The latest Fifth Doctor trilogy comes to a heart-pounding conclusion with the latest two, two-part outings, Warzone & Conversion. With a fun build-up in Warzone, we get a terrific re-match and showdown between the Doctor and the dreaded Cybermen, but with the death of Adric still fresh in everyone’s mind, this time will the Doctor go too far?
Opening the set is Warzone from Chris Chapman. I believe he stated that the idea of the story came from going out running and hearing stories from his friends about how much they enjoyed it. Personally, the only time I run is if someone is chasing me, so Warzone and the mentality of the competitors here were really enjoyable to listen too. I’ve always had the greatest of respect for marathon runners, though I’d never do it myself, and how much money they raise for charitable causes. Warzone takes that mentality and flips on its head, what if they weren’t running for charitable causes but for their own needs, their need to better themselves, to upgrade themselves?
It doesn’t take Chapman long to begin throwing in the Cybermen Easter-eggs and eagle-eared listeners will pick up on them instantly but it still makes a nice surprise for listeners who might be new to the show or don’t know that the monsters are on the cover. What is quite warped and twisted and something that I really liked was the Chapman allows Tegan to give the go-ahead for Marc’s Cyber-conversion, albeit that she doesn’t know what it entails. Marc falls victim to the rigours of running the race is hurried to a hospital to be fixed back up so he can get back to the race. When he seemingly dies, Tegan allows the robotic Florence to heal him but she doesn’t know that Florence is really picking out suitable candidates for conversion.
It’s a great performance from Janet Fielding and you really get the idea that even though they haven’t known each other for long, the adventures that the crew go on, quickly forge bonds between the TARDIS crew. She seems really upset that Marc might die or be hurt and it throws the first hints that they never really did get over the death of Adric.
Chapman makes sure that everyone here gets time to shine. He gives us the first hints at the darker mentality that the Doctor will take on over the course of these two adventures, and Davison puts in another great performance. Nyssa probably represents me in this story, someone who doesn’t race off at a hectic pace, but someone who takes the race at a much more reasonable speed and she gets her own companion in the form of Morris, played by Timothy Blore.
Warzone isn’t a story that in any way challenges the listener but it and the set as a whole aren’t designed that way. This is a character-driven story and it is Marc’s pride that proves to be his downfall. Its a great take on a companion who has been quite quiet up to this point. Overall Chapman’s opening story is strong enough to stand on its own two feet as well as tying in nicely to the overall storyline on offer in this set.
The second story, Conversion from Guy Adams is a much different kind of Cybermen story. While they are the baddies, there characters involved where you don’t know where they stand. And one character will throw a spanner-in-the-works at the very end in a twist that I didn’t see coming at all!
With Marc having been partially converted into a Cyberman in Warzone, the Doctor and the gang have taken him to a medical station. Leaving Nyssa with him, she quickly discovers that the doctor looking after him has a secret desire of her own, to learn about cybernetics and how it can be used to stop illness, death and decay. She wants to know about the Cybermen and the Doctor has just unwittingly brought one to her doorstep. Of course, she isn’t allowed to get too far, but some of her dialogue to Marc was a little disturbing to hear. But Adams makes sure that she isn’t an out-and-out villain, she is doing it for a good reason, just going about out in a bad way.
Tegan and the Doctor find themselves in the same sort of situation that the Tenth Doctor and Mrs Moore did in The Age of Steel, trapped inside a factory with millions of dormant Cybermen. Adams also introduces us to two technology-pirates, Herb and Creasey. I have to be honest if there was one thing I wasn’t too keen on in this set of stories it was these two characters. Despite enjoyable performances from Angela Bruce and Liz-Sutherland-Lim, whether it was down to the writing or the performances, they were a little bit too shouty and piratey for my liking. I know that sounds silly given that this is their characters but there was something there that I didn’t take too much. Still, that is a minor quibble for another strong script.
If you go into Conversion expecting another massive Earthshock-style Cybermen outing might be disappointed but the appeal of this story isn’t down to showing us the might of the Cyber-force but how the conversion process affects the victim, their mind and those around them. I found myself getting drawn into Marc’s struggle as he was trying to fight against the programming and reclaim his soul, despite the creepy taunting and explanations from David Banks Cyber-Leader.
Much like their debut Big Finish outing in Hour of the Cybermen, David Banks and the Cyber-Lieutenant, Mark Hardy put in excellent performances here. In fact, the pair of them go hand-in-hand if you are talking about the 1980s Cybermen so it’s nice that they both are still friends in real life and were happy enough to come back to their respective roles.
Banks, in particular, seems so at home in the recording studio that it is surprising that he only made his Big Finish debut last year. In the same vein, as this isn’t another Earthshock-style story, the meeting between the Doctor and the Cyber-Leader is instead a raw one, it is because of the Cyber-Leader that the Doctor couldn’t save Adric from dying. It is a much quieter but darker affair and I can’t describe how enjoyable Davison’s darker-Doctor performance was. It was a great direction to take this incarnation of the Doctor, once again proving to me why Davison will always be my favourite iteration of the character. I’m hoping that this isn’t the last we hear from the pairing of Banks and Davison because they are so good together. And Banks still manages to bring the dread with his booming voice, when you hear it you instantly know things are going to be bad, I was worried for each of the companions as they came face-to-face with this monster once again.
The story ends in a twist that I won’t ruin but let’s just say it didn’t end how I was expecting it too! Adams knows how to leave things on a cliffhanger and I can’t wait until next year when I hope we get a further trilogy of adventures for the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Marc. This is the reason why I love Big Finish so much, they help to make the mythos of the show much deeper and richer than just the television persona, adding so much more to it!
Warzone / Conversion is another terrific outing for the Big Finish team. With great performances from the main and guest casts, brilliant and imaginative scripts that feel wholly original from Chris Chapman and Guy Adams and strong direction from Scott Handcock results in a set of stories which have to be heard to be believed. Definitely one to add to your collection!