Recently Big Finish did a twitter poll asking if fans prefer stories set in the past, or the future. I chose future. The past often consists of famous events and are usually set in Europe. I prefer the idea of the story being allowed to go where it needs to go in any setting. Ironic perhaps that Doctor Who: Scorched Earth takes place in Europe during WWII.
Scorched Earth is, thankfully, a Big Finish production. That means you know that there’s a certain level of love and understanding put into each production. So for someone like me, who doesn’t get excited for historical tales, I know that it won’t be bad. In this case it was actually excellent.
This story takes place as the World War is drawing to an end during 1944. Liberation from the Nazis means a good day for France but where this story shines is in its focus on just one of the conflicts that follow. The War may be nearly over but the pieces still need to get put back together. Making a moment like this relevant in 2020 is almost too easy, but writer Chris Chapman doesn’t take the easy route.
Divide and Fall
Without giving away any plot points, Chapman takes the two companions, Constance and Flip and pits them against one another. These are two characters who may not have a lot in common, but they’re good people and they like one another. In the divisive political climate we find ourselves in today, Chapman explores two sides of a difficult issue from the past and doesn’t preach. It remains as even handed as possible.
There are sci-fi elements at work here and when those were introduced I can’t deny my hesitation. While I’m not crazy for historical stories part of what makes me wince is when they add aliens or outside forces. Here it actually works though. Scorched Earth doesn’t aim to fix or explain the war, it simply looks at a moment in time and reflects it towards us in 2020. It asks us to be patient and tolerant with one another despite our opposing views and it does this while being entertaining and engaging.
First Class Act
Supporting the excellent script the cast all do exceptional work here. They do a lot of the heavy lifting with their performances helping to make those moments resonate. Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor is often bright, brash and loud but here he’s reflective and pensive (he has his bright moments too though). He wants to help his friends but he’s smart enough to not get involved in their issue. He see’s both sides and knows enough to let them figure this out, even if he has his own bias. Baker is so believable it almost doesn’t feel like a performance.
Lisa Greenwood (Flip) and Miranda Raison (Constance) are the hearts of this story as they each represent an opposing view. Both give honest performances that allow each side of the matter to be explored in a non-judgemental way. The supporting cast also offer strong performances, particularly Katarina Olsson (Clementine). Not only is her french accent believable but the simplicity that she brings to the character is genuine. She’s just a girl. Her matter of fact delivery allows us, as listeners, to not be so attached to her that she’s seen only as a victim. It’s a very nuanced and impressive performance.
Director John Ainsworth likely either worked very hard to make this simplistic yet powerful story feel truthful, or it was easy. With a talented cast using full range of their abilities, and a thought provoking script, that challenges us to look beyond just our own 21st century views, I’m guessing it wasn’t his hardest assignment.
Scorched Earth went above and beyond my expectations. It’s the reason people prefer stories set in the past. We have a connection to these stories and the humanity is everywhere, both the good and the bad. It made excellent use of its time and there’s nothing that could be improved upon. This story hits all of the beats it could want to.
You can purchase your copy of Doctor Who: Scorched Earth from the Big Finish Website.
July 1944. The TARDIS materialises in a small village near Rouen, where celebrations are in full swing. A joyful France is in the midst of liberation as the local population welcome a battalion of Allied soldiers – along with a colourfully dressed Doctor and his two rather excited friends.
But there are screams amidst the celebrations as an angry crowd dish out their brand of justice to one of their own that they have branded a traitor. While Constance and Flip find themselves on opposite sides of a war beyond a war, the Doctor has other concerns. The local community is used to the fires of battle, but a new type of blaze is burning – leaping from aircraft to aircraft, man to man – and this fire seems to be just as eager for revenge as the village mob.
- Colin Baker (The Doctor)
- Lisa Greenwood (Flip Jackson)
- Miranda Raison (Constance Clarke)
- Christopher Black (Walter / Jurgen)
- James Boswell (Harris / Klaus)
- Philip DeLancy (Lucien / Max)
- Katarina Olsson (Clementine)
Doctor Who: Scorched Earth is now available to own as a collector’s edition CD or digital download from just £12.99 at the Big Finish website. All CD purchases unlock a download option via the Big Finish app and the Big Finish website.
Big Finish listeners can save money by getting a subscription to Doctor Who: The Monthly Adventures. Subscribers get 30% off the price, free specially recorded Short Trips stories, PDFs of the scripts, and extended downloadable extras. Subscription lengths are available for either 6 or 12 releases and can be retrospective.
Please note that Big Finish is currently operating a digital-first release schedule. The mailout of collector’s edition CDs will be delayed, but all purchases of this release unlock a digital copy that can be immediately downloaded or played on the Big Finish app from the release date.