Thursday, November 29, 2012

Invaders From Mars

This is the second Big Finish Doctor Who written by Mark Gattis, and this time Mark also directed the play. The plot is based on a very clever idea of real aliens actually causing mayhem in New York during the legendary Orson Welles radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds". Some of this audio drama was presented in the form of mock news casts, which actually fooled many listeners into thinking there was a real alien invasion going on! It also has the novel idea of the invading aliens being technologically superior, but pretty much comically useless. The story has a mix of serious and silly tones to it. It's a fun story, but I can't help thinking that releasing this story right after the totally comedic "The One Doctor" didn't do this play any favors. This story also marks the beginning of the 2nd Big Finish season of 8th Doctor audios. While the quality of story varies somewhat from one release to another, this season really pays off the character arc of Charley, who we all know should have died back in "Storm Warning", but the Doctor saved her, changing history. The consequences of this really come back to haunt him. Back when this was the only new Who I was just blown away by this season, and this story gets it off to a nice, fun start.

Gattis assembled quite an impressive cast for this play. David Benson does a very impressive Orson Welles impersonation (to my ear anyway), and is very entertaining throughout. Simon Pegg (famous for many things - not the least of which going on to play the Editor in the new series story "The Long Game") and his co-star from "Spaced" Jessica Stevenson (who would go on to play Joan Redfern in the fantastic Series 3 Doctor Who story "Human Nature") were both brought on board to play Don Chaney and Glory Bee respectively. I would never, ever have recognized their voices with their different accents! It's funny that the first 8th Doctor story of this season would be set in America given how atrocious the accents were in the previous story "Minuet in Hell". It's true that there are some cringe inducing accents here and there, but the cliche'd New York accents largely work well in establishing the period and tone of the story, so it's far less annoying than in the aforementioned release.

Of course this story also reunites McGann and India Fisher as the Doctor and Charley, and their wonderful friendship gets explored more this season. It's funny how the 8th Doctor leaps right into the fray by impersonating the recently murdered detective Halliday, ticking Glory Bee, who in turn tricks him into finding Professor Stepashin. Another source of amusement is the evil and flamboyant villain Cosmo Devine, played by John Arthur. Devine is quite amusing, and it was certainly evidence of how Big Finish was pushing the envelope by having a homosexual villain (this was years before we had ever heard of Captain Jack). In fact, there are a few gay characters in this play! One notable cameo was by Katy Manning (who of course played Jo Grant). We'll eventually cover Manning playing Iris Wildthyme (although I am not exactly looking forward to it)!

So we have "War of the Worlds", mobsters with alien guns, Nazis, CIA, and real aliens! It's a lot to pack into this mad play. The aliens themselves are quite the double act. They are pretty comically inept, with one wanting to go off killing and destroying everything, with the other being the "smarter" of the pair wanting to catalog and learn about the planet. Of course, neither of them is bright at all, and it's amusing how quickly the Doctor works out that they are merely small time mobsters themselves trying to run a protection racket on a planetary scale. Devine's interactions with them and his (mostly successful) manipulation of them are quite amusing as well.

So, I enjoy this story as a whole, but I do sometimes find the mix of serious, scary, and humorous tones to sometimes clash and undermine the plot. I also find the musical bumpers, which are very reminiscent of radio dramas of the era to be somewhat of a distraction. I know they are using them to help set the period, but I find it takes me out of the story and makes it harder for me to take the less humorous parts of the story seriously. Still, while I don't enjoy this as much as Gattis' first story "Phantasmagoria", it's still a lot of fun, and kicks off a great second season of the 8th Doctor in style.

Rating: Good

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