Review by Michael Goleniewski
In the midst of an explosive unseen adventure, the Sixth Doctor and his TARDIS team of Philippa “Flip” Ramon and Constance Clarke are tracking a malevolent mind parasite through the Time Vortex. Joined by an interstellar bounty hunter, the group soon end up in 1937 Rhode Island hoping to capture it before it does any real damage. But they aren’t quick enough to stop it from attaching itself to a maligned author of the day but one with significant impact for the future: H.P. Lovecraft. As the monstrous gods of the ‘Lovecraftian’ universe including Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep emerge in full force to turn Earth into a nightmare-infested hellhole, the Doctor and Flip venture into the mind of the famed author himself while Constance remains behind to keep an eye on him. As the TARDIS team is thrown into a world of madness, racism, and death, it’s going to take everything they have to keep their minds intact whilst the end of days threatens to destroy the planet itself…..
‘Lovecraft Invasion’ is the story from the new 2020 Sixth Doctor trilogy that this reviewer has been most excited for all year. Combining the worlds of Doctor Who and H.P. Lovecraft is far from a new concept especially considering the Seventh Doctor’s own constant battles against the Great Old Ones. But even now, its a match made in extraterrestrial heaven, and this audio is a dream come true for fans of both sci-fi franchises. The script is fully balanced between the weird and the grounded and the vibrant soundscape is gorgeously horrendous with appropriately haunting and squishy sounds suitable for a world and setting that could only really exist as well as it does in an audio format. Scott Handcock’s direction is slow but very strong letting both the real and unreal truly sink in and the geeky references are way too many to count from minor human characters from the actual stories, monstrous beings made flesh from the largest Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep to the smallest Deep One and Shoggoth; and even making the Necronomicon itself a big plot point in the narrative.
But the brilliance of Robert Valentine’s writing comes in how it struggles with the real-world concepts and problematic nature of the focus of the story. The plot struggles with the concept of ‘death of the author’ and separation of the author from his work especially in the context of this author’s world-views that permeate everything he ever wrote. The audio doesn’t shirk away from the troublesome nature of Lovecraft’s xenophobic worldview to the point where the Doctor flat out states that he was a historical figure he’d hoped never to meet. The writing fully acknowledges that this was a man of his time without excusing his worst instincts and each member of the TARDIS team has very different sets of struggles to handle when it comes to the titular controversial author. Lisa Greenwood’s Flip, in particular, has a very relatable view of the author in a modern context and is a surprisingly vital source of information whilst Miranda Raison’s Constance (as one of Lovecraft’s immediate peers in more or less the same time) is brought to confront and babysit a direct example of everything she’s worked hard to stand against in her life.
Meanwhile, Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor tackles things from a more driven but aloof mindset given his avoidance of the man and his works up to this point and combined with his usual great performance, it’s great to see him a bit more out of his depth with something very familiar to the geekiest of audiences. It also forces him to rely much more on his companions and the people around him and it helps to make this TARDIS team feel more important and substantial than they already were especially in keeping track of the man behind the mythos. Speaking of which, Alan Marriott plays Howard Lovecraft (and his literary alter-ego Randolph Carter in a brilliant twist in the dream world) in a very fully realised fashion that feels complex & genuine without shirking his own experiences and how he came to be. In many ways, he’s forced to confront both the good and the bad of his legacy but far from joyfully celebrating it like Van Gogh managed to do with the Eleventh Doctor his reception is very notably mixed. To that end though, he still gets some lines of amusing comedy and an important and very knowledgable role to play in what’s going while still receiving his due when his more troublesome impulses come out and will most likely leave both lovers and critics of the man very satisfied with this particular portrayal.
Some small problems exist in a very forced initial set up that begins in media res that would’ve been honestly nice to see given the gravity of the adventure itself. While it does use the companion separation trope very nicely, the one weak link is Robyn Holdaway as bounty hunter Calypso who has a great concept behind her especially in juxtaposition to Lovecraft himself but is never characterised very well. More than anything else, she’s probably the character who not only deserves more backstory and screen-time but the one we’ll most likely see again in the future. But despite these minor issues, it still proves to be entertaining and extremely tense from start to finish coming to a dual-handed climax that pushes the real-life man to deal with the insanity of his views and his life whilst the supernatural world begins to bleed through. It also delivers a direct confrontation between Doctor and author that not only needs to be heard more and more in these darker times but also represents one of the Sixth Doctor’s biggest mike-drop moments in his entire life.
‘Lovecraft Invasion’ proves to be a masterfully crafted release that more than lives up the hype of its premise and idea. With Big Finish’s usual standards of quality in direction and soundscape and Robert Valentine’s balanced but very nuanced script, it nails just the right tone and energy for the audio to be engaging for fans of the genre while not skirting the harder and very relevant questions it poses in regards to its subject matter. The main cast continues to be one of the best TARDIS teams in the format, everyone gets some amazing moments in regards to the man and the mythos particularly Colin Baker who is given one of his best closing monologues yet, and it leaves you having enjoyed the dark and nasty ride but still with just enough hope for change for the future even if for some it might be inevitably be too late. An utterly brilliant release, very highly-recommended, and another new MAJOR Sixth Doctor favourite.
— 10 / 10