Unless you’re in a Quentin Tarantino film, the hours from dusk until dawn go very fast. As the titular dawn takes place at the end of Big Finish’s 8th installment, it um… dawns on me, that this story must be the shortest of them all because it goes really fast. I’ve been listening to one part of each story on my way into work in the morning; this covers 25-30 of my 30-35 minute drive, but this time, I was able to squeeze in almost two full episodes per drive making it the fastest story to date. And that was a shame, because I don’t think there has been a single story that has held my interest as much as this one has. But hey, it’s a good sign. This is the 8th in the series. Perhaps that means they are getting better. (Not to say they’ve been bad! But everything could use some improvement!)
I admit, maybe part of that was the “big bad” for the story. If there’s one race I’ve always loved, it’s The Ice Warriors. Unfortunately, Big Finish is still not convinced of their own ability to hold an audience so our Martian friends appear in full view on the cover of the CD alongside a tired looking fifth Doctor and a sexily-attired Peri. This once again destroys any chance at a good cliff-hanger reveal. I’ll be fair again because this is early days, and the company may not have realized what a treasure trove they were sitting on! Equally true of that “early days syndrome”, there’s still a sense of being overly descriptive to “place” the characters but we get past that very quickly. Peri is given lines that indicate she has a brain, which should have been part of the televised series and not just a one-off depiction but it still works well. For instance, she has knowledge of botany (which was supposed to be part of her skill set anyway) and unlike those items that show up specifically for a given episode, this does nothing more than add to her character. She doesn’t have to know any of it to “save the day”. She just has to know enough about bad smells to make a comparison to Nebraska. (I had no idea..!)
As for the Ice Warriors, they absolutely steal the show for me. Sure, we have the now-overused intro with ice breaking and one of their number stepping from it, but barring a repeat motif, every scene with Commander Zzaal captivated me. He is dangerous but honorable, intelligent, and wise. I do find it a little comical that he teaches his subordinate, Subcommander Sstast, everything he needs to in this one story, considering as a subcommander, one would hope he knew some of these life lessons already, but hey, now I’m nitpicking! The fact is, this group was outstanding together.
When we come down to it, the main villain of the piece is actually not the Ice Warriors. It’s the greedy human, Paul Webster after seeing Aliens one time too many; he intends to bring a xenomorph home. He is also manipulating junior officer Tanya Webster because she was created using Martian DNA. Ok, that goes a bit overboard. I was happier with things when it was a straight repeat of Paul Reiser in Aliens. (And news flash, Tanya is played by Peter Davison’s real life daughter, Georgia Moffett!)
Zzaal’s honor is what makes this episode and the dialogue between him and the Doctor is outstanding. There always seems to be one or two standout characters for me. Less wonderful is Webster reminding the Doctor that he has a gun pointed at his head. If the Doctor needs reminding of such a thing, he wouldn’t be our hero for 50+ years! And the Brookings Report scene is cringe-worthy. This is the scene where the audience gets all the exposition. Simultaneously, the Doctor and Commander Forbes are explaining the Brookings Report while, oh so coincidentally, elsewhere it’s being explained by chief villain Webster. It’s fails as exposition goes only because it’s clearly forced and designed entirely for the listening audience without making a lot of sense for the episode. But at least it was interesting and informative. I really meant to look it up after the story… maybe now…
Red Dawn is a solid B+ at worst, A- at best. It’s not the best of the range, but it really held my interest and its few flaws did not detract enough to hurt it. And for once, it was not the Doctor that kept it interesting but some really great and honorable aliens from Mars. ML