Big Finish are trying something slightly different with this trilogy in the Doctor Who Main Range, with having two one hour long stories in each release, seemingly related by similar titles. This month, we’re joining the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex with the stories Shadow Planet and World Apart; today, I’ll be reviewing the first of the two tales, Shadow Planet, written by AK Benedict.
Troubled? Anxious? Tormented by self-doubt? Come to Unity, the psychic planet! From our therapy centre beside Unity’s idyllic shores, the Unity Corporation can help you overcome all your problems. How? By using a patented combination of technology and Jungian psychology, we can bring you face to face with your shadow self. The hidden you. The dark you. The you that no-one knows…
It’s a weird confession, I know; but I absolutely love it when the Doctor and his companions are in the TARDIS. Those little scenes, usually before an episode really kicks off, or after a day of high adventure, when we see the TARDIS crew having a bit of downtime, are strangely my favourite. I think it’s because it’s nice to see, or in Big Finish’s case, hear, our gang just be themselves. No Daleks, no Cybermen, no epic speeches about fighting like animals; it’s just a great time to hear the Doctor, and in this case Ace and Hex, be themselves.
When the Doctor tells Ace and Hex to amuse themselves, Ace looks for a planet to visit, and after being told that visiting the planet Hair would be a harebrained idea, Ace and Hex decide on a newly opened planet, a planet called Unity.
You know in Doctor Who, that any planet that seems to be in any regard utopian, is probably hiding something extremely sinister; the same can be said about any cult like people. Smashing the two together though, and you can just tell that something major is going down.
With the Doctor, Ace and Hex on Unity, and learning about the process of separating people from their “shadows”, the side of a person that they don’t like to show, both Ace and Hex said that they’d give it a go. I mean, it can’t be dangerous at all, right? Right?!? The Doctor, on the other hand, is much more adamant to be split into the Doctor and his shadow, and so goes off on his own adventure.
Once Ace has been introduced to her shadow-self, the very antithesis of her former self, there’s a great bit of rapport; Sophie Aldred’s performance makes it incredibly easy to differentiate the two just from her voice. That’s the sign of a truly great actress.
Near the end of the first episode of Shadow Planet, we get some great exposition into the history of the planet Unity, and what the planet was like before it’s grand opening. Every planet has a history, and the Doctor is fairly sure he knows what’s going on. As suspected, not everything is as it seems on Unity.
The cliffhanger, if I’m being perfectly honest, was slightly lacklustre to me; especially because there was no real action, just a few mildly threatening words. If I’m continuing this trend of being perfectly honest though, the cliffhanger is the only aspect of the first episode that I didn’t enjoy. So that’s good.
The second episode kicks off at a decent pace, with Unity’s future looking uncertain. It’s up to the Doctor, as usual, to try and fix the damage that he didn’t cause. With the Doctor, a Professor, Ace, Shadow Ace, Hex and Shadow Hex on the planet, you can imagine just how simple solving the issue would be. (Hint: Not very)
There’s a great twist during the last act of Shadow Planet, one that really came out of nowhere but worked brilliantly. We also get a brilliant treat in the form of a speech from the Seventh Doctor that feels as though it was influenced by Matt Smith’s monologue in The Rings of Akhaten. What I love about Sylvester McCoy’s performance though, is that it’s a lot more understated and solemn, adding a real gravitas to his Doctor.
Over the past two releases of Alien Heart/ Dalek Soul and Vortex Ice/ Cortex Fire, we’ve had different ways in which the two stories were linked to one another; Shadow Planet and World Apart seem to be no exception either, with an exhilarating cliffhanger that makes you want to know what happened next. This is what a cliffhanger should be.
Overall, Shadow Planet is a fun story that is a welcome return to the Big Finish companion to the Seventh Doctor, Hex. Whilst there are certainly a lot of interesting themes; I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed that the run time didn’t allow for certain themes, especially the one of the shadows, to be explored further and in more detail. Other than that though, AK Benedict has proven once again that she’s an incredibly talented scriptwriter, and I for one, cannot wait to see what else she has in store!
Should you want to purchase Shadow Planet/ World Apart, it’s currently available from Big Finish for £14.99 on CD or a £12.99 download which you can purchase here.