Thursday, 12 April 2018

The Eternal Battle written by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it About: The TARDIS has landed in a war zone. The Doctor, Romana and K9 find themselves traipsing through an inhospitable battlefield. Strange lights flicker in the sky, and stranger creatures lurk in the darkness. When rescued from an attack by a Sontaran tank, the time-travellers discover they’re facing a far more dangerous foe than the battle-hungry clones. This terrifying fight has been going on longer than anyone can remember… and shows no signs of stopping. With the TARDIS missing and their luck running thin, the Doctor and his friends’ only hope of survival is to uncover the truth about what is happening on this planet. If they can discover the secret of the eternal battle they might just survive… but it might just mean the end of them all.

Teeth and Curls: Tom Baker is giving a very dominating and powerful performance throughout. In a serious situation he gives a serious performance and whilst I love the frolicsome Doctor from the Williams era, I think on audio he has delivered his best work when his comic excesses have been reigned in. The Doctor thinks he has brought Romana to the Lake District for a little sojourn but this time he has got it very, very wrong. There’s a standard order for the Doctor and associates to be executed should a Sontaran warrior come into contact with them, which makes sense given the trouble he has managed to cause for them over the years. It’s fascinating that the Doctor doesn’t seem to be unsympathetic with the Sontarans despite the atrocities that he has seen them commit. He truly will take each person on a case by case basis and judge them by their actions and not an entire species. These Sontarans are trying to keep a stiff upper lip against unsurmountable odds and the Doctor is willing to help because they are suffering. He truly is the Doctor after all. You’ve got to love how the Doctor is so excited to borrow a Sontaran tank. Imagine that on TV, with him atop a vehicle of destruction, laughing his head off, scarf flailing in the wind. It’s a steal from the book Millennium Shock (or at least a similar image) but it’s such a good one who cares? He’s very good at jiggery pokery, don’t you know? To have the Doctor fighting shoulder to shoulder with a noble Sontaran is a marvellous concept and I really enjoyed his relationship with Lenk. He’s very different from Strax insofar as he isn’t played for buffoonery, he’s distinctly a battle hardened Sontaran who is working with the Doctor to try and figure a way out of this situation for him and his men. I love the scene between them in the climax where they both remain true to their character and go their seperate ways.

Aristocratic Adventurer: There’s no real place for the witty banter that usually flows between the Doctor and Romana in this story so Romana is forced into the role of the intelligent, action companion. She’s sharp and moody (which is par for the course this season) and her dialogue is reduced to succinct and smart comments. She's handy with a shoe, though.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The Doctor?’ ‘Well that depends, do I owe you money?’
‘A battle weary Sontaran, that is novel.’
‘Lenk, I’m going over the top!’ ‘No change there…’

Great Ideas: A depleted troop of Sontarans, on the edge of endurance and fighting a battle they are losing. It’s an interesting approach to the warlike race, putting them at such a disadvantage. Corpses are rising from the battlefield to fight again and again. Sontarans fighting the recently dead Sontarans, such a novel concept. Soldiers gathered from conflicts throughout history, no major wars and nothing that would attract too much attention. Trapping battles and entire wars in pocket continuums to demonstrate the futility of war to their students. They are contained within a time loop so they can be watched over and over and lessons from history learnt from. The idea is to prove that peaceful alternatives can be reached if you strive from them. The Doctor mentions the world peace and to Lenk that is the equivalent of swearing. Despite their precautions and their bubbles of war to learn from, war still came to Zykon and destroyed the population. The moral here seems to be that the same mistakes will be made over and over again, despite our knowledge of the past. That’s a very Scott and Wright ethic, it’s like the anti-Holmes approach to Doctor Who.

Audio Landscape: Dan Starkey is the go to actor to play a Sontaran these days and given his success as Strax that is hardly a surprise. However, speaking as somebody who finds Strax a little too comic book and has given the Sontarans an overly humorous angle of late it is refreshing to hear him playing a handful of deadly serious roles and proving he is just as adept at that. Leave it to Big Finish to remember that this race are supposed to be a threat.

Isn’t It Odd:
I do appreciate the notion of the Doctor and Romana walking straight into danger as soon as they exit the TARDIS, which is a stark difference from the usual frivolity that happens for the first ten minutes or so of most 4DAS. However, the idea of them running away from a slavering monster, represented by someone going ‘rawwwwrrrrrr’ might just tap into the fears of the casual audio audience that thing that is exactly what these audios are about. Not intellectual debate or character drama but people reacting melodramatically to nothing because we can’t see the pictures. For a second I thought I was back in Slipback again.

Standout Scene: The moment when the story pauses on the battlefield and the shadows come lumbering through the mist towards the Sontarans. At this point it’s still a mystery what the enemy is and the answer to what they are fighting is quite the surprise.

Result: Whilst scarce in nature, Big Finish have a really good track record with Sontaran stories and The Eternal Battle is no different. Being a self-confessed fan of war movies, Nicholas Briggs must have loved this directorial assignment and he really goes to town in making this sound as authentic as possible. It’s a story which really cuts to the point and doesn’t waste a word, something of a relief given how frivolous this range can be at times and it’s nice to enjoy a two-part story like this that makes so much time for suspense and atmosphere. If you look back at their previous record, it is very Scott and Wright to have zombie Sontarans like something out of the Walking Dead menace their way through the story. They have never been frightened of taking Doctor Who into graphic areas or really pushing the horror content and this is the sort of battle you won’t want to miss. The second episode lurches into something quite different. At first I thought we were heading into a War Games like scenario, which is how it is initially presented but pleasingly the narrative pushes to the other extreme from war and this turns out to be the ultimate exploration (or at least lesson) of peace. And then that is subverted again in a cruel twist when we find out what happened to the people of Zykon. Perhaps these developments come a little too thick and fast but at least this story is packed full of content and interesting moments and my attention never strayed for a moment. For a 4DA, this is well above average, memorable, and definitely worth a listen. The Eternal Battle is nothing like any 4th Doctor story you saw on screen and is all the better for it: 8/10

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