Posted in Audio by - June 25, 2022

Released June 2022


The TARDIS lands behind German lines during the First World War in ‘Shellshock’ by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris. Unconscious and brought to a field hospital, the Doctor soon discovers that each of the soldiers being treated there for shellshock is suffering from the same vivid nightmares, ordered to advance toward the British lines and then being pulled into the Earth. All is not quiet on the Western Front, and the Doctor is sure that Doctor Sturm’s miraculous treatments are anything but.

Despite the immensely and instantly captivating setting and a genuinely intriguing alien menace that craves the death and destruction of all and finally finds itself in a time when human technology can help it achieve its goals all the more successfully, ‘Shellshock’ is an incredibly slow story that has nowhere near enough material for its four parts. Naturally, this strange affliction affecting the soldiers as well as the actions of Sturm require their due time for development and exploration, but so much of the first half is filled with wholly inconsequential dialogue and actions that simply fill time without advancing the plot or developing the characters in any meaningful fashion. It’s rare that Doctor Who or any British drama has the opportunity to so completely tread within the German side without implicit bias, but ‘Shellshock’ hardly delves into that narrative potential when the scope is much smaller and all but completely forgets its characters as individuals as the alien threat becomes known.

As always, however, Tom Baker is utterly superb as the Doctor and is able to fill even the emptier script moments with a charisma and energy that is second to none. His doctor is immediately engaged and committed to discovering what is truly occurring to make these soldiers’ apparent stresses so visceral, and while the technology being both a focus for the recent amplification of the alien influence as well as an integral component to the Doctor’s ultimate plan is a predictable turn, the unique challenges that the Doctor must finally confront as the story nears its conclusion make for a much more engaging second half. Yet despite the script’s obvious decision to focus more on the underlying reason for the shellshock than on the individuals or on building genuine tension, the supporting performances are extremely strong throughout with Alicia Ambrose-Bayly and Nicholas Asbury expertly setting the scene as Hanna Schumann and Doctor Sturm, respectively. Even in less consequential scenes, both are wholly committed to their roles and instill a genuine emotion to this setting and plot that at times are quite hollow, and Richard Hope, Christopher Naylor, and Finlay Robertson do well to create a more nuanced and layered experience than what is written.

Whether a conscious choice or not, the soundscape is oftentimes quite barren by Big Finish standards, amplifying the emptier moments and not fully accentuating the more consequential ones. ‘Shellshock’ really is a missed opportunity to explore this setting and this side of the war in any meaningful fashion, and it’s only the incredibly engaging performances and the strong alien threat that keep it from completely falling flat. Plotwise, everything in ‘Shellshock’ has been done elsewhere to better effect, and while there are some genuinely engaging and fascinating moments, it fails to fully capture the imagination or the potential that four-part stories for the Fourth Doctor and historical settings in general typically hold.

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1 Comment on "Shellshock"

  • Harry West

    A very slow story with a decent, if well, well-worn idea of a hidden alien menace using the emotions of humans to satisfy its lust and hungers, then take over the world. I’m not averse to slow paced stories if they fulfil in the end, but this doesn’t quite deliver.
    Shame this is stretched to four parts with really poor ‘shouty’ cliffhangers and stock German impressions of nasty huns. No Man’s Land is a better war tale.

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