Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 9/26/17 12:11 am
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In The Night Witches, the Doctor and his friends are waylaid from their adventure when they arrive north of Stalingrad in 1942. There, they encounter the Night Witches, an all female group of bombers, working to protect Stalingrad. But things aren't looking good for the Night Witches, as provisions run low and German tanks swarm just over the hills. But the commander of the Night Witches has a plan she thinks will win them the battle; but to do that is to risk the death of one of the Doctor's friends. The Night Witches was an enjoyable release, mostly due to the great performance by Anneke Wills as Polly Wright, as well as enjoyable guest performances by several cast members. Roland Moore's story, his first for Big Finish, plays out well, as an enjoyable, nihilistic drama about desperate people doing desperate things. Mixed together with an excellent cover, and some great sound design work, the result is an enjoyable story from a first time writer that gives us a look at an interesting historical area.
Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines both star in this story, with Wills as Polly and the Narrator, and Hines as Jamie and the voice of the Second Doctor. Wills is one of the highlights of the cast for this story, getting a brilliantly written role in this story, and then taking that and turning in an excellent performance as well. She gives a rather tragic and powerful performance, especially in the latter half of the story, as she laments the Doctor and Jamie's deaths and her situation, after being left by Tatiana (Anjella Mackintosh) to die behind enemy lines. But Wills portrays Polly as clearly devastated by the loss of the Doctor and Jamie, but with a sense of purpose that she must honour their legacy and try to survive. But throughout the entire story, she's strong as she never gives up, trying so hard to do the right thing, even as she's threatened with death. Hines takes a bit of a backseat here in both roles, but nonetheless does a good job when the time comes for him to turn up. I've noticed that in recent years, his Troughton impression, once pitch perfect, is slipping, and I'm noticing that I can start to hear more of Hines in his performance. But his impression is still great, and throughout the story, he does a great job as both the Doctor and Jamie.
It's difficult to talk about the guest cast for this story, because each and every one of them were absolutely stellar throughout the story. Elliot Chapman continues to shine as Ben Jackson, with his version of Ben here ever so slightly uncomfortable in the situation, but also steps up to the plate when needed, such as helping out members of the Night Witches because it the right thing to do. Anjella Mackintosh is excellent as Tatiana Kregki, the Night Witch who looks identical to Polly. She gives a tragic performance of a person jaded and tired of war, willing to do whatever is needed to escape it, even if that means dooming another human being. The real MVP of the guest cast comes in the form of Wanda Opalinska, who was excellent as the mistrustful Nadia Vasney, commander of the Night Witches. Opalinska is able to keep up with her character's shifting, conflicting actions and thoughts with an excellent performance, running the gamut from mistrustful to flat out murderous to sincere and heartbroken. Her arc is probably my favorite of the story. Rounding out the guest cast is the excellent Kristina Buikaite as Lilya Grankin, the one Night Witch who trusts the TARDIS crew. Buikaite has a smaller role throughout the story, but is very memorable as Lilya throughout the story.
Roland Moore steps behind the writer's desk for the first time at Big Finish with an excellent story about World War II Russia and an overlooked group of fighters. Moore is no stranger to looking at female World War II fighters, as his show Land Girls looked at the lives of the Women's Land Army. As such, his story is rather superb, giving a look at a group of women in a desperate, horrific scenario, and showing how the horrors of war have affected them. I particularly liked how throughout the story, nobody was ever quite sure if the Doctor and his friends were Nazi spies. It made for an interesting, tension-filled story throughout, as the Night Witches constantly flip-flopped on the idea, especially so with Nadia. I also quite liked how the story never shows or talks about what happens to the Night Witches; it almost cements their legendary status within the Doctor Who universe by not giving them a real conclusion. Beyond just story points, I also loved the writing for the characters in this story, as they felt very true to how the characters would be at that point in their lives. Polly in particular was well written in my opinion, as she was meant to run the gamut of the emotional spectrum throughout the story. Similarly, I thought the writing for the three main Night Witches and Ben was excellent as well; the Night Witches felt like actual soldiers, in that they were on edge and not very trusting.
The last part of this review I'd like to mention is the cover artwork for this release, done by Tom Webster. Webster's cover design work is usually pretty good, but here, he's outdone himself with this one, a bright, bold cover that conveys the main themes of the story right away. Right off the bat, the thing that jumps out most of all is the striking colours, especially the red streaks, and the red colouring for Polly, though other aspects of the cover stick out too. While the cover feels a little busy at first, I quite like it having listened to the story, because it almost thematically matches the story. The mishmash of planes flying all over the screen and the numerous explosions really gives a sense of being in the midst of World War II right away.
Overall, The Night Witches is a great story. It's got a stellar cast throughout, especially Anneke Wills as Polly, but the guest cast is also surprisingly deep and stellar, with Elliot Chapman, Anjella Mackintosh, and Wanda Opalinska especially standing out. Even Frazer Hines and Kristina Buikaite, who both had smaller roles in this release, were excellent in the few scenes they had. Roland Moore's story was similarly excellent, drawing upon his strengths as a writer, resulting in an excellent period drama, and an enjoyable showcase for the Night Witches. I particularly liked the writing of the Night Witches and their characters, and I also quite liked the progression of the story. Overall, it was a great start to this year's run of Early Adventures, and one I hope is a forebear of excellent stories this series.