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Red Dawn

Reviewed by Peter Adamson

This could well have been called ‘Business as Usual’, being Justin Richards' second Big Finish recording, the third Fifth Doctor outing (not counting The Sirens of Time), not to mention the return of other semi-regular actors, including Nicola Bryant as Peri. Unfortunately, Red Dawn is also a routine adventure, redeemed only by the intrigue of the Ice Warriors and their ancestral home. In many ways, it's a better Ice Warrior story than it is a Doctor's adventure.

The first performed Ice Warrior story since the early seventies provokes obvious questions — should the aliens be the aggressors of the Troughton era, or the diplomats of Pertwee's? Richards' are both and neither, taking the role of the defenders against a human ‘invasion’. It makes for a welcome change. To offer a brief summary — a NASA team in the early 21st century achieves a manned mission to Mars, funded by an unseen Corporation. In search of an ‘anomaly’, they find a tomb, and that not all of its occupants are quite dead. Furthermore, one of the human crew has greedy intentions concerning the tomb's contents. If that sounds like the plot of The Tomb of the Cybermen, don't despair — there are a few plot diversions to keep the interest up. There are also some worthy characters on board — specifically in the Martian camp, in Lord Zzarl played by Matthew Brenher and his adjutant Sstast (Hylton Collins). Their role, preserving the honour of a fallen liege, provides the main push of Red Dawn. If like me you are somewhat wary of the ‘h’ word in relation to the Martians, be assured that all is not lost. Honour and its qualities are explored here in interesting asides, and provide a more satisfying focus than similar obsessions in recent Sontaran stories (stand up, Mr Dicks).

On the human side things are less refined. The ‘villain’ of the story is quite obvious from the outset, despite us not being able to see his assumed ‘black hat’. It is, however, wise of Big Finish to have limited the number of British attempts at American accents in the story, relying mainly on Canadian Robert Jezek to provide the solid Commander Forbes as commentator alongside the Doctor and Zzarl. Of the other cast, the revelation that one of the characters was only seventeen did come as something of a surprise. Davison and Bryant are fine, despite some occasional dialogue-by-numbers. It's odd to hear Peri being ‘snappish’ at the Fifth Doctor, but perhaps the playwright believes this to be one of her character flaws, not merely provoked by the Sixth Doctor's arrival. Both Brenher and Collins are aided by some treatment of their voices, which you might expect, although Brenher's particular inflections do tend to recall his earlier role as Visteen Krane in Richards' Whispers of Terror. Alistair Lock and Gary Russell perform well as soundman and director respectively, but I didn't care for Russell Stone's music, thinking it somewhat anachronistic. The martial drum machines and obvious synthesised instruments were more reminiscent of Remembrance of the Daleks than anything of the Davison era.

If I can find a major fault with Red Dawn then it is with its pacing. We are introduced to the aliens early on, and never leave Mars, focussing for three episodes on an extended chase/hostage drama while the supporting cast show their hands, so to speak. It is a long time coming, but episode four is by far the best, allowing for an effective and striking climax and turnaround of events. It's a pity Richards couldn't have allowed the Doctor a larger and more significant role, but perhaps this is in keeping with Davison's last season — the Doctor so often reduced to the role of spectator. Red Dawn is by no means a spectacular story, especially after the full force return of the Daleks in The Genocide Machine, but it treats the Ice Warriors well, and if this can be maintained, future stories featuring this race ought to be worth waiting for.

This item appeared in TSV 61 (December 2000).