Review by Jacob Licklider
It isn’t often when Doctor Who takes advantage of having companions from different time periods, and when it does they often don’t do stories about how characters from different times
would interact with being out of their time. Yes, it is often standard for a modern companion to find some aspect of history to their distaste due to modern sensibilities. This month’s main range release from Big Finish Production is in the unique position to not only have a modern-day companion react to the past, but a companion from the past react to their personal future.
Continuing the latest trilogy Scorched Earth brings the Sixth Doctor, Constance Clarke, and Flip Ramon (nee Jackson) to a small village in France in 1944, after D-Day and after the Nazi Occupation. The Doctor immediately wishes to leave as Constance is from this time period, knows the war is going to be won by the Allies, and that history hangs in the balance; but the
celebration gives Constance a chance to come to terms with the fact that yes the war will eventually end. Constance and Flip are both allowed to take in the festivities of the British invasion, but also a look into the darker side of the British invasion placing them on two sides of an issue.
One important aspect of the story and the history behind it to note is that during World War II there were people in France who cooperated with the Germans and were made outcasts of society when the war was over, and that’s something that Chris Chapman draws on in Scorched Earth. Chapman’s grandfather fought in the war and was one of the soldiers who arrived at
Normandy after the initial invasion and travelled through several villages in France. Respect is paid for the history of the situation while being critical of the discrimination of suspected
collaborators often with insufficient evidence. It should be made clear that Chapman is not excusing collaboration with Nazis, but shedding a light on how it was people attempting to survive. Scorched Earth is a story which sees villagers celebrating quickly turn to mob mentality towards collaborators and suspected collaborators, going so far as lynching them in creative and
torturous ways. The title refers to the many cases of arson the village has been perpetrating on said collaborators. The source of the fires is clearly alien, but unlike other pseudo-historicals
where the science fiction elements overtake the historical elements, Scorched Earth uses its alien as a background means to explore the harshness of humanity much like the aliens in Demons of the Punjab. This makes the story work as a human tale at its core.
Katarina Olsson returns to Doctor Who as Clementine, a French woman who fell in love with a young German officer during the war; something that she is going to carry through the rest of her life. She is a target for the mob, having her hair cut and her home burned to the ground in an attempt to kill her. The Furio; the sentient flame, grows its power because of the heightened
emotions of the mob and the village which Olsson has to respond to. Clementine has a touching arc with Flip who can sympathise with her because of her outcast status. Flip is a character who understands yes, the Nazis were terrible, of course she does, she’s human, but people like Clementine shouldn’t be killed or completely marked with the swastika shaved into their scalp.
Clementine fell in love, something that she really couldn’t control. She has her own demons to face and the village shouldn’t be ruining her house and home because she made a mistake. This puts Flip at odds with Constance; someone who has lived through Nazi occupation and provides a contrast to the more compassionate position of her companion. Constance cannot forgive
people like Clementine and Chapman does not villainize her for that, which is important to note because this is a situation where either side is at least partially valid. Yes, Chapman villainizes those who attempt to murder and harm Clementine, but not those who are angry because of her actions. There isn’t an easy answer to Chapman’s dilemma and while the characters in Scorched Earth find a peace, the audience will not.
Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood take the cake for the best character drama in this episode. Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, while enjoyable as always, is given the backseat. This story is one about the companions and something that this specific team hasn’t explored before. Chapman only really lets it down with the ending wrapping up the animosity between Flip and Constance; something that should have ramifications and hopefully will in future releases.
Overall, Scorched Earth is a character drama at its core with the TARDIS team facing a moral dilemma and events that should change the team going forward. 9/10.