Review by Doctor Squee (Host of Gallifrey Stands Podcast)
It’s really nice to still see a story come up in any part of the Doctor Who world that is based on real historical events and especially when it’s a part of history that is maybe less well used in modern fiction.
Now when you are dealing with a history based episode you have a few choices. You can go for a straight telling of the events and get the Doctor and companions mixed up in established events, like classic DW story ‘The Romans’. You can create a secret threat to history that the Doctor must defeat to save the timeline a-la ‘The Unquiet Dead’. Or you can add in a supernatural element that the writer makes part of the original events as they did in the ‘Fires of Pompeii’. This story tries to have its cake and eat it too on this front.
Fiesta of the Damned takes you into the heart of the Spanish civil was from the perspective of a group of republican freedom fighters (and a British journalist that is covering them) that the Doctor, Ace and Mel land the Tardis next to. In the first episode it is all about the war and the group of soldiers we are seeing the fight through the eyes of. It feels like you are going to have an historic retelling with the Doctor, Mel and Ace in the action. It’s only at the end of this episode you have an alien presence added into the mix. Unlike some stories the aliens aren’t teased or in the background of the story they just seem to appear at the end of the first episode and for me this felt like changing the vibe of a very promising story. It might have worked better if the alien threat had been establish earlier, or instead if we had got the story we looked to be going down in the first place.
There are some great performances as always. The soldiers feel like real characters and you genuinely care about them and as they add to the cast as the story progresses you get a kindly town mayor (Owen Arronovitch) who aids the men and a quirky Leper named Louis (Tom Alexander) who talks to God. The characters are really good and we get a bit of the new Mel / Ace dynamic with the Doctor, although as they get split up in the story only for part of the tale. For me these characters and a tale of the Spanish civil war would have been enough and the aliens who set about genetically manipulating people could have been left to another story. There is even some great conflict from the soldiers and what they have become and lost due to war, especially Enzo Squillino Jnr as Juan Romero who gives so much pathos to the war weary leader of the group. A mention should also be given to the journalist played by Christopher Hatherall who cannot help but take the side of these soldiers instead of hiding behind his press neutrality. I would have really like them to have explored this more instead of going down the alien route.
This is worth a listen, it just could have been more in my opinion. This one gets a 5/10 sonics!!!
You can get your download or CD of this story from Big Finish here https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/fiesta-of-the-damned-1054\
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