In the aftermath of the Second World War, struggling German immigrant Johannes Rausch (Hugh Hemmings) encounters the enigmatic Louis (Jamie Sandford), who offers him a job in exchange for one thing. On the eve of his final day alive, Rausch must go with him to the mysterious Klyst Institute… But why? Well, as Rausch’s final day dawns, and Louis returns to collect him, all becomes clear…
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of his latest regeneration, the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) has been kidnapped by the Klyst Institute, and it’s down to his companion Melanie Bush (Bonnie Langford) to track him down. Joining forces with a down-to-earth cabbie (Toby Longworth), she infiltrates the Institute, but gets more than she bargained for when she encounters its namesake: the sinister Professor Klyst (Jennie Linden).
With the presence of an amoral scientist, evil experiments and a separated Doctor-companion duo, you might be forgiven for thinking Unregenerate! sounds a little similar to Time and the Rani (review here), which takes place directly before it. Thankfully, despite the presence of these same elements, this story is a complete gear change from its chronological predecessor.
Where Time and the Rani was colourful, bombastic and over-the-top, Unregenerate! is quieter, more atmospheric and less chaotic. For a story with such a definitive place in the timeline, it’s quite the tonal whiplash between the two adventures! Even the Doctor and Mel are played differently, with the former being much more like his more brooding Season 26 self, and the latter being barely recognisable from the character we’ve seen on TV.
While the darker McCoy and more mature Langford absolutely work here, it is a little bit of a shame that there isn’t a bit more continuity between Unregenerate! and what came before it. A lot of the later-released Seventh Doctor and Mel stories have managed to strike a better balance between the campiness of Season 24 and the better characterisation Big Finish are known for, so it’s odd that this story is so shockingly different to the rest of those.
That’s not really to its detriment, though. The darker, more serious storyline means that Unregenerate! has an undeniably gripping plot packed with plenty of nice twists and reveals that keep it interesting from start to finish, though things do get a little complex towards the end with flashbacks and the like. This is probably the story’s biggest flaw: the way it falls apart somewhat towards the end, though it’s not a huge issue.
The story’s main strengths lie with its cast. While Sylvester McCoy spends much of the first half of the story hamming it up as a mentally-addled Doctor, this means Bonnie Langford gets to work her acting chops as a more independent Mel. McIntee writes the character very well, retaining the charm Langford brought to her on TV, while giving her the more demanding storylines she so desperately needed.
The rest of the cast are also on top form. While Jennie Linden, Jamie Sandford and Gail Clayton are all excellent as the Klyst Institute’s sinister operatives, and Hugh Hemmings puts in a good showing as the befuddled Johannes Rausch, the standout guest star has to be Toby Longworth as the Cabbie: the perfect foil for Mel in this story. Funny, resourceful and just altogether really compelling, the Cabbie is Unregenerate!‘s star of the show, and it’s such a shame this was to be his only appearance.
Unregenerate!, while striking in its tonal difference from other Season 24-set stories, is, overall, a strong story. Though I’m not sure why exactly it’s called Unregenerate! (there’s literally nothing in this story about unregenerating), this is a gripping way to spend two hours, making up for a slightly weak plot with an excellent guest cast. Recommended.
Unregenerate! is available as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
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