Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/25/18 2:34 pm
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Death in the New Forest, the second story from the Tales from New Earth box set, sees Devon Pryce (Kieran Hodgson) sent on his first mission by Senator Hame, as he travels to the New Forest, home of the tree people on New Earth. Wishing to pay his respects to the family of his deceased lover, Thorn, he instead finds them dead, and finds himself wrapped in a mystery. All throughout the forest, trees are dying, and a sapling of the great Jabe of the Forest of Cheem, Vale (Yasmin Bannerman) is investigating these deaths. But Devon and Vale aren’t the only ones investigating; an alien with a long, storied history with New Earth has come to help out. This man calls himself the Doctor, and he may just be the key to saving the New Forest and its people. Death in the New Forest deepens the world-building started in the first story of Tales from New Earth with a trip to a new area of New Earth, the imaginatively named New Forest. Relative Big Finish newcomer Roland Moore takes a stab at the New Series with a lush murder mystery story that works well within the confines of Tales from New Earth’s arc about Lux Incorporated. Kieran Hodgson is given the chance to take the lead in the story, and delivers a good performance, while guest star Yasmin Bannerman delights as Vale. The second story has some issues throughout, namely the shoehorned presence of the Doctor and its rather anticlimactic ending, but overall, the second adventure of Tales from New Earth is yet another richly detailed story with some fine acting and an interesting plot.
Kieran Hodgson returns once again as Devon Pryce, a second generation new human, now working alongside Senator Hame to investigate Lux Incorporated. Hodgson is joined by Yasmin Bannerman, playing Sapling Vale, a sapling of Bannerman’s character from The End of the World, Vale. Hodgson is generally strong in the second story, though I found that his performance was somewhat lacking at times throughout, coming across as a little awkward every now and again. I almost wouldn’t be surprised if this story was the first one to be recorded, as there’s a bit of trepidation in his voice throughout the story, almost as if he’s unsure or nervous. It’s a minor quibble, but it’s a bit disappointing, especially coming off his excellent performance in the first story. However, Hodgson does do a pretty great job at narrating for the Tenth Doctor. His voice is certainly not an exact copy, but it’s a strong impression that really works to give the feeling that the Tenth Doctor is really there. Bannerman on the other hand is an old hand at doing Big Finish, having played a number of roles throughout the series. I particularly liked her role here as Vale, which I felt was the highlight of the cast. It’s a strong performance that requires a lot of conviction and emotion throughout, and I felt that Bannerman did a great job channeling that throughout.
Roland Moore takes the writer’s helm for this story, bringing to life a brand new area of New Earth with marvellous detail. However, despite an interesting murder mystery that drives the plot forward, I felt that the plot petered out midway through the story and never really picked up steam. Once again, the highlight of this latest Tales from New Earth story is the world-building of the writers and producers. The New Forest is positively alive, and the tree people who inhabit it all give the story an electric feeling, of witnessing something that’s just truly alive. There’s all sorts of little tics and tricks that are used, from small little moments like a sick tree child, or the sounds of the tree people and their New Forest, but it all serves to build up an intriguing world that feels lush and alive, and really helps cement New Earth as one of the most interesting areas that Big Finish has yet explored. However, the story, despite the charms of the world, fails to really satisfy. The story leads off with a promising story of natives being displaced and revolting against the colonizers, but the story largely drops the ball by introducing the Lumen and Lux Incorporated into the mix. I would’ve respected the story more if it had stuck with the natives vs. colonizers story, because that’s a deeply intriguing story, and one that, while challenging, would’ve been a bigger reward to hear. But the Lux Incorporated arc must be served, and as such, the war between the tree people and the Termitons takes an unnecessary turn into a “doomsday weapon” story, and never quite recovers from it. It’s not helped by the ending, where Vale decides to call Lux Incorporated to have them destroy all the Termitons, an ending with vast consequences that’s more or less glossed over in less than two minutes by the end of the story.
Perhaps the biggest challenge the story faces though is the presence of the Doctor in the story. David Tennant does not reprise his role as the Doctor for this story, due to being unavailable. Instead, Kieran Hodgson ably performs the narrative duties required to bring the Tenth Doctor into the story. It’s a format similar to the ones used for the Companion Chronicles and, more closely, for The Churchill Years. However, the choice to have the Doctor in this story doesn’t really feel necessary, and it almost hampers the story in some respects. The premise of the set seems to be exploring New Earth and seeing what kind of fantastic world it is. Obviously, the Doctor has visited New Earth many times, by his own admission, and so it stands to reason that he may turn up again. But the story never feels like there’s a good reason for the Doctor to be there, other than to have him on the cover for marketing purposes. The lack of David Tennant, with all respect to Hodgson, only serves to highlight this, as the format doesn’t really work here, of partial narration with true full-cast adventures. It works somewhat better for The Churchill Years in a narrative sense, as Churchill has met many different incarnations of the Doctor, and in his old age, he might have trouble remembering their voices distinctively. But here, it just feels needlessly clunky, and rather than giving the story a good reason to feature the Doctor, instead only serves to highlight his lack of value in this story.
Overall though, Death in the New Forest continues the strong world-building of the first one with another enjoyable, engaging trip around New Earth, this time to the exciting New Forest. Kieran Hodgson and Yasmin Bannerman lead the cast this time around with two fine performances. Hodgson does a decent job as Devon Pryce, while his impression work for the Tenth Doctor is superb, and Yasmin Bannerman delights as the sapling of an old character she portrayed on the television series. Roland Moore does a fine job creating an engaging, interesting new setting on New Earth, and does well with a murder mystery story. However, the story struggles to stay interesting once it’s forced to bring in elements of the box set’s arc, and the presence of the Doctor in the story feels superfluous. Overall, it’s a bit of a dip in quality, but the highlight so far of the set, that of the fascinating and lush setting of New Earth, remains, despite a rather anticlimactic plot.