Doctor Who
No Man's Land

Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84435 178 7
ISBN-10: 1 84435 178 5
Available 19 November 2006

It is 1917 and the Doctor, Ace and Hex find themselves in a military hospital in northern France. But the terrifying, relentless brutality of the Great War that wages just a few miles away is the least of their concerns. The travellers become metaphysical detectives when the Doctor receives orders to investigate a murder - a murder that has yet to be committed. Who will be the victim? Who will be the murderer? What is the real purpose of the Hate Room? Can they solve the mystery before the simmering hate and anger at Charnage hospital erupts into a frenzy of violence...?

Doctor Who has previously touched upon the horrors of the trenches of World War I in, for example, The War Games and (metaphorically at least) Genesis of the Daleks. The same "could you kill that child" debate as we heard in Genesis is aired again here. However, the series has never devoted an entire full-length story to the subject and setting of the so-called War to End All Wars - until now.

Martin Day's tale of man's inhumanity to man isn't what Who fans would call a "purely historical" (meaning sci-fi free) narrative, though it comes close. The writer teases us with the possibilities presented by a Sapphire & Steel style metaphysical murder mystery, with the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Hex (Philip Olivier) forced to stand in for the temporal detectives; with the presence of Orwellian hate sessions ahead of their time; and keeps us guessing as to who might be behind it all. Is it the aliens from The War Games? Could it even be the Players from Terrance Dicks' trilogy of novels (Players, Endgame and World Game)? Keep guessing... Day's conclusion does not disgrace or trivialise the suffering of those who lost their lives - to both enemy and "friendly" fire - in the conflict.

Michael Cochrane, who has previously portrayed English toffs of days gone by in the Who serials Black Orchid and Ghost Light, is as stiff-upper-lipped as ever in his starring role as the rather more sinister Lieutenant-Colonel Brook. Indeed, this story is uniformly well acted, by both the regular and guest cast.

It's a bit of a pity that the Seventh Doctor/Ace/Hex team have to endure another grim historical narrative straight after the similarly bleak The Settling. However, that's my only real criticism of this drama, a fitting tale to release so soon after Remembrance Day.

Richard McGinlay

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