WARNING: Significant spoilers follow!
Ah, nuclear war. I remember that. Back when I was a kid, it was something we were all at least kind of scared of. I remember my mom refusing to let me watch the made-for-TV movie The Day After because she thought I was an imaginative child and might have problems with it. When I did see it not long after, she turned out to be right.
This particular story, featuring the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Ace (Sohpie Aldred) and Hex (Phillip Olivier) shows us exactly how unpleasant nuclear war might have been had it happened. Not the aftermath or anything like that, but the process of living through the detonation, the blast and the fallout.
The story begins with Ace and Hex in the TARDIS with no sign of the Doctor. The cloister bell (which used to signify the end of the universe, but now seems to go off every time someone’s Hot Pocket is done cooking), begins chiming and Ace and Hex manage to land the TARDIS. When they get out, they meet Albert (Ian Hogg) and Peggy (Elizabeth Bennett), a lovely middle-aged couple who are building a fallout shelter. Ace and Hex initially find this quaint and aren’t overly worried about it, since they know nuclear war didn’t happen in the 1980s. Imagine their surprise when a bomb goes off.
Soon the four are cowering in the basement. Hex is blind, and everyone is dying of radiation sickness. It’s a very harrowing time, and when Peggy and Albert both die, Hex and Ace are left alone in a nuclear wasteland…for about ten seconds. And then time rewinds itself, and they get to do the whole thing again, like they’re in some sort of horrible, radioactive version of Groundhog Day.
I really liked this story. Big Finish’s sound design people must get special kudos for creating the sounds of a nuclear bomb going off just a few miles away and doing such a good job of really putting you in the moment. It was nasty and visceral and made me very happy that such a war never actually happened.
I also really enjoyed the performances of all the cast, particularly Hogg and Bennett, who made Albert and Peggy into wonderful, loveable, imperfect characters, and then did a great job of investing them with a certain air of menace when we find out what’s really happening with them.
I was also very pleased that the series has shown an idea of what might happen when the Doctor does one of those “punishing evil” things, like he did in the TV episodes (and novel), “Human Nature” and “Family of Blood”. There he punished alien invaders by giving them their own special versions of immortal hell. He does this here, too, and sees it backfire onto Ace and Hex and I really liked that. We too seldom see the consequences of the Doctor’s actions.
The only real complaint, and it might just be a temporary complaint, is that we don’t have a resolution to the Peggy/Albert/Moloch/Elder Gods (who don’t seem to have any mouth tentacles…at least not yet), storyline. They escape, and we don’t find out what’s become of them. I suspect we will in a future story. I also had no clue who the people encountered at the end of the story are, nor why there’s a black TARDIS and a white TARDIS, though I suspect I’ll have answers to those questions next month in “Black and White”.
This is the first Seventh Doctor/Ace/Hex story I’ve reviewed, and it was a very good one. It might not be the best starting point for someone who is new to the audios (if nothing else, they’ll have no idea who Hex is), but for those who, like me, have at least some grounding in the series, I think you’ll like this one.
NEXT MONTH: Ace and Hex and Beowulf and Grendel. Yep, sounds likely to be messy.