Doctor Who Big Finish Audio Book Review: #1 – The Land of the Dead (2000)

Written By: Stephen Cole
Directed By: Gary Russell
Featuring: Fifth Doctor and Nyssa

Big Finish Summary:
Landing in Alaska, the Doctor and Nyssa encounter a group of people in a most unusual house, cut off not only by the harsh climate but by their individual secrets and obsessions.

Millionaire Shaun Brett is utilising chunks of the local area to construct a shrine to his dead father. But when deadly creatures start roaming outside, and a terrifying discovery is made inside the house, the Doctor realises that Brett has unleashed an unimaginably ancient force.

With Doctor Who coming back onto screens in the autumn, I have decided to experience more of the series, from the classic series to audio books, such as this. My first experience of the critically-acclaimed audio adventures by Big Finish, which I admit to having stored in my computer for a couple of years without listening to more than ten minutes, has ended up as a bit of a dud. This is one of the first of this series (#4 in the entire production order) and this can be seen in a lack of ideas about how to make the characters pop and with a plot that doesn’t go in any direction after a promising start.

The biggest issue I have is with the narrative itself. I can see what the writer is going for; a base under siege with its inhabitants descending into paranoia and suspicion. This plot would have been a relative to the Silurians and Sea Devil sequel “Warriors of the Deep” and I wish that more inspiration would have been taken from this. The revelation that the Permian creatures seen in this story evolved fast in their form and intelligence after devouring humans could have been an amazing twist. If the Permians were able to converse with The Doctor and show a high level of intelligence then there would be an added question of morality, which would have been more exciting and thought provoking than the mindless action and predictable ‘twists’ that we do see.

The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa don’t fare too badly in this episode; the absence of any other companion gives Sarah Sutton to show more layers than in her TV appearances. Both are just fine, again not being given enough juicy material to seek their teeth into. At least they don’t suffer as much as the supporting cast. Lucy Campbell’s Monica Lewis has been stated by many to be an exact replacement for the departed Tegan but I disagree with this point. For all of her gawking, Tegan had heart and behaved exactly how many of us would do if we were travelling with The Doctor. Monica feels like a caricature who doesn’t behave or talk in a way that is suitable for the situation she finds herself in. Even the last line, where she tries to get cozy with the Inuit Tulung, is cringey to say the least.

Talking of the native Alaskans, the situation isn’t much brighter. Tulung’s obsession with Nyssa being his guardian angel and anger with the bland human villain Shaun Brett are the most layers we see from any character. It feels like the writer could have gone so much further with the depiction of Inuit culture and how their reactions differ to the white characters but didn’t want to cause offence or rock the boat. As a result, all we are left with is a bunch of bland empty talk about deities, which I find really wasteful. Similar to the narrative, there were opportunities to progress the characterisation in order to make the story more bearable but this also goes the way of loud and dumb.

For the most part, I am slightly annoyed with this story because I know how good it could have been. Instead, perhaps due to this being one of the first Big Finish stories produced for Doctor Who, they are unsure in what direction they should take this. Though I might well listen to this again (I paid for it after all), I don’t think it’ll stay long in the memory!

Overall Rating: 2.5/5

P.S: What is with the cover art? It is one of the worst I have come across. Did they have no better picture of Nyssa that they had to zoom in and blur out the edges?

Stay tuned for more Doctor Who reviews in the coming weeks or months. To purchase The Land of the Dead, click below to access the Big Finish site.

The Land of the Dead – Big Finish


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