It’s not often that Doctor Who can offer you a fiesta; let alone in the title! We’ve already had Made You Look from Guy Adams this month, but will Fiesta of The Damned be a fiesta of a story, or will it be damned for all time?
In search of “a taste of the real Spain”, the TARDIS transports the Doctor, Ace and rejoined crewmember Mel not to sizzling Fuerteventura, or the golden sands of the Costa Brava – but to 1938, amid the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.
Having fallen in with a rag-tag column of Republican soldiers, the time and space travellers seek shelter from Franco’s bombers in the walled town of Farissa – only to discover themselves besieged by dead men returned to life…
With it being the middle of summer, it seems like a good idea to be whisked away to Spain; especially for free via TARDIS. Unfortunately, it’s not long into Fiesta of The Damned before we learn that we’ve travelled to Spain in the wrong year. We’re in the middle of the Spanish Civil War.
We’ve already had a purely historical Doctor Who story this year in the form of the brilliant The Peterloo Massacre, so I suspect that this trip back in time might have more of a science fiction element involved; which is what I normally like in a historical Doctor Who story. Plus we have Guy Adams at the helm of penning this adventure, so it’s almost guaranteed to be amazing.
One thing that is guaranteed to happen with a Guy Adams story, is that the Doctor and his companions will be thrown in at the deep end; Fiesta of The Damned is absolutely no exception. Although, this time, they’re not just thrown in at the deep end, this time they’ve been given concrete shoes.
From the get go, Ace and Mel have a really nice chemistry between them; there’s no malice or oneupmanship between the pair, seeing who the more worthy companion is; in fact, they seem to team up against the Doctor in a playful way, like Sarah Jane and Rose in School Reunion.
Considering that the Doctor seems very anti-war, (except for when he isn’t) he always seems to thrive in the situation; wanting to aid the wounded and prevent lives from being lost. It’s often said that the name Doctor is a name that he gave himself; and it’s really nice to have moments where you can remember exactly why, and reflect on the promise that he gave himself. “Never cruel or cowardly, never give up and never give in”.
After we’ve been introduced to George Newman, a journalist for The Times, who’s reporting on the war; there’s a brilliant scene involving some sexism on his part, saying that women must find it difficult to understand war. If there’s one person I wouldn’t say that in front of, it would be Ace. To juxtapose the scene of sexism and female empowerment, there’s a beautifully tender scene between the Doctor and a character named Juan, who both reflect on the casualties of the war. Considering that the Seventh Doctor was arguably the most manipulative incarnation of the Time Lord, I find it really comforting and grounding when we see his more vulnerable and empathetic side like this.
The first episode of Fiesta of The Damned is a brilliant tale of humanity during war in it’s own right; a story about the Spanish Civil War and the men who fought it; even it’s told from only one point of view.
Enzo Squillino Jr, who not only has an amazing name, but plays Juan, delivers a haunting monologue towards the end of the first episode of the story about mortality, legacy and war. It’s not often that Doctor Who can move me in such a way, but between the words of Guy Adams, the music of Jamie Robertson and the performance of Enzo Squillino Jr, I can safely say that I had a genuine moment of pause, thought and reflection. And people say that Doctor Who is just a kids show.
The cliffhanger to the first episode is so very Doctor Who, with the Seventh Doctor trying to save himself from death by babbling on. But who, or what, is out to kill him? I’m certainly not going to tell you…
The second episode begins exactly where the first left off, with the Doctor in grave danger; I must say that the resolution to the predicament is slightly lacklustre and predictable, but the result of the resolution is a brilliant piece of performance from Sylvester McCoy, so I won’t complain.
In Farissa, the place of refuge for both the army and the TARDIS crew, not is all as it seems; with the damned returning and morphing into monstrosities and a man, who seems to be a leper and is almost immediately met with disdain from the townsfolk.
One of the many things that I have to give credit to Guy Adams for, is writing beautiful monologues for each of the main cast in this story; we’ve already had the Doctor talk about the futility of war, Juan talk about legacy, and about midway through the second episode, we have Mel tell Juan about the universe and the terrifying creatures that inhabits it.
