THIS STORY TAKES
"MISSION OF THE
VIYRANS" AND "THE
BIG FINISH CD#117
RELEASED IN JANUARY
On a planet where
Time stands still, the
Doctor meets a
woman who is just a
few minutes old. She
is a Tracer, sent into
our Universe by her
makers to locate the
six segments of the
Key to Time. This being
without a name
wants the Doctor to
be her assistant, but
she doesn’t tell him
the whole truth. Not
Their first port of
call is Mars, where a
society that one day
will become Ice
Warriors lives in
peace and civility.
But the Doctor’s
arrival will change
all that. The universe
is dying, a choice
must be made, and the
Judgement of Isskar
will be declared.
The price must be paid
- even if it takes
From the information available at time of writing, it appears that 2009 is going to see Big Finish’s Doctor Who range move more towards ‘seasons’ of consecutive releases, which until now have been reserved for only the eighth Doctor and his companions. And what
better way to kick off the fifth Doctor’s first proper audio ‘season’ of adventures than with an old monster, a new companion, and a renewed quest for the Key to Time? Or should that
be, the Key 2 Time…
It has fallen to Simon Guerrier to set the wheels of this new quest in motion, and thankfully his four-part story, entitled “The Judgement of Isskar”, makes a splendid job of it. For starters, unlike “The Ribos Operation” (which kicked-off the fourth Doctor’s search for the six segments of the Key to Time), “The Judgement of Isskar” does not give the whole game away in the first five minutes – it sets the scene, of course, but in a much more restrained manner. Guerrier uses the whole canvas to tell his story, eking out the reveals about Amy (the new companion); Zara (Amy’s ‘sister’); the Grace (Guardians? Eternals? Great Old Ones? Still not sure!); and even the Doctor’s role in bringing about these events. This approach really helps to maintain a high level of suspense throughout; for instance, I found the rather amusing reveal that the whole universe is in danger of exploding at any moment because the Doctor once cobbled together an ersatz sixth segment well worth waiting for!
"I'm not real, you know. Yesterday I didn't even exist."
Amy is introduced every bit as guardedly. Essentially a Tracer in human form, Amy is just a few moments old when we first meet her; almost a completely blank slate. But over the course of the four episodes, Amy begins to develop her own persona as well as her own ideals – ideals that conflict with those of her fellow Tracer, Zara. Ciara Janson (Hollyoaks) imbues Amy with a very sweet sort of naivety, which for the most part is very endearing (although at times she can be a little bit annoying in that certain way that only frighteningly nice people can be!) Her apparent affection for the Doctor is also an interesting aspect of her character, and I cannot help but wonder how this will play out over the next two stories.
"I choose to be this way. The counterbalance to all the Doctor's taught you."
For me though, what made this story such a delight was the sibling rivalry between Amy and Zara (Laura Doddington), who have each been charged with collecting three segments of the key each. I love the themes of balance and reflection that run throughout the story; how Zara is seduced by power, and Amy influenced by good. I also like the energy in their squabbles; Janson and Doddington must have had tremendous fun playing off each other.
However, Peter Davison’s Doctor is portrayed as being little off-kilter here. At one point towards the end of the story, when his life is threatened, the Doctor even remarks that he is ready for death. This struck me as a little out of character for him, even considering the propinquity of his impending regeneration.
Turning to the Martian element, with “The Judgement of Isskar”, Guerrier has admittedly borrowed heavily from the Martian history built up by both the late Craig Hinton in his underrated novel “GodEngine” and Justin Richards in his audio drama “Red Dawn”, but he has also added his own layer to the mythos too. And on balance, as much as much as I love the rasping Ice Lords of Patrick Troughton’s day, I have to concede that these early Ice Warriors are altogether more intriguing.
The finest example of this, perhaps, is the titular Isskar, played here by Nicholas Briggs.
Now whilst Briggs is renowned for providing the voices of a whole plethora of alien species both for Big Finish and the television series, it is not all that often that we get to hear him wrap his vocal chords around a role as substantial as this one. Isskar is a really beautifully drawn shade of grey, with a fair amount of depth and even a whiff of tragedy about him - a
far cry from the rasping foot soldiers of most Ice Warrior tales.
In the same vein, Raquel Cassidy (Teachers, Moving Wallpaper) gives what I can only describe as a ‘fascinating’ performance as the utterly alien Mesca – I did not even realise that it was her until I looked at the CD booklet afterwards!
In terms of pace, Guerrier’s story starts strongly and ends even stronger still, though to be
fair I did find my attention waning slightly during the second episode. The final episode is really something though, culminating in a bona fide (and utterly perfect) cliffhanger, affording Big Finish’s Key 2 Time a much more cohesive feel than the original Key to Time season or even something like “The Trial of a Time Lord”. This looks like it is going to be one great big ride…
On a final note, it would not be fair to review “The Judgement of Isskar” without at least giving a nod to the tremendous level of detail that Guerrier has put into it. Even putting the Ice Warriors’ culture aside, deft little touches like Amy and Zara’s well thought out universally transcendental segment satchels really help to set this one apart from the crowd.
And so all told, “The Judgement of Isskar” is one space opera that is certainly not to be missed. The cast is stellar; the soundscape is exquisite; and the writing is, at times,
inspired. Big Finish would have been hard pressed to find a better way to ring in the New Year.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
to be identified as the author of this work.
Though their production codes suggest an unlikely placement between The Caves of Androzani and The Twin Dilemma, the Key 2 Time audio dramas actually take place between the audio drama Mission of the Viyrans and the television serial The Caves of Androzani. Presumably the Doctor returns to collect Peri (who is busy changing back into her original outfit…) following the end of The Chaos Pool.
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