Big Finish’s Fiesta of the Damned is an odd, but enjoyable, duck.
Historical adventures in Doctor Who are something of a treat, watching the Doctor fly about, excited to see history in action before his eyes is normally something special.
Big Finish are able to take what works from the TV series and transpose it well for audio but with this particular story one finds that even though there is a fascinating setting available to explore, the characters it offers are more two dimensional than they would care to admit.
As an advocate of Big Finish and all the good work they do it’s worth mentioning that there is always something to enjoy in their stories. Here, for example, the listener is offered solid direction, good performances from guest and regular cast (Enzo Squillino Jnr as Juan Romero and Christopher Hatherall as George Newman warrant special mention) and of course the Seventh Doctor and his (new/old) team are as indomitable as usual.
But while Fiesta of the Damned is easy listening, it fails to reach the great standards of Big Finish. The setting of the Spanish Civil War is meant to be heavy going but due to pseudo science fiction plotting, it gets pushed to the sideline; not by much, but enough to water down the character development somewhat. The monsters themselves are something of a plod too, wasting a creepy introduction that later turns into a somewhat Pertwee-era ‘attack the base’ scenario which feels oddly at war with the plotting and pacing of the story.
There’s also the reunited team of Mel and Ace who are now travelling together with the Seventh Doctor. This particular team up feels slightly tongue in check to this reviewer, a plot device being used to attract attention rather than push forward a solid idea with an endgame. It was intriguing enough to listen to Aldred and Langford reunite in the previous story A Life of Crime but already the novelty seems to be wearing off. The character of Mel was given the appropriate chance to shine (and did so marvellously) many years ago with Big Finish, but here and now Mel feels stapled on.
All that being said, this tale does have some good moments of tenderness, discussion on the perils of war and its futility, especially a war that is not generally spoken about or discussed in modern culture. Ace fits in well with her usual feistiness and disregard for authority; causing the Spanish soldiers some amusing consternation. As usual Sylvester McCoy gives his all as the Doctor but is used more as a plot device to move events forward, rather then being completely integral to the story,
This is an interesting step into history from Big Finish but not perhaps a must listen.
Doctor Who – Fiesta of the Damned is available to buy on CD or Download for £14.99 and £12.99 respectively from the Big Finish site.