Big Finish is great at expanding on the mythology and the lore of Doctor Who, and Fiesta of The Damned also adds fuel to that beautiful, brilliant fire. We learn that the Doctor carries around a walkie-talkie. Nothing too out of the ordinary about that, is there? Well there is in it’s design. I love the fact that Guy Adams added this small, seemingly insignificant detail that reminds you just how bonkers the life that the Doctor leads really is.
You know how two paragraphs ago, I talked about the monologues that the Doctor, Juan and Mel had? Well, I can happily report that not long after Mel’s monologue, there’s a rather nice duologue between Ace and George, all about being an adrenaline junkie and the repercussions.
Once again, I must say that the cliffhanger was somewhat lacking for me, there was no real tension or revelation particularly, and it seemed to be somewhat of a damp squib to the second episode.
The penultimate episode starts with a classic chase scene, which sadly doesn’t last that long, as I like a good Doctor Who chase. Oh well.
Something I’ve noticed about Big Finish stories; especially ones featuring more than one companion, is that there seems to normally be two different plot threads that intertwine in the final act. Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I can wholeheartedly understand why writers would utilise such a large TARDIS crew, as it means you can explore different aspects of a story simultaneously; but there’s something about the way that Guy Adams has written it in Fiesta of The Damned that seems to have hit the nail on the head. Having the TARDIS crew united, then split, then reunited, then split again, gives for a much more organic feeling story I feel.
I know I’ve said that the cliffhangers in Fiesta of The Damned have been somewhat lacklustre so far, but I have to say that the final cliffhanger, at the end of the third episode, is one of the best that Big Finish has ever had to offer. Like, wow. What an end to an episode. Wow.
For me, the final episode seemed to quickly remedy all of the tension of the final cliffhanger, which, whilst understandable for the sake of the story, could have been left to simmer for slightly longer; I’m sure if Guy Adams had more than the allocated two hours, that that would have happened, but hey ho.
If there’s one thing I love the Doctor to be against, it’s a ticking clock; as it adds a sense of definite danger. If the Doctor is just against a Dalek, he has time to think of something very clever and brilliant to win, whereas when he’s under pressure, the Doctor is more susceptible to making mistakes or misjudging the situation.
Characters that aren’t the main TARDIS crew always feel like they’re easily disposable, without many repercussions in the long term, especially for the Doctor and his companions; but I must admit that in Fiesta of The Damned, all of the characters, especially Juan and George, feel as if their lives really matter. If there’s one thing that Guy Adams is a master of, I would say it’s the ability to make you emotionally invested in everyone; whether they’re the good guys or the bad, whether they have one line or many, you always feel as if they’re extremely important.
Mel has an absolute great piece of character development in the latter half of the final episode, which is absolutely chilling and brilliant at the same time; considering Mel is one of the most underused and underrated companions (in my opinion, of course), I think it’s great that Guy Adams gave her character a great time to shine.
The conclusion to Fiesta of The Damned is a very nice wrap up to the story as a whole, with Juan and Mel sharing a very genuine tender moment. It’s not every day where we have a fairly happy ending to a story; it’s a shame that foreknowledge makes the whole story somewhat bittersweet.
Yet again, I must commend the brilliant sound design of Martin Montague and the music of Jamie Robertson; the music is very reminiscent of Murray Gold’s take on big, epic, orchestral soundtrack that is used in New-Who and it works perfectly here. The sound design too is absolutely stellar, and the sound of bombs dropping genuinely sends shivers down the spine.
Overall, Fiesta of The Damned is a great story, with lots of exciting twists and turns. It’s not your normal Doctor Who story, and, like the cover, is extremely refreshing. If you’re looking for a hot story filled with dread, suspense and various types of tension, then this is almost definitely worth buying.
Should you want to purchase Fiesta of The Damned, it’s currently available from Big Finish for £14.99 on CD or a £12.99 download which you can purchase here.