I love historical adventures in Doctor Who. Not only do they allow us to explore some really interesting periods in history that we never learnt about in school. I never learnt about the Aztecs, the French Revolution or the Wild West, for example, and so I love to learn about those periods through Doctor Who.
Big Finish has given us some fantastic historical adventures too. We’ve been to the eruption of Vesuvius, The Peterloo Massacre and the time of Vlad the Impaler.
Scorched Earth gives us another chance to visit a period of history, we’ve all learnt about World War 2 at school and college, but we very rarely learn about what it was like after the war. I learnt about Britain post-wartime but never what it was like in France when they had been liberated. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be this dark with people turning on one another, claiming them to be collaborators or allies for the Nazi cause.
Author Chris Chapman shows us what life was like following the liberation and offers us no easy answers for their actions. There wasn’t any alien influence on their actions, no mind control, no super-weapon. This is just people acting out in anger at those they deemed to help the Nazi cause.
This fact puts the companions, Constance and Flip at loggerheads for most of this story’s runtime. Constance is someone from WW2 when the Doctor first met her in Criss-Cross, she was a Wren at Bletchley Park. Because of this and the fact she’s lived through the war, she can understand the anger of the French villagers and even sympathies with them, though she doesn’t necessarily condone their actions. Flip is every-bit the modern companion and as such brings a very modern outlook on what she is seeing and it is hard not to sympathise with her.
In the opening episode, it’s very hard to like Constance because of her outlook on things that she’s seeing, but the story does force you to remember that she is of that time and she’s been in the thick of the war, it doesn’t take more than the second episode to like her again though, and the Doctor, once again proves he has the maturity to both sides of a story, neither taking Constance or Flip’s side of the argument, instead happy to take his own stance. Not so much ignoring what is happening, just offering advice on what’s right and wrong to anyone who asks.
Chapman makes sure that all of the characters we’re introduced to in this story have a complex point of view. We meet antagonist, Lucien who is after justice for his country. Obviously he’s going to the wrong way about it, but it isn’t hard to understand why he wants that justice, although shaving women’s hair off and using a gigantic alien-flame-monster might not be the best way of going about things!
Scorched Earth is very much a human piece, the alien is almost secondary to the main plot. Sometimes that takes away from the piece but here it worked wonderfully. The alien represents human rage as much as it is a rage monster itself. As a result, Chapman gives us a creature that is as much a metaphor as it is an actual being. That’s not something Doctor Who has done very often and using the creature as a metaphor for rage and hate works brilliantly.
As a result, Scorched Earth ends up as not only my favourite Big Finish audio of this year so far but one of the best Big Finish historical stories in my opinion. It’s a historical, its a drama that tackles a tough topic and period of history and doesn’t offer any easy answers. And the human element helps to drive the plot forward, Lucian’s hate is understandable even if it isn’t justifiable, and seeing Constance and Flip on opposing sides gives their friendship some much-needed development.
The Sixth Doctor, Constance and Flip TARDIS team is one of the strongest Big Finish creations to date and with stories like this, I hope they continue for a long time to come.