunately, the Doctor is able to find an appealing alternative that both sides accept rather graciously, but the tension resulting from an impossible choice works to great effect throughout this story.
Unfortunately, even though Romana is given an incredible amount to do as she gains a deep and emotional understanding of the Laan and attempts to speak on behalf of humanity to them, the overall plot of ‘War Against the Laan’ is fairly straightforward with little genuine surprise. There is far too much padding in almost every scene to extend the drama until events are quickly resolved at the end, and the Laan choosing resolutely to distrust everyone until the end while the other characters are kept from communicating slows down the pace immensely. This does have the unfortunate effect of taking away from the fascinating core conflict even as the individual scenes are still bursting with action and intrigue.
It’s intriguing and all too rare to see a story without a true villain, and the repercussions of the Laan choosing Earth simply as a breeding ground is played to great effect. Accordingly, to fill that void in the script, David Warner once more offers a truly magnificent performance as the powerful and secretive Cuthbert. However, because Cuthbert seems to more or less be here in order to detract from what ends up being a fairly simple yet elegant solution and to add another layer of drama, this is a character that will undoubtedly benefit from further exploration in a different scenario. The pieces are already in place for a satisfying recurring presence, and the lingering unanswered questions regarding the nature of his experiments when the Laan attacked will certainly provide ample fodder for future storylines.
As it is, ‘War Against the Laan’ is understandably reliant on the preceding ‘The Sands of Life’ and so should not be listened to in isolation. And although the conclusion does end up feeling a bit too easy and rushed after such strong buildup over the previous episodes, the narrative as a whole is a nice twist on invasion story expectations that manages to make both Cuthbert and the Laan fascinating introductions simply begging for repeat appearances.