❉ A “phenomenal” audio adventure from the pen of Chris Chapman!
Big Finish’s recent trilogy of Sixth Doctor audios got off to a flying start with Cry of the Vultriss, and l’m pleased to say that Scorched Earth is a fantastic continuation of this set of adventures, as well as being a wonderful standalone adventure.
The Doctor (Colin Baker), Flip (Lisa Greenwood), and Constance (Miranda Raison) have landed in France, towards the end of the Second World War. This is very much Constance’s story, as a WREN who worked at Bletchley Park when she met the Doctor, she gets swept up in the jubilant celebrations of the newly liberated France. But when a young French girl called Clementine (Katarina Olsson) is attacked by an angry mob for being a supposed Nazi collaborator, a mob led by former French Resistance member Lucian (Philip DeLancy), Flip realizes that Constance really is from a different time…
“Scorched Earth is hugely successful at invoking feelings of unrest, both in its historical setting, and amongst the TARDIS crew themselves… Throughout the story we’re told that the war may be over in this village, but it’s still going on elsewhere.”
The reason l mentioned Cry of the Vultriss upfront is because there’s a rather small, but important moment at the beginning of that story, that very heavily affects how you’ll experience Scorched Earth. In it, we learn that Constance is feeling unsure of who she is after her experience with the Static (in 2017’s Static), and is feeling mixed about returning to her own time and place. Scorched Earth very cleverly takes advantage of this inner doubt within Constance, and thrusts her into a situation where she can be closer to who she was before meeting the Doctor, even if it means she condones terrible injustices. It’s a stroke of pure genius, and it goes to show what a wonderful dynamic this particular TARDIS team have, as the Doctor tries to keep both Flip and Constance safe, and reunited.
At its core, Scorched Earth is hugely successful at invoking feelings of unrest, both in its historical setting, and amongst the TARDIS crew themselves. Flip is shocked by Constance’s actions in not only condoning the violence against Clementine, but supporting it. Throughout the story we’re told that the war may be over in this village, but it’s still going on elsewhere. Even though there should be peace, the villagers are still willing to find an enemy to pick a fight against. This sense of unrest and character drama is where Scorched Earth is most successful, and it is very successful indeed. Writer Chris Chapman was inspired by his own family’s experiences during the war, and it shows. It is an ugly part of history, on almost every level, and Scorched Earth pulls no punches in that respect.
“Director John Ainsworth really gets the most of already wonderful actors, and the sound design by Lee Adams is phenomenal at selling the time period and location.”
Sadly, the sci-fi elements of Scorched Earth are comparatively weak. Not bad, but it’s very much just the backdrop to which the character drama takes place, and not the focus. Whenever they cut away from the purely historical aspects to focus on the Living Fire, l felt very disappointed. Scorched Earth would have worked much better as a pure historical l feel. It never really feels like the two plots are integrated together very well in my opinion, and it causes the story to suffer overall. It is still a great story, but it definitely feels a bit odd dealing with serious character drama regarding the treatment of perceived Nazi collaborators in one scene, and then having the Doctor flying a Tiger Moth around a giant sentient fireball trying to stop it from destroying Berlin in another.
The sound design and direction really aids the atmosphere of the story. Director John Ainsworth really gets the most of already wonderful actors (Christopher Black and James Boswell give wonderful performances as both the British and German soldiers), and the sound design by Lee Adams is phenomenal at selling the time period and location. Sound design is an oft-unappreciated aspect of audio dramas, but it really is the glue that holds everything together. The music by Simon Power is great too, though l noticed there wasn’t very much music compared to some other audios. An interesting production choice, one which helps focus on the character drama that is at the core of Scorched Earth.
And that is what Scorched Earth is. It is a character drama, with a sci-fi plot happening as a backdrop to events. Not every element is wholly successful, but even the weaker elements are still hugely enjoyable. At it’s best, it’s a phenomenal Doctor Who story, quite unlike any other.
❉ ‘Doctor Who: Scorched Earth’ was released in May 2020. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until June 30th 2020, and on general sale after this date. Find out more at the Big Finish website: bgfn.sh/3b
❉ Stephen Brennan has been writing for fanzines and charity anthologies for some time. A writer by day, a game developer by night, they can be a bit of a grump, but with a mischievous twinkle in their eye that lets you know they aren’t all bad.