Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Dispossessed
September's Doctor Who main range from Big Finish continues the adventures of Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor and companions Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) as they face zombies and a malevolent force in a derelict Manchester block of flats.
The Dispossessed has been written by Mark Morris and directed by Jamie Anderson. It is available at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 31st October. Here's the synopsis...
The Doctor, Ace and Mel are caught in a forever night. After crossing the threshold, a strange world awaits them.
An army of tortured souls. A lift that leads to an alien landscape. An alien warlord, left for dead, and willing to do anything to prolong his life… it’s all in a day’s work for the Doctor.
But when his companions become victims of the desperate and powerful Arkallax, the Doctor will have to do battle in a psychic environment where he must make a choice. Save his companions… or himself.
I'll be joined again by my son Ben, once of the biggest Doctor Who fans you'll meet this side of Gallifrey. A warning of spoilers as always in the review below...
Baz Greenland (aged 37)
The Dispossessed is a cracking entry in the Doctor Who main range; like previous Seventh Doctor, Mel and Ace stories it feels very much like it could have fitted in the very early nineties (where presumably these stories could have aired had they been created for television). The run down Manchester housing estate feels very reminiscent of the state of urban decay affecting the UK's big cities in this time before periods of rejuvenation and there is a wonderfully early nineties synth score vibe to the soundtrack.
In true Doctor Who fashion it starts big - with a genocidal destruction of two warring space fleets half way across the universe - and then heads a mundane, grittier Earth-bound setting for much if its tale. But mundane is not how I would describe the story. It is packed full of mystery as the Doctor and his companions enter the derelict estate that has been sealed off from the rest of the planet by a strange energy barrier.
The story excels in both its ideas and the performances of all involved. The estate setting becomes home to something far more dangerous, zombie-like inhabitants starling the corridors and streets, while Mel and Ace find themselves transported to an alien world full of insect-like monsters and mountains of skeletons before encountering the mysterious Arkallax, who has found himself trapped into a virtual world of his own making. It's a nice little side story for these two companions while the Doctor gets his own duo in desperate survivors Ruck (Morgan Watkins) and Jan (Anna Mitcham). Both characters ground the story, good people who have found themselves on the run from Jan's abusive ex-boyfriend and trying to salvage scraps of food in this nightmare they have found themselves in.
In fact, Ruck makes for an excellent one-off companion; he has intelligence but he is also very grounded, protecting vulnerable Jan and working well with McCoy's Doctor. Finally we have Stirling Gallacher's character, the alien inhabiting the body of Isobel; she brings a certain amount of humour, her arrogance and desperation all portrayed in a broad Northern accent of her human host. Originally presented as a villain, she is soon revealed to be the last survivor of the alien race Arkallax killed by sacrificing billions to save his mind in The Dispossessed's opening scene.
Amid zombie-like hordes of people who's energy has been zapped to fuel Arkallax's escape, the climax is a thrilling battle of wills as the Doctor's mind battles the villain. After a number if intriguing twists and turns, Mark Morris's script keeps the listener hooked to the very end, full of titanic battles of good and evil and even a happier conclusion for Ruck and Jan.
Oh, and that ending. Needless to say, I'm excited to see how next month's release deals with that cliff-hanger...
The Dispossessed is a great little tale, full of mystery and tension, monsters and villains. It is a tale of the genocide of billions and the fate of two young people caught up in horrors they can't escape. Both Mel and Ace get a thrilling adventure of their own and the Doctor's psychological battle of wills with Arkallax makes for a dramatic accompaniment to the zombies and monsters that inhabit this tale.
Ben Greenland (aged 12)
The Dispossessed, What a story. It was full of twists, danger and action. It also gave a good opportunity for Mel and Ace to have a two hander for most of the tale. It started off as a big mystery and I admit I was very confused to start with, but it soon began to make sense, and got better when the zombies arrived. The Doctor, Ruck, Isabel and Jan were great together while they traversed throughout the building avoiding the zombies while Mel and Ace are stuck on the desert world.
Then we get the full story behind what is going on and Arkallax is revealed. He makes a chilling villain, with the psychic environment a good setting for the final act of the tale. The Doctor putting himself in a coma to fight the villain has been explored since the early days of Big Finish.
Then when all seems well, the mysterious woman from the end of Red Planets pops up and talks with Mel. It then spirals out of control when Mel knocks out The Doctor and Ace and delivers the TARDIS to Dogbolter. I am guessing Mel's story ends with next months entry...
Between parts 2 and 3 is a music suite for The Dispossessed, which is packed full of tension and very nineties synth beats. It's a great little atmospheric accompaniment to the main story.
The trailer for next month's The Quantum Possibility Machine looks set to deal with the fallout of Mel's betrayal and teases the dangers the Doctor and Ace will face.
Finally, there is the usual set of interviews with the cast and crew. There's a lot of appreciation for the story and also a sense that the cast love working together; Bonnie Langford and Sophie Aldred playing the scene as little girls is a lot of fun and well worth a listen.