Finishing off the Big Finish two-parter trilogy (yes, it’s being called that – it’s a great nickname for it) come the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Ace (Sophie Aldred), and Hex (Philip Olivier) with Shadow Planet/ Worlds Apart.
Perhaps the darkest of the offering in the last few months, these TARDIS tales, directed by Ken Bentley, are not for those who like their Who light. That’s not to say that it’s all darkness but it certainly puts Hex and Ace though their paces on both occasions.
Shadow Planet by AK Benedict is your more traditional tale of the pair: the TARDIS lands, the team get in trouble, the villain is dealt with, and everyone goes home for tea. But that’s a broad stroke and does a disservice to the story – it has more depth to it than that. In fact, it’s very enjoyable indeed.
It contains one of the strangest similes of all time early on, but apart from that clunker, there’s an interesting story here regarding human nature and how much of it we actually control, how much of it we let others see, and if we are ever truly honest with ourselves. It certainly proves to be a bumpy ride for the Doctor, Ace, and Hex but nothing that they haven’t already proved they cannot handle.
Scott Handcock’s Worlds Apart takes things to a much deeper level, drawing the Doctor out of proceedings almost entirely and leaving Ace and Hex to survive on their own. It’s quite a harrowing story, with harder science fiction concepts than one would expect for a summer release. It’s gripping nonetheless to listen to the mystery unravel in what is essentially a very satisfying two-hander for Aldred and Olivier. There’s also some genuinely uncomfortable moments here, full of tension and foreboding for our stranded travellers, the sound design in this particular tale is exquisite.
And what of the aforementioned Phillip Olivier? After a long time away from the worlds of Doctor Who (and a very satisfying conclusion to his story arc), the man himself is back to breathe new life in to Hex once more. It has to be said: he succeeds wonderfully, quite frankly as if he’s never been away. The Doctor, Ace, and Mel, as a team, is all well and good – but the Doctor, Ace and Hex is even better. This is earlier is the timeline for Ace and Hex so their flirtations as well as joint voyage of discovery is still fresh, offering a 2017 audience something similarly new and interesting.
Unfortunately, here endeth the two-parter lesson. We’ve learned a lot from it hopefully, a very successful experiment that’s proved the Doctor Who Main Range still has plenty to give fans, and it would be nice if it’s not the last time its format is used. However, if the last taste we get for now is these two stories, then that should keep listeners sated.
Shadow Planet/ Worlds Apart is out now from Big Finish, priced £14.99 on CD or £12.99 as a download.