A Doctor Who audio adventure by Big Finish (#28 in the main range)
Continuing on from Minuet in Hell (2001), this adventure follows the Eighth Doctor, as played by Paul McGann and Charley Pollard as played by India Fisher, as they once again hit a snag on their travels. Planning to go to Singapore in 1930, the TARDIS crew steps out in 1938, just thousands of miles in the wrong direction and 8 years late! It is the night of the infamous “War of the Worlds” Halloween special as read by Orson Welles. As you will recall, despite multiple warnings throughout the show that what people were listening to was a dramatic presentation, it caused a mass hysteria as folks thought and actual alien invasion was afoot. This serial raises the stakes by asking “what if there WAS an alien invasion at that very moment?” This is technically the first episode of “season two” of these Eighth Doctor adventures. While I read a few of the novels that were produced for this Doctor, in lieu of TV episodes, I prefer the audios far more.
“A month after a mysterious meteorite lit up the skies of New York State, Martian invaders laid waste to the nation. At least, according to soon-to-be infamous Orson Welles they did. But what if some of the panicked listeners to the legendary The War of the Worlds broadcast weren’t just imagining things?”Publisher description
This serial is written by Mark Gatiss, who fans will immediately recognize from his numerous TV credits, and director appearances later in the franchise as well as Sherlock. this is a typically well-written one for him, his attention to detail is always top-notch when doing historical pieces. We last saw him in 2001 with Phantasmagoria, which I also generally liked. Other notable actors include Gatiss himself, Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (of Spaced and Shaun of the Dead fame), and even Katy Manning making a voice cameo.
This serial suffers a bit from overdone American accents, in a similar way that Minuet in Hell sounded as if the cast of a living history park had come out for a rendition of the Apple Dumpling Gang, this one was like Dick Tracy levels of what people think a New York accent is like. I mean, yeah, if you watch old videos some people do talk like this, but you could tell these were somewhat forced and overdone. That isn’t to slight the actors in any way, they tried their best. Keep in mind that in 2002, Doctor Who was still off the air and a relative niche product in the US – the likelihood of Americans listening to this were very slim (since you had to order physical CDs), and to most UK listeners, I’m sure these sounded like acceptable accents. I have no doubt people in the UK get annoyed when we think Mary Poppins accents are acceptable as well.
We once gain have a bit of anachronism in the plot, this time we find out that Orson Welles is ignorant of William Shakespeare’s identity. Welles was, in reality, well-known for his love of Shakespeare and his Shakespearean work, even in the 1930s. He even went on to sitar in numerous Shakespearean plays. This isn’t the first time a seeming historical continuity error pop up – a previous episode hinted that Benjamin Franklin was a US president when he was not. We later find out why this is happening (and yes it’s intentional) but at the time, I was really confused.
I don’t have many other issues with this – the plot is very well done and really takes the best aspects of a noir story and applies it to Doctor Who. Hat’s off for an interesting setting as well, you would think something like this (fake alien invasion is actually real) would be perfect for science fiction stories, I’m surprised it wasn’t really done before. Having a Nazi-sympathizer as the villain was interesting and reminds me a lot of the 90’s film The Rocketeer in many ways. As a whole, these Eighth Doctor stories come across in an almost steampunk-ish way most of the time, so it kind of just fits. I will say that the actual alien menace, a race called “The Laiderplacker” are not exactly the most renowned of Who villains. While they served their purpose in the story, they aren’t exactly classic material.
All-in-all, I always enjoy these main series Eighth Doctor serials, I like Charley as a companion and the chemistry between her and the Doctor is nice. It’s a shame that McGann never really got to do much in the way of portraying The Doctor on screen, but these audio adventures are canon to me at least. The next few of these reviews are all going to be Eighth Doctor Adventures, so hold onto your hats!