Blurb: The TARDIS crew land on Mars, home of the Ice Warriors, far back in its history. The Doctor is convinced it's much too early for them to meet their frozen foes.. but the Doctor is wrong.
Far below the surface of the planet an evil scheme is in motion. A scientist works night and day at the command of an insane despot. A despot intent on creating a terrifyingly familiar army.
What exactly does Zaadur plan? What dark secret lies at the heart of the Gandoran mines? How far will the Doctor go to save his friends? In the deepest caves, the true Lords of the Red Planet are ready to emerge... Can anyone possibly survive their birth?
Format: Limited-cast audio drama with narration. Adapted from an unmade television script. Published by Big Finish Productions and released November 2013.
Setting: Mars: The City of Gandor, sometime prior to 8,000 B.C (the date Lance Parkin's AHistory gives for the cessation of life on Mars' surface).
Continuity: This story takes place between The Space Pirates and The War Games. While the only real requirement is that this story happens after the Seeds of Death, since Zoe recognizes the Ice Warriors here, I felt that since no one acts like they've seen them recently that the later gap makes more sense. There's also no indication of where this story falls with relation to other stories in this gap in the TV series. Jamie recognizes the Ice Warriors (see The Ice Warriors). Zoe recognizes the Ice Warriors (see The Seeds of Death).
Canonicity Quotient: The Doctor mentions the honor of the Ice Warriors, something not apparent from their initial two stories. The implication is that he either knew more about them then he let on in The Ice Warriors, which meant that the danger he put people through was his fault or that there is some missing story with the Ice Warriors either with Victoria or with Zoe after The Seeds of Death. The alternative is a little slip up on the fact checking. 0.98
Discussion: After finding The Queen of Time incredibly tedious, I looked forward to this story with a bit of dread. Yet, John Dorney's reputation preceded him and I was very interested in hearing a Lost Story that was more or less "full cast" in its presentation. I decided to give it a try and record my thoughts below.
I was pleasantly surprised by most aspects of this story. For something that was basically "Genesis of the Ice Warriors" it seems to have taken quite a few of the best possible nods from Genesis of the Daleks while making this story completely unique. It helped I think that this story was not rejected as so many of the Lost Stories were for plot issues but rather because it would have been to expensive to make. That meant that the core story was good but just impractical to achieve on Doctor Who's season 6 budget. IMHO that makes it a perfect candidate for audio where you don't need to spend a lot of time creating all of the visual elements for the series.
Part of the success of this story comes down to John Dorney. He had a difficult task in taking two distinct plot synopses and both merging the elements that worked best in both and also expanding the story by creating the actual scripts. I suspect that he could have cheated here and done "Doctor Who by numbers" creating a story very reminiscent to Genesis of the Daleks. Instead he gives us a story that seems to be going that route but instead veers off on a different direction. This is excellent as it forces to the listener to have an artificially low expectation that rockets high when their expectations are not met. I'm not sure how much of this is just down to fortune and Hayles had already imagined those elements or how much is down to Dorney but in either event the execution is absolutely excellent.
Dorney also manages to do a great job with the characters. Aslor, Rislor, Quendril, Veltreena, and Zaadur are all very well realized. When you have the twist reveal of Quendril's secret you begin to understand that this is very much a classic tragedy tale. All of these characters in one way or another are the children of one man. All of the problems exist due to the flaws inherent in that man. Veltreena is a result of his pride. Zaadur is his lack of compassion. Aslor and Rislor are a result of his cowardice. You start to see that its very clever how it was all worked out. The other really interesting character thing is that in Hayles' first proposal Zaadur is a man but becomes a woman in his second proposal. As a result we have a very strong female role in the story that would have been very cutting edge in the 60's. Thankfully, Hayles wouldn't get out of this mindset entirely as The Seeds of Death, the story that replaced this one, features Ms Kelly who is also a strong female character for the time period. The regulars aren't neglected although the Doctor and Zoe get the most to do here. This is fine as Fraser is already pulling triple duty as Jamie, the Doctor, and one-half of the narration. Yet the whole cast is lovingly written and it feels like the lines are very much in-character and written as they would have been 45 years ago.
