Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 8/30/17 3:51 pm
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In the latest Short Trips released, narrated by Wendy Padbury, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe arrive in 1951 London, in the midst of the Festival of Britain. There, they meet a woman despairing over the failure of her radio transmitter, and offer to give her a hand, in the hopes of making the Festival a bit more memorable. But the TARDIS seems to resist the idea, and the Doctor is uneasy; something is pulling the strings from behind the scenes, and they're about to break free. The British Invasion is a surprisingly excellent story, and one I wasn't really expecting to like so much, even as I heard it. It's a dark little tale, with probably one of the most chilling lines I've heard to close out a Doctor Who story, and some great narration by Padbury.
Wendy Padbury, known for playing Zoe Heriot during Patrick Troughton's era of Doctor Who, reads this story for Big Finish. Lisa Bowerman chose to buck the trend of the last few stories, and have this story a simple reading and narration, rather than having the actor portraying the character in a one-man play (How to Win Planets and Influence People) or do a Companion Chronicles-esque story (Flashpoint). While this is normally a little boring, Padbury makes her Short Trips debut, and does a great job narrating. She's done quite a few Companion Chronicles releases so far, often without Frazer Hines, and as such, she's honed her ability to do an impression of her former costars. Her Troughton and Hines are great, capturing the feel and the voices of both well, and giving all three characters an energy to them that often makes these stories fall a little flat.
Ian Potter's latest contribution to the Short Trips range is a solid tale made all the better by one of it's closing lines. It's a bit of a fun tale turned dark, when the Doctor and company try to help a devastated human, Imogen, with their project, only to find that it was an attempt by a Varden, a member of an alien race that can turn into pure energy, to escape the Earth and grow in influence. That in itself is an interesting story; I particularly liked the idea that the Varden didn't really seem to have an ulterior motive of "destroying the universe" and "taking over the planet", but really just wanted to live. He wanted to help humanity, and while that's a bit benevolent, the Varden's proposal is still anathema to the Doctor, who had realized this is one of the weaker parts of the story (seriously, can the Doctor ever just be shocked by something and caught unawares?). The Doctor eventually takes care of the Varden, trapping it in a lead-lined tower, where it's signal should peter out into nothing. Here is where the story takes a chilling turn, with a simple line:
"The Varden will bleed out across them, and slowly degrade into noise."
He gave Zoe a comforting smile. "It'll be just like going to sleep", he lied.
There's a lot to unpack in that line right there. First off is the excellent characterization of the Second Doctor there. I've always seen the Second Doctor as a proto-Seventh Doctor, just with a bit more character for his companions. Here, that version of the Second Doctor, often shoved to the side, is on full display, as the Doctor spares the feelings of his companions, while delivering a rather cruel punishment. The other brilliant part of that line is the more horrific idea that the Short Trips range gives us the ability to hear the internal thoughts of the characters more. Qualifiers like, "he lied" give a bit more flavor to the story that we otherwise wouldn't get to see; I'm sure that if this story was on TV, there'd be speculation about that final line, if it wasn't the Doctor lying to Zoe, but on audio we have an explicit confirmation. And that begs the question; how often does the Doctor lie to his companions about the fate of several alien creatures? When he comforts someone and says, "they'll be alright, they'll pick up the pieces", or when he says that he treated them kindly, can we ever look at the Doctor the same way? Is he lying, or is he telling the truth?
Overall, The British Invasion is a bit of a sleeper hit for me. It starts out with a perfectly fine story about the Festival of Britain and a desire to help a fellow human, but by the end of it, Ian Potter is able to put a thought into the listener's head about one of the Doctor's most comforting lines. The story and script by Ian Potter was great, with some extremely smart choices for writing, and some great characterization for the Doctor, something well realized by director Lisa Bowerman. And not to downplay her role in the story, Wendy Padbury also does a great job as the narrator of the story, giving a lot of life to each character she narrates in her debut with the Short Trips range. The story may start out a bit spotty, but by the end, it's solidified itself as one of the best Short Trips out there, so far.