29 December 2013

A hybrid instead of a true (Review: 'Doctor Who: Protect and Survive', 2012)

I was rather surprised (mainly because I'd just plain forgotten) that this was the first one of the Big Finish audios that I'd recorded from Radio Four Extra. Anyway, since it's up first (I thought it would be second), it's going to get reviewed first.

One of the more recent audio dramas, this is four episodes long, with each episode at about half an hour.

I will admit that I came in for this one purely because of the plot (the Cold War and nuclear weapons are subjects I find intensely interesting) and the title. The latter is worth explaining.

The title
Protect and Survive was the name of a public information series on surviving a nuclear attack made by the British government in the late 1970s-early 1980s i.e. during the time of the "Second Cold War". It included pamphlets, radio broadcasts and TV films, intended for broadcast if a Third World War broke out... but kind of ending up being released due to sheer public interest or just plain being leaked. Voiced by Patrick Allen, if you've ever heard "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, you'll probably have heard an excerpt from it - be it a lift from the tape or Allen actually repeating his lines.

How effective the advice would be is impossible to say (the answer here is not very... and in reality probably the same), but it was certainly memorable - we get a considerable amount of it excerpted here. The pamphlets are available from HM Stationery Office on a print-on-demand basis (£6 each) if you're into that sort of thing.


The Doctor disappears from the TARDIS, which lands with Ace and Hex in the North of England in November 1989... who arrive at a cottage owned by two elderly people a few hours before a nuclear war breaks out. That's just the start of things for Ace and Hex...


The story starts with the Doctor not in the TARDIS and the two companions arriving in England, heading for the nearby cottage, where they discover that a nuclear war is imminent. Soon they undergo the near full horror of a nuclear strike, something that covers the first episode and a half. Things then start to get a bit stranger and we enter a plot involving pocket universes, time loops and what it means to be human.

The opening episodes are very strong and with a strong horror air around them (people get radiation sickness, which is never pleasant), but as we head further into the story with the truth being unveiled it starts to become a bit repetitive. BF tends to use 30-minute episodes instead of the 25-minute length common at this time, so we are essentially dealing with a five-parter... and it's arguably one part too long. Items could be trimmed here and there, some things are definitely repeated (well it is a story involving time loops), although the Doctor's actions elsewhere in part three make a refreshing narrative change, really fitting this Doctor. The third part cliffhanger was a bit of an eye-roller for me.

After an interesting revelation of the moral (it involves the Prisoner's Dilemma) story ends on a cliffhanger - it is in fact the first of a trilogy. While it may well work for a Big Finish subscriber, I question the wisdom of putting this story in the Radio Four Extra series - a stand alone would have worked better.

Sound design

Again excellent, as to be expected from BF; the radio voice here (not the Patrick Allen original) is great and worked into the plot very well... mind you, there is only so much you can do with something as inherently visual as a nuclear explosion.

The regulars

The Seventh Doctor isn't in this a huge amount - in fact, he doesn't even turn up until the end of the second episode, but his manipulative streak is on full display here - he has in fact had a significant impact on the situation that Ace and Hex find themselves in, along with the other two people. In fact, I would go as far to say that what he does here is something that I wouldn't inflict on my own worst enemy... but then again, my enemies don't tend to be malevolent super beings with a taste for nuclear warfare.

I've not really heard Ace in BF before - actors do have some minor work to do to sound like they did 25 years ago and Sophie Aldred succeeds in that department. She delivers a strong, tough performance as Ace should, but one combined with great compassion and self-sacrifice... she is fully prepared to die for the Doctor if need be.

Thomas Hector "Hex" Schofield, a nurse from 2023, is an original companion for Big Finish, having featured in their audios since 2004... so pre-dating Rory by half a decade. A man who from his Tardis Data Core entry seems to have more than the standard share of misery head his way (here he ends up blind after a nuclear flash), he is a kind and caring man, but on the whole he doesn't massively stand out in what is a very crowded field of companions in the DWU these days.

The guest cast

Not a huge number here (six voice actors in the main plot total including the regulars); Albert and Peggy are well portrayed, especially when their true guises are revealed, but the villains of the piece do get a bit Evil League of Evil near the end. Maximum credit goes to Peter Egan as the voice of the announcer reading out the Protect and Survive advisories - an RP matter of fact voice is possibly just what you need to convey the atmosphere of nuclear war.


A strong start and a great deal of atmosphere, but it really starts to fizzle out near the end.


No comments: