Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 1/18/17 10:15 pm
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In the first Monthly Range release of the year, the Doctor (Peter Davison) and his TARDIS crew find themselves on the planet Gallius Ultima in the midst of an important event in human history. But events are not unfolding the way history says they did; the crew of the research ship Johannes Kepler is all dead, and covered in a mysterious red coral, the likes of which the universe has never seen. A new threat is coming, one that threatens to destroy the universe. The Star Men was an enjoyable story, with a great villain, some good performances by the cast, and a fairly engaging story. While the guest cast didn't have quite the depth that I would've liked, and the plot sort of petered out a bit towards the end, it was still an very strong start to the new year at Big Finish.
For the first time since August 2014's The Fifth Doctor Box Set, the original Fifth Doctor TARDIS crew is back in action! This story features the very welcome integration of Matthew Waterhouse's Adric into the Monthly Range. Waterhouse is understandably much older sounding (something I don't hold too much against him, considering the last time he regularly played Adric, he was in his early 20's), but Waterhouse manages to capture the youthful nature of Adric, if not quite capturing the voice. Adric is the main focus of this story, and is a the highlight of the main cast.
As for the rest of the main cast, Peter Davison does a fine job as the Fifth Doctor here. He takes on more of a leading role here, rather than letting others take charge here, and does a good job being authoritative. In particular, I liked his scene taking command in the first part and saving Gallius U from the incoming Johannes Kepler ship. Sarah Sutton is fine, if bland in this story as Nyssa. She has a fantastic scene towards the beginning of the final part of this story, but otherwise doesn't get much to do here. And Janet Fielding is as spitfire as ever as Tegan here, getting the lion's share of the humorous lines throughout the story. However, much like Sutton, Fielding takes somewhat of a backseat to Adric, though I quite like her scenes interacting with Lom towards the end of the story.
As for the guest cast, I want to pay special attention to the villains of the story first. Andrew Smith created a really excellent, sinister group of villains for this story, none more so than the leader of the Star Men, Rovus (Peter Guinness). Their design on the cover is quite fascinating, but their entire story is even more so. Rovus in particular was an interesting original villain, and was well-acted by Guinness in this story. The Star Men are one of the few villains created by Big Finish that I would actually be happy to see return in some capacity at some point in the future. They were a particularly interesting villain, and I think there's a lot that can be done with them in the future.
The rest of the guest cast was perfectly well-suited to the story, if a little lacking in depth. The highlight of the guest cast, apart from Rovus, was Sophie Wu as Autumn Tace, who delivered a delightful performance as someone to equal Adric. However, I found the overall chemistry between Wu and Waterhouse to be somewhat lacking throughout the story, which somewhat lessened their relationship. But her character was quite fun, and a playful intellectual match for Adric, if not a romantic one. Other members of the guest cast included Sue Holderness as the leader of the Gallius U, Kala Tace and Damian Lynch as both General Fell, the leader of the military force on Gallius U, and Lom, a lizard-like creature from the Star Men's universe. Both did a perfectly fine job here giving life to cookie-cutter characters, and that's all I can ever ask for. Rounding out the guest cast is Kris Dyer in multiple roles, notably Nomar, a former prisoner of the Star Men, and Barnaby Edwards as the voice of the Computer. Both were perfectly adequate, and had fairly small roles in the stories, but I enjoyed their performances all the same.
The plot itself was a fairly tight; writer Andrew Smith delivered a quite good script. I honestly can't think of any story I've listened to recently that had as perfect a start as The Star Men did. It was a fantastic opening episode, adding an air of tension and mystery to the overarching story, while introducing the key players effectively and in an interesting way. And while the rest of the plot didn't quite match up to the rest of the story, it was an effective, engaging start that really sucked me in. As I said above, I quite liked the Star Men, and I found their plot surprisingly engaging, considering how it was rather standard villain plot. I think the personal flairs and the obvious care made by Smith in crafting these villains really shone through this story, making up for the normal villainous shortcomings Big Finish tends to have. However, I think that the ending is where the story began to fall apart a little. Not fully falling apart, but certainly starting to fray around the edges. I felt that the ending wrapped up the story a bit too nicely. I would've loved if the story had in fact featured the Doctor and Adric off on their own trying to find Nyssa and Tegan, because it would've made for an extremely interesting story overall. And I felt that the Star Men, who were built up as all-powerful creatures who could match even the Daleks, and yet they were very simply defeated. Given, I think the fact that this story featured an advance party of Star Men leaves the door open on their return at some point, but for them to be very quickly defeated is a little disappointing.
I did have some criticisms of the story, apart from the lack of depth in the guest cast and the disappointing ending. One of the biggest plot holes I found was the scene where Adric is being taken over by the Star Men, but begins counting prime numbers and manages to counteract the takeover process. My issue with that is that the Johannes Kepler ship was a scientific research vessel; you're telling me that there wasn't one person on that ship who had the willpower to resist the Star Men here? That's a little ridiculous in my opinion. I also found Autumn's character arc rather uninteresting, which is too bad, because she was a quite interesting character, at face value. Wu did a great job breathing life into the character, but she became a slave to the "romantic interest of the main character fated to be unable to pursue that romance", in spite of her lack of chemistry with Waterhouse. It's too bad, because she would've worked much better as a flirtatious equal to Adric, but instead she was relegated to romantic interest, and suffered for it.
Overall though, I quite enjoyed The Star Men. It was a great start to the Monthly Range for 2017, and an enjoyable, fun start to this latest Fifth Doctor trilogy. It had a fantastic start, and a fantastic villain, as well as a solid performance from Matthew Waterhouse, but it suffered from a lack of depth in the guest cast, a poor ending, and some other minor issues. But overall, the story came together to make a great start to this new year, and it should be commended for that.