Yeah, sorry about that. My title puns have sunk to a new low. However, it does make some sort of sense if you read on…
Big Finish Folly, Part 121 – Masters of Earth, by Mark Wright & Cavan Scott
The Highlands of Scotland: bracing air, windswept scenery, terrifying homebrewed whiskey – and the Auld Enemy. With the Tardis sunk in a peat bog, the Doctor and Peri are appalled to discover a crowd lining up to stone a petty thief. The Doctor is even more appalled to realise that he has arrived on Earth in the middle of the Dalek Invasion – an event which he was instrumental in defeating way back in his first incarnation. With his own timeline in danger, he must leave immediately. But the Daleks have other plans, and now the Doctor and Peri must flee the tinpot terrors, avoid robotisation, and get the hell off this planet. Luckily, they have Scotland’s leader of the resistance Moira Brody on their side – but resistance, as the Daleks keep telling everyone, is useless…
It’s another great concept – an adventure where the Doctor can’t possibly win; where the Daleks can’t be defeated simply because it isn’t time yet. Eventually, surely, the Doctor was going to come up against this sort of situation. It could be a bleak, horrific post-apocalypse tale, a grim chase through the Highlands with the Resistance, survivalists, Fifth Columnists – and in some respects it is. The characters despair and struggle with tooth-and-claw survival tactics, and Tracy Wiles, Hugh Ross, Brian McCardie, and Damian Lynch are excellent in their portrayals.
The Last Train-esque drive to the coast and trip to the Orkneys is well-built and atmospheric, the threat from the Daleks and Robomen real and present. The small band of survivors and escapees bicker and rub up the wrong way against each other, and Moira Brody isn’t the hero figure that the Doctor remembers her future reputation to be. Lynch’s Curbishly is definitely cut from ’60s cloth, easily pictured as a morally ambivalent, trenchcoated, cigarette-smoking anti-hero.
It’s obvious from the start that Tracy Wiles’ character has a few secrets up her sleeve, and the eventual twist isn’t completely unexpected within the context of the story. The actual tech advances underpinning that revelation is a bit of a stretch however, given the “primitive” Dalek technology on display for the rest of the story. Varga plants, likewise, don’t quite fit in the story, though they are at least from the First Doctor’s experience. It would have been more satisfying to keep the execution of the story in keeping with that of Dalek Invasion of Earth for my money, rather than introducing elements that weren’t there in the beginning. (Good grief, it’s tough to do this without comprehensively spoilering the story….)
But it isn’t spoiling things to say that the Doctor does beat the Daleks, that he does win the battle as well as the war. That’s the disappointing part for me. The Doctor can’t defeat the invasion itself, but he can defeat the elements that Scott and Wright have introduced to this play. I’d like to think that the Sixth Doctor can lose sometimes, or at the very least have the odd downbeat ending (something his predecessor Peter Davison often has to cope with – Masquerade, The Burning Prince, The Gathering, the magnificent Spare Parts and Creatures of Beauty spring to mind immediately); the writers themselves have given us the dark vampire stories of Project: Twilight and Project: Lazarus. Masters of Earth seemed ripe for exactly that sort of thing, showing that even a Time Lord can’t win all the time against the Daleks, but it dodges that bullet, and is less successful for it.