Review: Doctor Who – Red Planets

Review by Kenton Hall

There are so many Seventh Doctors. From the clowning, malapropism-spitting first season, through to the increasingly sharp and mysterious Seven of Sylvester McCoy’s final two seasons, there has always been much to dissect about the era, not least of which is the happily temporary end of the show in 1989. But perhaps the most interesting development is that, as the current Doctor, it was McCoy’s incarnation that, between 1989 and the TV Movie in 1996, ruled over the novel universe that kept the show alive.  Set free from TV budgets, the Seventh Doctor – for better or worse – was pulled in a number of different directions over the course of the New Adventures, spring-boarding from McCoy’s performance and creating a darker, more cosmic character.

It has been fascinating, over the course of the 20 years since McCoy returned to the role for Big Finish, to note which aspects the writers have brought to bear on these new stories, and how the Seventh Doctor’s actor has responded to added elements of his character that occurred after his actual tenure.

These thoughts went through my mind, alongside the complimentary thought, “I think way too much about this stuff”, while listening to Red Planets from writer Una McCormack. There are times in McCoy’s audio work where you can hear him having an actorly play with the character he knows so well. Sometimes, subjectively, of course, it works better than others. At its best, it does indeed make the Doctor feel mysterious and, while not grim, certainly on the darker side.

In Red Planets, it fits perfectly; in a suitably tense alternate Cold War story that couldn’t have secured itself a better TARDIS team. The reunited Mel and Ace offset each other brilliantly, with Bonnie Langford continuing to show what the character could have been if she’d been taken more seriously on television and Sophie Aldred offering a particularly centred and grown-up Ace who is more than capable of taking on missions of her own.

There’s a lot to digest here. Alternate histories, bombs over Berlin and, of course, a trip in the general direction of Mars. Because this is Doctor Who.

It’s not a showy story, but it is a tightly written one, with natural dialogue, some vivid supporting characters, an intriguing mystery, a real sense of atmosphere and some fascination left-field work from the Doctor in the house.

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