Red Planets

Posted in Audio by - August 17, 2018
Red Planets

Released August 2018

Big Finish and the Seventh Doctor, in particular, are certainly no strangers to experiencing and rectifying alternative realities, perhaps no example quite as profound in the audio medium as that of ‘Colditz’ and the ensuing fallout featuring Elizabeth Klein. With Una McCormack’s ‘Red Planets,’ the timelines have once more gone awry, and as the Doctor and Mel try to understand the origins and purpose of the modern socialist Republic of Mokoshia while Ace tries to save a wounded British spy in 1961 East Berlin, a message from a dark and distant future is on its way.

‘Red Planets’ features a wonderful noir thriller tone throughout, and the initial mystery as Mel and the Doctor land in 2017 London to find a land of peace, happiness, and prosperity bedecked in red and celebrating the centenary of the Russian Revolution is an evocative image around which to centre the story. As they quickly find out, communism has not fallen in this world but has instead flourished and spread through western Europe, and dissent of any kind could be met with fatal action, a particularly unpleasant fact that the Doctor soon finds himself facing as he makes his knowledge and disapproval known. Intriguingly, Mel herself knows all about these events as if they are her true history, a prospect all the more frightening given that the Doctor and his companions are usually isolated from the effects of time changing as it so clearly has here, and this paired with her easy acceptance of a curfew within this British commune where the Queen abdicated in 1966 adds an extra level of uneasiness that these alternate realities rarely provide.

Indeed, the setup of this mystery through the first two-plus episodes is among the most gripping work that Big Finish has ever produced, and the Doctor meeting Colonel Marsden who seems to have something of a less-than-straightforward relationship with his superiors provides the impetus for the Doctor to learn what is occurring, intrigued by the two words ‘blue box’ that Marsden uses to gain his attention. Of course, knowledge of the Doctor goes far higher than Marsden thinks, and the lingering question of just why the Doctor wasn’t there as Mokoshia made its advances is a yet another interesting consideration given his known association with the British before then. Elliot Levey gives a strong performance as Marsden who quickly reveals his true colours and soon finds himself far beyond what and where he could ever have imagined as his own history comes squarely into focus, and though the unsurprising appearance of an underground movement is rather rushed to allow the Doctor and Mel to reunite to explore the truth around them, it does also help to flesh out the dynamics of this similar and yet wholly distinct world as wishes for a better world become known.

Along with the 2017 mystery is that of Ace in 1961, and the city literally disappearing around her as a heavy mist sets in is another fantastic visual that provides plenty of unique tension and danger. Sophie Aldred and Matt Barber have a wonderful chemistry together as Ace saves Tom Elliott from certain death but is initially unable to earn his trust as she offers to help him complete his vital mission to deliver very specific photographs to the other side of the Berlin Wall. With the appealing notion that some objects are more steeped in time and thus more resistant to change, the two split storylines offer more than enough drama to anchor a feature-length story and then some, but ‘Red Planets’ takes events one step further by also including the first manned mission to Mars that is occurring forty years too early and that finds a strange beacon that pulls the ship off course and to a base that should not be present. Full credit must be given to McCormack for presenting a completely unexpected and purely human element as the root cause for these events, and the harrowing future of a dead Earth ravaged by bombs provides a strong emotional tether, but this plotline comes off feeling quite rushed and somewhat underdeveloped given the immense character and background work done for the Earth settings beforehand, something the story seems to realise by providing another ticking countdown for the Doctor and his companions to escape Mars.

The downside for most alternate reality stories is that they often end up feeling inconsequential given that there are no absolute repercussions for the prime timeline, and that unfortunately ends up being the case here with only a brief discussion about the lives lost and never lived as the timelines battle and an intriguing question about the Doctor’s interference as a cause of harm or good. Still, the literal race against time as Makoshia become ever more established in history provides a tense resolution, but it all comes together too neatly and quickly as the hopes for a better world come to fruition. ‘Red Planets’ perhaps features one storyline too many in this complex story that brings in so much of the past, present, and future, but there are some genuinely incredible moments that rank among Big Finish’s best, and even the resulting unevenness provides a thrilling opening to 2018’s Seventh Doctor audio adventures.

  • Release Date: 8/2018
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