Doctor Who: No Man’s Land. A Review

Doctor Who: No Man’s Land (big finish 89)

Written by Martin Day

Starring Slyvester McCoy as the Doctor, with Sophie Aldred as Ace, Philip Olivier as Hex and guest starring Michael Cochrane as Brooke.

From the back cover:

It is 1917 and the Doctor, Hex and Ace find themselves in a     
military hospital in northern France. But the terrifying, relentless brutality of the Great War that wages only a few miles away is the least of their concerns.
The travellers become metaphysical detectives when the Doctor receives orders to investigate a murder. A murder that has yet to be committed…
Who will be the victim? Who will be the murderer? What is the real purpose of the Hate Room? Can the Doctor solve the mystery before the simmering hate and anger at Charnage hospital erupts into a frenzy of violence?

The story opens promisingly with TARDIS crew dazed and confused after being caught in a barrage in No Man’s Land and recovering in hospital and trying to piece things together. Early we learn that the military hospital has a number of Shell shocked patients and a number of staff who believe them simply to be cowards.

Throughout the first two episodes the plot is mostly driven by the Doctor’s investigation into the prophetic order to solve murder get to be committed, but is underscored by the hospital’s Hate Room which from the outside is clearly influenced by A Clockwork Orange and has the brain washing purpose inverted, a point hammered home when Hex is forced to undergo treatment and subsequently becomes more aggressive and spoiling for a fight.

Hex is served well in this story as he faces the horrors of the first world war which contrast to his experience as a nurse,, in A and E, something backed up by his more detailed education on the period in comparison to Ace whose WW1 education merely was the poetry of Wilfred Owen and other soldiers. There is some good dialogue between Ace and Hex in regards to how they have to be careful in what they say for example they can’t even refer to War as the first World War.

The story offers a few red herrings, notably when one soldier talks about a vision of an angel near a church in the midst of a battle and the subsequent emphasis on said church provides a secondary plot drive once the murder has been committed. Sadly I feel the murder storyline set up is let down by the resolution and when a second explanation is offered it feels like the writer hadn’t quite made his mind up. The other major problem is that it is too long, it based on a 4 four part story of twenty-five minute episodes but ultimately clocks in at 143 minutes. Now while there is some valid argument that the freedom of not having a TV timeslot to fill means that the episodes have no need to be cut but that only works if it is time well used. There are two sequences which feel tagged on and could easily be trimmed, both of which feature the TARDIS crews journeys to the Church. Ace and Hex encounter gas, a barrage and a biplane but nothing is made of it and is easily glossed over. The Doctor reaches it on the most unrealistic sounding motorcycle ever and again it seems a set up for the sake of it.

The guest cast is uniformly excellent with special mention to Cochrane as Major Brooke, a character who is a nasty piece of work whose manipulative nature is a good twist on the 7th Doctor’s personality. Far from being a ranting military stereotype, Cochrane’s performance is understated and nuanced making him very believable as a military officer. Mention must also go to Oliver Mellor as the troubled Private Taylor who is suffering from mild shellshock and becoming a dangerous sleepwalker, with the sadistic rhetoric of his training officer coming to the forth having been intensified by his trips to the Hate room.

Production wise the use of a limited number of locations and small cast give the story the feeling that you are listening to a stage play, the minimalist score reflects that. This isn’t a criticism as it helps bring forth the human tragedy of the Great War, the threat is constantly with the characters just out of sight.

The links with the ongoing story arc involving Hex are well handled though it does possibly illustrate a continuity error but having not listened the whole story arc my jury is still out, the won’t alienate the casual listener and will befit them with brief snippets of backstory.

Overall, worthy but flawed.

6.5/10

Doctor Who: No Man’s Land be purchased directly from Big Finished productions here

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