I also shouldn't neglect that this story pulls out a small feat by doing a wonderful job of pacing a six-part story. Usually a story of this length tends to drag either at the middle or the end. Yet the pacing here was incredibly well done and vital aspects of the plot are revealed throughout the first five episodes, meaning that your interest is held throughout the story. In The Rocket Men, John Dorney already proved that he was capable of writing a story that when you hit a certain point causes you to re-evaluate everything that you just heard in the story and completely changes the story if you relisten to it. That happens a couple of times in this story as well. You assume that things are happening one way but then some new piece of information changes the context of what had been going on earlier. While its not as stark as The Rocket Men, its pulled off very well here and helps to keep your interest throughout the piece.
The performances here were wonderful. While I sometimes lament the fact that Nick Briggs ALWAYS plays the monsters he did an excellent job of differentiating the basic Ice Warriors, Rizlor, and Azlor. Charlie Hayes did a great job of playing the vain Veltreena giving a sort of humor to her performance based on how such a spoiled child perceived the world and her interactions with others. Abigail Thaw was also excellent as Zaadur. As our story's Davros its important for her to give some weight to her performance, which she performs admirably. Michael Troughton reminded me strongly of Peter Halliday in this one. Quendril seems to exhibit the same kind of high strung character that Halliday used to perform so well. As always Fraser Hines was brilliant as the Doctor and can resurrect his performance as Jamie with ease. If I have one nit its that there are quite a few points towards the end where the Doctor and Jamie start sounding interchangeable. I'm surprised that this wasn't noticed and that they didn't go for a retake at those points. Wendy Padbury is still wonderful as Zoe even though it seems as if she struggles a little more to find the same pitch that she used to play the character at. Still she comes close and Hines' performance helps to make it feel as if you may be watching one of those 60's stories.
I would be remiss in reviewing this story if I didn't talk about the wonderful sound design. Steve Foxon's music was fantastic and fit in beautifully with the era, paying homage to some of the Doctor Who scores at the time but also creating a lot that is unique. The sound effects themselves were great ranging from the familiar wheezing breath of the Ice Warriors to the sound of sonic disruptors to the various explosions, heavy construction, mind probing, etc that the script called on. Everything felt of the right time period and it was a real treat to listen to.
I do have a few issues with the story. I've already mentioned the fact that the Doctor brings up the Ice Warriors' code of honor, which wouldn't have been established at the time of this story, but that is something of a nitpick. To me there is a much bigger flaw in the story. Quendril establishes that the Gandorans have something akin to a radio telescope. It appears that they don't have anything like a space program. This makes sense. Mars' two moons, Phobos and Demos, are incredibly tiny. I can understand that a civilization developing on Mars would not see their moons as the stepping stones to the stars that humans did. The problem with this though is that we have to believe that somehow Zaadur created a rocket for the incredibly difficult task of transporting herself and at least 100 other beings and eggs to another world without any experiments or intermediate steps to learn from. I must admit that I follow space news closely which is why this rings so false to me and may not do so for other people but even our civilization with a many decades of space experience and a trip to the moon under our belt finds the task of transporting even a few people to Mars to be a difficult proposition. There's all kinds of things that you learn about traveling in space that you just don't learn until you've been up there. I have a really hard time believing that she could just conceive and have a rocket built without anything to base that on other than some ground based observations and calculations.
Despite some small issues, though, I feel like Lords of the Red Planet stands head and shoulders above the other first and second Doctor lost stories. Partially this is due to the fact that they allowed for a greater cast than these stories have normally had but I believe that its also because of the stellar work that all involved placed into this one. It's a really great story and one that I'll most likely listen to again at some point.
Final Rating: 9/10
Recommendation: Fantastic! This one is a triumph of storytelling with great acting and great music and sound. John Dorney delivers another brilliant script that manages to keep the pacing throughout its six episodes. The story will pull at your heart strings while also delivering some twists to the story to keep your mind engaged. I highly recommend this one.