Warlock’s Cross, the latest entry to the Main Doctor Who range at Big Finish has the tough job of wrapping up a few things. First is the overall UNIT arc, starting with The Helliax Rift and continuing with Hour of the Cybermen, Warlock’s Cross has the job of wrapping that story up. Next is that it ties in with the Seventh Doctor’s final stories in continuity terms and the third and final element is that Steve Lyons brings back the character of Elizabeth Klein. How the story deals with those three elements though is certainly an interesting story.
Written by Steve Lyons, the author of a few of my favourite Big Finish audios, I had high hopes towards Warlock’s Cross. But did the overall story live up to my expectations and hype? Well, yes and no. There is no doubt that Lyons is one of Big Finish’s strongest writers to have ever graced the audio format. Son of the Dragon is a masterpiece for example, so was Colditz and the Klein trilogy of A Thousand Tiny Wings, Survival of the Fittest and The Architects of History. There is no doubt he is a strong writer but Warlock’s Cross didn’t reach the highs of those stories I’ve mentioned above.
I doubt that little of that is down to the actual writing. I think I was expecting a different story. With a title like Warlock’s Cross, I was expecting something a little more spooky than we got. Perhaps that was the biggest disappointment for me, the title made me imagine the storyline was going to be something different.
But let’s talk about the storyline we did get because there is plenty of praise to go around. Lyons does a terrific job at wrapping up the UNIT storyline. Each story has come with a different commander and this story sees Colonel McKenna trying to stop the secrets of UNIT from becoming public knowledge. McKenna is certainly the nastiest out of the three different commanders we’ve had so far but this only helps to reinforce the idea that this UNIT is miles away from the cosy days with the Brigadier, Yates and Benton.
We also see the return of Daniel Hopkins, the Doctor’s friend in The Helliax Rift and then enemy in Hour of the Cybermen. Lyon’s utilises his character nicely, having him play an important part of the story, instead of him just being there. I’ll get on to my thoughts of Hopkins in this story later but I was impressed by Lyons’ use of the character throughout.
Lyon’s had previously created Klein so it is always nice when she gets a chance to come back which isn’t often enough for me. He has such a handle on her character that during the opening moments, he manages to recreate the same vibes from her she had in Colditz, A Thousand Tiny Wings and Survival of the Fittest. You aren’t sure if you can trust her or not. I really like that about character and that’s why I wish Big Finish would use her more often.
Perhaps the weakest element of the plot here is how sombre it can become. Normally, this isn’t a bad thing but for some reason, those sombre moments bring the proceedings to a stand-still. However, that is more a problem with the direction rather than the writing side of things.
Warlock’s Cross does, however, boast some terrific performances to go alongside the pretty decent storyline. Sylvester McCoy is excellent in the role as the Seventh Doctor and he really lets us know his Doctor is nearing the end of his life. His performance is a lot more sombre, sort of along the lines of Tom Baker’s performance in his last season on screen. He isn’t the same game-player that he was with Ace, Hex and Mel but there is still some hints of his duplicitous nature lingering in the dialogue. McCoy really devours the script, even if the rolling of his ‘R’s’ can get a little grating at times.
Tracey Childs is just fantastic as Elizabeth Klein. I doubt in 2001 when Colditz was released that she would have known that over a decade later, she would still be playing the same character. Klein is certainly a special character in the Doctor Who mythos. Having originated in a timeline that was erased, she managed to keep her memories of that time and then manipulated the Doctor into restoring it later down the line, when he believed she had changed. Wiping her memories completely, the Doctor left her on Earth as UNIT’s scientific advisor where he occasionally checks up on her.
What I loved about her character here is that Lyon’s plant’s seeds of doubt about her nature long before the true villain is revealed. Childs’ really runs with this idea and it was glorious to think that the old Klein had come back. There was a nice moment when the new Klein hears her old persona talking to her in the head which might be a plot thread that Lyons will pick up somewhere down the line. It would be a mistake for Big Finish to leave Klein there, I would love a new trilogy with her as the companion, but for now, I suppose we have to console ourselves that there will be stories we don’t experience where the Umbrella Man comes to visit her.
Daniel Hopkins returns for a third and final time as this UNIT trilogy wraps itself up. Once again played by Blake Harrison, Hopkins is a man who has lost everything. He had lost so much last time we heard from him, he had sided and aided the Cybermen. Here, he is a man imprisoned, willing to do whatever to be released. Lyons’ use of his character is excellent, planting the idea that his treachery might have come from further back from the fire that killed his family. But for some reason, Harrison doesn’t seem to do such a good job here. There are moments when he is so quiet that you can’t hear what he is saying and times when he sounds incredibly bored. I liked Hopkins when he first appeared and his inclusion in Hour of Cybermen proved to be shocking. But Harrison sadly sounds like he’s given up. Whether that was intentional or not, I don’t know but he sounds like he can’t be bothered here. And that is unfortunate because he was such a good character.
The guest cast is quite strong too. Russ Bain and Tom Milligan are good in their respective roles of Gregory Lord and Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Price. Milligan as Gregory Lord was actually a really enjoyable performance. It was a shame that the Doctor couldn’t have kept Gregory on as a companion but things conspire in this story to keep that from happening. Still, they have some nice scenes together during the first two episodes.
Richard Gibson is excellent as Colonel McKenna. His character is someone you really want to hate, but there are moments when you find yourself rooting for him. Gibson is excellent at this role and I do hope we get to hear more from him if there are any future UNIT stories. Genevieve Gaunt is also enjoyable as Linda Maxwell, even if I did spend the whole story wondering if she was in some of the other stories. Her storyline certainly implies so but I’ll be damned if I could remember! Still, the pair makes some intriguing characters and it would be nice to hear more from them in the future.
Overall, Warlock’s Cross is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I’ve no doubt that this is a story which will have its fans and when I come to listen to again in a few years time, I might even be one of them. But for now, I would have to say that it isn’t Steve Lyon’s strongest script but it is still an enjoyable enough way of spending two hours. It is far from being the worst Big Finish story of all time. It is a story though that boasts some strong performances, especially from McCoy and Childs who I really wish would get a new series of adventures together. Come on Big Finish, your bringing back Mags with McCoy lets make a new trilogy for these two too!
Warlock’s Cross brings UNIT’s new trilogy to a close and while it a little weaker than the previous two instalments, it is still a strong entry into the Big Finish world of Doctor Who and continues to show why they should hold the rights to produce these audio adventures for decades to come!