Guest contributor Kieran Brennan breaks into Paul McGann’s second series of audio adventures with this review of Invaders from Mars!
It’s Halloween 1938, and the Doctor and Charley have landed in New York on the night of Orson Welles infamous radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. Of course we know that the entire incident was a big misunderstanding, but the Doctor and Charley are about to discover there might be a bit more to the story than meets the eye…
After Minuet in Hell, it’s quite refreshing to get a solid story for the Eighth Doctor. It’s not perfect by any means but it’s a light hearted romp that acts as a nice opener to the proverbial second season of the Doctor and Charley’s adventures. Invaders from Mars is very much a story of two halves, the first of which is taken up by a convoluted plot involving Russia, Nazis and the mafia. It’s all very complicated to the point where things just begin to go over your head after a while and feel rather meaningless.
That’s the main issue with this story: there’s too much going on. Too many B-plots are thrown at the listener and, while individually none are bad, as a whole it all feels very overwhelming, especially when everyone is doing the same American accent (though a notable improvement from Big Finish’s previous attempt at American accents).
In its second half, however, Invaders from Mars begins to pick up a bit. Writer and director Mark Gatiss is clearly having fun with his ideas (seriously this is the perfect historical event for Doctor Who, especially on audio) and his script finally begins to come together, and it wasn’t until this half that I realised this was supposed to be a slightly more comedic story. Perhaps I should have, there’s definitely one or two moments in that first part that had me questioning the sanity of Gatiss if he thought they were good dramatic story beats, but on reflection I can see how they were written as a joke but the execution just failed to communicate that idea effectively.
Simon Pegg also makes an appearance here as minor character, Don Chaney. He’s solid for his limited screen time, even if his accent slips up every now and then. It’s crazy to me that this isn’t the last time Pegg’s talent would be wasted on a forgettable minor role, he also shows up in the 2005 episode The Long Game, an episode that is guaranteed to almost always be skipped on series rewatches. It’s such a pity, hopefully he can return in some form with a character that has a bit more to do.
The rest of the cast do unfortunately blend together due to the aforementioned accent issue, but David Benson stands out as Orson Welles, his impression is spot on and he really sells the character and the relative drama stirred up by his radio play.
Invaders from Mars is a slight return to form for McGann’s tenure, a solid listen that has its flaws but never sinks below the bar of good. A great premise and solid second half save this from being a weaker story, even if it might be a little forgettable.
Invaders from Mars is available as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com