Review by Jacob Licklider
Ravagers introduced Christopher Eccleston to the world of Big Finish as the Ninth Doctor through a miniseries. Respond to All Calls switched gears towards three thematically similar stories with the idea being the Doctor, battle scarred and hardened, is always there to help. The third set follows the format of Respond to All Calls, three stories tied around a theme, but that theme is a little subtler and is perhaps why some people haven’t gelled as much with this set as a whole. Lost Warriors is a title which sets up the set with a subconscious exploration of the remnants of the Time War, and that’s there, but only in the last story and in the way the Ninth Doctor is characterised. Each story has a warrior at its centre and each is an exploration of a different reaction to a war, one from a modern human war, one from a human war in the past, and one from an alien war, while the Doctor representing the Time War in all three of the stories. It’s interesting as the Time War isn’t really directly mentioned in any notable capacity throughout the set, it’s in the background and simmering, but not actually being the driving force of the stories. It’s a set about other warriors and other people as a reflection of the Doctor and not a direct parallel. Eccleston’s portrayal of the Doctor is incredibly subtle here with the trauma and in each of the three stories he is absolutely brilliant in the role. Some have complained he is too close to Tennant, but this is an odd set where the Doctor is actually the connection to the audience which usually is the companion’s job.
James Kettle opens the set with The Hunting Season a story which starts as a fairly standard pseudo-historical. Duberry Hall is under siege from an alien threat, the Fleshkin, who every night stalk the hall demanding flesh while the Doctor arrives and can’t help but getting involved. The first half of the story mixes the science fiction elements with a period drama, a cast of colourful characters representing the downstairs staff including Annette Badland’s delightful Mrs. Goose, the cook, and Don Gilet’s sinister butler Streatham, and the upstairs residents of Alex Jennings’ Lord Hawthorn and Allegra Marland’s Isabel. Gilet plays Streatham as a man with an iron fist, taking the punishment of the other staff incredibly far and often permanently leaving scars setting him up as the obvious villain and throughout the entire episode the listener is led to believe he must be the alien fugitive the Fleshkin are looking for. It is revealed at the halfway point they are looking for a war criminal to bring to justice, they shout flesh as a battle cry, but are a race of vegetarians. The fugitive warrior here is a coward, hiding in plain sight away from justice for their crimes. They have been hiding on Earth with an air tight alibi and when it comes time to actually pay, there isn’t any remorse, but lashing out. This is the first of three reactions to war that we see in the set and while it’s coming from an alien, it’s perhaps the most human. Humanity often doesn’t attempt the façade of getting better after a war, but often building to something even worse and that’s what The Hunting Season’s all about. It’s a look at the weird traditions of the British upper class and what war can do to those who can do nothing but hide from it. The largest flaw that the reveal of the real villain isn’t handled as well as it could with the red herrings not necessarily work once everything is revealed. It’s still a great opener and starts the set off on a high. 8/10.
The Curse of Lady Macbeth is an interesting beast, as most listeners, including myself, wouldn’t know about Gruach, the real life historical figure of Lady Macbeth. Everyone knows Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the character of Lady Macbeth is one history has been painted in various lights throughout the years. Generally a villain, partially due to the historical context Shakespeare was writing in with James I being on the throne of England at the time of writing and performing Macbeth. Add in the general theatrical superstitions surrounding Macbeth, she’s a character with an already storied past and preconceived notions. Lizzie Hopley uses the Doctor in this instance to dispel these preconceived notions of the character as he is the outsider who knows the context of history and the Shakespeare play, done incredibly quickly at the start of the story to move along to its main focus. The entire point is looking at how one woman reacts to war by trying to be better. Macbeth is a character here and is played by Anthony Howell who is wonderful here, but he’s not really the important one here, it’s Gruach who is the warrior getting the spotlight. Hopley writes the character as this noble warrior in the end as well as a mother to an entire group of people, she is attempting to pick up the pieces after the battles that would essentially send her husband on a rampage to attempt to take the throne of Scotland. Neve McIntosh is the star of the show here an incredibly complex woman, attempting to find a balance and keep her own life and family going in a difficult time. McIntosh’s portrayal is backed with emotion and humanity, and not the typical strong woman who manipulates those around her into murdering their enemies. It is what makes the story and continues this idea that either you lash out because of war, or you become better and make the world/universe a better place because of it. 9/10.
The set closes with Monsters in Metropolis by John Dorney which is the story that the set was sold on. It’s the Ninth Doctor versus the Cybermen, something which, for good reasons, didn’t happen on television, and the setting is the set of the 1927 silent film masterpiece, Metropolis, two things which go hand in hand. Criticisms of this story have taken it in comparison with Marc Platt’s The Silver Turk, another Cybermen story where the Cybermen have an influence over classic literature, in that case Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Dorney’s story is superficially similar and comes close in some of the themes, the Cybermen not being the main villain being the biggest one, but it’s almost comparing apples to oranges. Monsters in Metropolis is really a story all about how war can break someone down, even after the war is over. The setting is Germany in 1925, poverty is on the rise, Fritz Lang is attempting to get his masterpiece done, something that was incredibly expensive and went over-budget by nearly 300%. Lang was a harsh director to work with and the country at large was inching slowly towards fascism with the impending rise of the National Socialist Worker’s Party and Adolf Hitler in the following decade. The Cyberman is only brought in on Metropolis because one poor man is attempting to not quite get rich, just get enough money to get by. This sense of desperation because of war is incredibly important for what Dorney is doing, looking at what led to the rise of Nazism and growing unrest. The villain of the piece is our third warrior, not the Cyberman, but a simple man who wants to see what he sees in his eyes as the oppression of Germany, be that a correct or incorrect analysis of the situation. The Cybermen here are here because of the interesting design taken from Maria/The Machine Man from Metropolis and because they represent a similar desperation in humanity which Dorney capitalises on making Monsters in Metropolis the capstone of the set. Helen Goldwyn, Nick Wilton, and Peter Bankole excel in their roles while Nicholas Briggs’ reserved Cyberman is also brilliant. 10/10.
Lost Warriors is a set people may have misjudged. It’s a set about the aftermath of war, more so than the previous two sets have been. Like Respond to All Calls before it the ere is a distinctive directorial style at the helm with Barnaby Edwards taking that seat and Eccleston can let loose very human performances as the Ninth Doctor going through three stories where he has to see reflections of himself and is perhaps the closest in tone to Series 1 making it one of the best releases from Big Finish this year. 9/10.
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