Warzone and Conversion

Posted in Audio by - November 15, 2019
Warzone and Conversion

Released November 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Although the Cybermen are unquestionably one of Doctor Who’s most iconic and relevant antagonists, their relentless quest to convert others has affected no Doctor quite so personally as the Fifth who lost his tempestuous companion Adric when pitted against them in ‘Earthshock.’ While several stories outside of the television medium have at least briefly delved into the emotional outfall that befell the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan as a result of that explosive exit, Big Finish’s latest two-part double bill of Chris Chapman’s ‘Warzone’ and Guy Adams’s ‘Conversion’ once more brings together these eternal foes to offer the most demonstrative exploration yet.

‘Warzone’ begins rather unassumingly as a seeming sendup of the marathon and endurance exercise culture that is becoming more prevalent in society as competitors gather from across the galaxy to test their limits and achieve a personal best. With personal enhancements and nutrition sources prominently featuring and even greater enhancements promised to those who can finish this grueling and dangerous course, the need to compete and finish no matter the cost to oneself or others is eminently prominent from beginning to end. However, where ‘Warzone’ succeeds most is by subverting expectations and, while not necessarily going bigger with its underlying threat, certainly exploiting the inherent danger of that continued pursuit for greater results when an entire society is dedicated to that cause. Particularly in the second half when the frenetic excitement of the race gives way to the truth behind these alterations being revealed, ‘Warzone’ becomes something all the more resonant and boldly paves the way for the Doctor’s unexpected but needed confrontation as memories of Adric rear their head once more. With strong performances from all of the regulars and perhaps the best use yet of new companion Marc who is so eager to prove himself in an environment to which he can relate on his own terms, ‘Warzone’ overcomes an initially light but relatable premise to offer a strong instalment that is sure to have a greater effect as the fallout of this society’s technological gain and resulting goals is explored on a very personal level.

With the genuine threat that the Cybermen pose both fresh in the Doctor’s past and all too apparent in his present, ‘Conversion’ brilliantly explores the inner psyche of an incarnation ridden with guilt, remorse, and anger. The Cybermen are very much in more of a supportive role than is typical, but David Banks and Mark Hardy brilliantly and threateningly play the respective roles of Cyber Leader and Cyber Lieutenant to bring the newest nuance of conversion to light. Unsurprisingly, however, it’s the conversion process itself that comes to forefront in this release, and the very emotional exploration of the human mind under such heightened circumstances wonderfully underscores the very genuine inhumanity of the process and just what being human actually means. Yet with no simple answers or reversals afforded, it’s unquestionably Peter Davison who is the standout star here, bringing forth a powerful range of emotions that his normally reserved Doctor so rarely confronts. With Tegan and Nyssa fully accepting of the fact that the Doctor could not save Adric and attempting to get him to accept that fact as well, the characterisation of all three leads is superb and presents a clear path of reasoned development that only time can afford following such a momentous disaster that is playing out in a new form before them once again. Rarely have the stakes in Doctor Who been this personal and profound, but ‘Conversion’ is a brilliant use of established and new continuity to offer something unique and yet so overdue for this beloved TARDIS team.

Two-part stories are difficult to pace properly to both develop a setting and characters and to offer a satisfying narrative arc, but ‘Warzone’ and ‘Conversion’ both manage to capitalize on the inherent terror of and the fresh history of this core team with the Cybermen to subvert expectations and deliver a resonant arc that is sure to continue paying dividends. The performances, direction, and sound design are all excellent throughout, and what could have been a light-hearted look at the modern competitive mentality followed by a trot through familiarity instead delivers an impactful double bill that only becomes more engrossing as it progresses.

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