In the Doctor’s ongoing search for a fix to his degeneration cycle, their first incarnation (Stephen Noonan) materialises in Victorian London, in the midst of what would appear to be an invasion by Martian war machines. Only one small snag: these are not like the native Martians he has encountered in the past. A plucky young journalist, Jessamy Moore (Hannah Genesius), is keeping a journal of events, and becomes the Doctor’s temporary associate, as the duo traverse the fallen capital city.
On the way, the Doctor’s situation takes an unexpected turn, with their form shifting to a future self (David Tennant). In a different part of the city, the Doctor’s future comrades – the Paternoster Gang – have fallen afoul of one of the Doctor’s oldest and most deadly frenemies: Missy (Michelle Gomez). But is Missy all that she appears to be, or is there something else going on? And how have these so-called Martians been able to invade and subjugate London when recorded history has no mention of this? Some might say that the chances of the Doctor sorting things out in their current state may be a million-to-one, but just perhaps this will end up being a case of all’s Wells that ends well…
Big Finish’s continuing Doctor Who: Once And Future saga – to mark the programme’s imminent 60th anniversary – is certainly living up to its name, as we have our first two-Time Lord entering the fray. David Tennant – our once and future Doctor – had his initial dabbling with the series through Big Finish’s audios before he landed the role (well, the first time round, anyway: standard wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff where our Mr T. is concerned). So, with his being placed front and centre on telly for this November’s three-part shindig, it seems only right and proper that he takes his turn here, with all his other other selves, in what might be the oddest multi-Doctor story since 1993’s ‘Dimensions In Time’.
Much like that charity-centric mini-adventure made some of half the programme’s lifespan ago, ‘The Martian Invasion Of Planetoid 50’ is also set in London, and features our hero flitting back and forth through their personal timestream, visiting visages from long ago. Oh, and there also happens to be a female Time Lord foe to battle with here as well, as there also was 30 years ago. However, it would perhaps be kindest to point out that any superficial similarities with Children In Need’s celebratory outing for the Doctors ends there. This is very much a different beast, although it still has its own fair share of kisses to the show’s history, with a focus being very much on elements that were introduced since its triumphant 2005 revival.
All of the story’s connections to The War Of The Worlds are not the first time that Big Finish has dabbled with H.G. Wells’ perennial classic. 2002’s tale ‘Invaders From Mars’ by Mark Gatiss saw the then-incumbent Paul McGann running into Orson Welles during the infamous 1938 radio adaptation of the novel. You can forgive Big Finish making another trip to the Well(s), when the end results are totally different. In this particular case, the story itself almost plays second fiddle to the main attraction, which is the spectacle of David Tennant and Michelle Gomez playing wonderfully off each other in a most remarkable fashion, and you might almost wish that the entire hour was nothing more than them sparring and – yes – even flirting.
The audiosphere is electric as the pair’s chemistry fizzes and pops, and the sparks fly every time they lock horns. So close, you can feel their fire; so thrilling, you must be there. What a pure, unadulterated joy their interactions are, to the point it leaves you wondering just what they would have been like if they had ever met on screen. Alas, this is the closest that we are ever likely to get (unless Tennant returns to reclaim the mantle of BBC Television’s venerable Time Lord in a decade from now). Gomez’s cuckoo bananas Mary Poppins on acid has seldom been better than here, and if the listener has half as good a time hearing it as she clearly had recording it, then that still makes for a ridiculous amount of fun.
Genesius is certainly amiable enough as the tale’s stand-in companion, and has the opportunity of playing against two versions of the Doctor, with Jessamy having to keep her head and take the latest in a series of fantastical developments in her stride. Although the Paternoster Gang receive a further outing, the trio’s situation starts out somewhat differently than normal, having them on the back foot. It makes for an interesting scenario, giving the actors – particularly Catrin Stewart as Jenny – the chance to step outside of their usual dynamic. Always pulling focus in the best possible way is Dan Starkey’s Strax, with Starkey always being enormous fun, as well as embodying the definitive Sontaran.
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Although the actual storyline – renegade Time Lord ends up being hoist by their own peTARDIS, and ends up needing the Doctor’s help – has been done before, the execution is what makes this stand apart from other similar endeavours. With a little bit of old Herbert George being thrown into the mix – with the author having already featured as a character in the 1985 Colin Baker story ‘Timelash’ – there is a heady brew of Steampunk with that fin-de-siècle vibe of Victoriana mixed in with the birth of modern science fiction. And as we have a celebration of the good Doctor here, how better to mark the occasion here than by harking all the way back to one of our intrepid hero’s forefathers, with Mr Wells’ own literary Time Machine having been a clear inspiration.
Where ‘The Martian Invasion Of Planetoid 50’ succeeds is in maximising upon having a limited band of characters as well as a strong cast, giving everyone plenty of chance to shine in the spotlight, and drawing out some great performances. In this instance, whilst the whole is pretty great, the sum of the parts of ‘The Martian Invasion Of Planetoid 50’ is also rather impressive, and writer Jonathan Barnes serves up quite the confection here, making a worthy addition to the Once And Future saga. Slowly but surely, you should draw your plans to add this release to your collection, being the ideal precursor to the imminent return of David Tennant to our TV screens in November. Allons-y.
Doctor Who: Once And Future – ‘The Martian Invasion Of Planetoid 50’ is out now from Big Finish.