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"Lords of the Red Planet" is often considered as, "Genesis of the Ice Warriors," with the unfurling of their earliest origins. However, I think it's more than just an origin story. It's a well-told and sweeping epic that would easily fit into the league of the best Second Doctor stories that were produced for television.
The characters are well-drawn: Quendril, the scientist who tried to use his own daughters to save his people and created a vain but beautiful daughter and another who became a vindictive dictator who hated her own people. The characters are some of the most compelling you'll find in Doctor Who. Nick Briggs does a great job playing the earliest Ice Warriors, but also providing some real depth to his performance as the first Ice Lord Aslor and Quendril's assistant Risor.
The story manages to combine some great sci fi elements such as "The Life Drink" along with powerful emotional narratives, and thought provoking questions of the dangers of science gone too far and without ethical bounds. This story would have been hard to actually do any justice to on the small screen, but in the capable hands of Big Finish, it is an epic audio blockbuster.
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This story is liable to irritate sexist folk, be they feminists or mysogynists (let's face it, there's really only one difference between the two), and I appreciate it for that. A very tongue-in-cheek story that is refreshingly lacking modern day political correctness. Interesting, well paced and frequently humorous. Some great performances by Frazier and Wendy and Co. And well produced. It had a tangible 60's feel to it. Fun.
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Out of the four missing 'season 27' stories, Animal is the one that we, as an audience, knew the least about. It's also the one that, to me, seems to me to be most reminiscent of the seventh Doctor's era. It's so much like the sort of story that would have been told on television at the time, a 'let's throw the whole kitchen sink' at it type story, just like Crime Of The Century, Silver Nemesis and Delta And The Bannermen. An ecological message, man-eating plants, an alien spaceship, UNIT, university politics and even more are thrown in there. If I were a script editor, I'd have a nightmare, because I couldn't see how the story would work. But maybe that's why they work: because they are a mess. My problem with this story is that it is a mess, and prehaps it needed to be much taughter for it to effectively work.
The plot is rather confusing and illogical, with huge leaps of logic being made to compensate for the gaps. You often get that with these sort of stories, and even more so in this case. The political satire that is within this story feels layered on with a trowel, and it becomes clear what the author's view of the situation is. That's prehaps the problem with the story: because it feels like the authors feeding his view down upon the audience, rather than allowing a debate to spring naturally from the material. It's feels like he's saying that 'you will accept that animal cruelty is wrong and no other view is right'. That's not the story of story I feel that drama should be telling, and especially Doctor Who. It should feel more accepting of all points of view, rather than just one point of view. Many reviews have called this story a 1990's version of The Seeds Of Doom and The Green Death, but both those stories allowed it's views to feel natural and organic. The villains of the piece, both Scobie and the Numlocks, are 'hippies gone mad', but there is no contrasting characters, nothing to show a different side to the characters. No 'bad' omnivores, no 'good' hippies to show a contrast, just 'bad' hippies and 'good' carnivores. And, judging from the previous writings of Andrew Cartmel, I would have thought that he would have had the opposite view. Still, it doesn't mean that the story isn't enjoyable, it's just that the themes could have been explored a whole lot deeper. But then again, I suppose that's what comes of throwing so many ideas at one story. It just simply can't take all the elements at it's disposal, and examine them fully, because it's got to give so many other elements consideration. In script terms, Animal is a mess. The elements are all enjoyable, and handled averagely, but they never break beyond that into an excellent use of themes and concepts.
As I mentioned above, the characterisation is also a bit poor. There's little that hasn't been done before, with the traditional stock types being employed. I did think the Numlocks were, on the page, handled quite well, with clear motivations and objectives. I particularly liked their use of the line 'you will come to known harm', but the variations in the English language make the other characters, and the audience, believe that they are saying 'you will come to no harm'. The moment that the Doctor spills out the truth is a chilling reveal, and one of this stories best moments. I really wasn't sure about Scobie's true motives, however. There was no moment where he talked about why he was doing what he was doing, or the moment that made him decide to contact the Numlocks. He just seemed to be an mad environmentalist because that's what the story demanded, and that's not the sort of characterisation that I want to see. Bambera seemed well placed here, and reminded me even more of Lethbridge-Stewart, with her having to keep up with the Doctor, and warning him of the various dangers that he is putting himself (and Ace too!) in. Her subordinate, however, is a useless waste of time, who just seems to be putting himself in danger, or complaining. John Banks does his best with the character, but he's just a waste of time, and prehaps was one gag too far. Banks also voices the Numlocks, but the director's note he was given was to make them sound 'boring'. Now this comes across as funny, meaning that, yet again, we have monsters that sound 'funny'. After Crime Of The Century, the gag has unfortunately started to grow stale, and with another group of monsters in Earth Aid with funny voices, you could be forgiven for believing that Doctor Who was just throwing monsters with silly voices in because it was funny. Yes, funny monsters can be well used, but when your season contains only one 'serious' monster (and a returning one at that), then it can become an issue. Angela Bruce settles back into Bambera well, however to start with, she does sound a little wooden. But, as the story progresses, that becomes less of an issue, with her settling in. I was also a little worried by how little that Raine and even Ace had to do. While Ace plays a key part in the other season 27 stories, so I can excuse her lack of input, Raine has little to do at all. It just rams home the point that Raine is an undeveloped character who needed to be uterlised. Both Beth and Sophie were excellent however, with two perfectly judged performances. McCoy was, for the most part, good, although I feel the emphasis of certain lines was in the wrong place at times. The rest of the cast did their best, but the material didn't allow them to show off a range of emotions, the only one of real note being from Amy Pemberton in a pre-Sally Morgan role. The direction from Ken Bentley wasn't excellent, but rather average. Nothing outstandingly wrong, but not great either. Simon Robinson, however, was another bugbear to this story's success. His music feels like nothing from the late 80's, and instead ends up as a discordant series of uncomplimentary sounds. That's one huge problem across this mini-series: Robinson's music is, quite frankly, terrible. His sound design work is better, the sound effects of the plants, in particular, being a standout.
For all it's faults, Animal isn't a bad Doctor Who story. It has a true classic series flavour about it: UNIT, killer plants, ecological comment, baddies, undercover baddies, the works. However, because Cartmel throws so much at the story, it ends up coming off as a bit of mess, with no real time to analyse the elements at it's disposal. Animal isn't therefore the worst story Big Finish have released, but it's many issues do start to outway the many good points it has. It therefore should be seen as an energetic failure, but one with plenty to enjoy.