Doctor Who: Big Finish – The Judgement of Isskar Episode Four review

Episode four of Big Finish's Doctor Who: Key 2 Time season, and Peter Davison is on fine, fine form...

As the first of Big Finish’s Key2Time adventures begins to head towards rather climactic finale, we listeners continue to be treated to some really rather fine audio drama.

Episode Four opens in best Who style in the midst of the unresolved and seemingly unresolvable cliff-hanger from the end of Part Three. However, unlike many Who episodes in which the cliff-hanger is sorted out within seconds of the commencement of the next episode, this time the Fifth Doctor, played with relish by Peter Davison, genuinely seems to be trapped and very much in danger of losing his life amidst a torment of agonies.

For those of you with sensitive dispositions, the next paragraph contains spoilers:

The cliff-hanger itself is particularly clever and thought-provoking. If you remember, the climax of The Fourth Doctor’s struggle with the Key to Time had seen him confronted with the problem of what to do when one of the Segments turned out to be a living, breathing person – Princess Astra from The Armageddon Factor, in fact.

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In the Key 2 Time however, the Doctor views this dilemma from the other side of the window as he, and several other characters, are trapped inside a castle that has just been turned into one of the Segments. As the two people with the power to change the Segment back into the castle, and thus save the lives of those within, fight to decide the fate of its inhabitants, inside we are with the Doctor as he attempts to keep his grip on what remains of his reality and sanity by reciting increasingly confused and bizarre nursery rhymes.

This really highlights Davison’s acting prowess here. Although acting against an invisible blue screen monster must be a hard task for any Timelord, recording an audio drama which requires you to envisage being trapped in a microminiaturized castle with only aliens for company whilst reciting nursery rhymes and still managing to very much convince the audience that this is, indeed, what is going on, is a much greater task indeed. Yet Davison succeeds admirably. Add to this the fact that the cliff-hanger’s scenario is genuinely a really interesting premise. Oh yeah, and in a nice link to The Christmas Invasion and Hitch-hiker’s Guide, the Doctor is eventually brought back to health with tea. Which Amy manages to make for him after reading a description of the process in a George Orwell book. Wonderful stuff.

No more spoilers from hereon in. I promise.

The development of Zara’s character continues apace in this episode as does, in a totally different way, that of Amy’s. Four episodes in and I’m already hoping that she’ll be kept aboard the TARDIS for a few more adventures yet. She still remains a fascinating creation, full of potential, and also extremely likeable. Ciara Janson also seems to share a rapport with Davison that would put several companions of various Doctors to shame.

The Ice Warriors are also allowed a lot more room to breath as characters than in any previous depiction of them that I’ve seen. The largely likeable and sympathetic, yet seemingly cold and hard Isskar is an extremely well-rounded and well realised creation, as is his left hand man, Asgar, who really comes into his own in this episode.

As the episode gathers apace, a further example of Simon Guerrier’s excellent writing occurs during a confrontation of sorts between the Doctor and Isskar, whilst all around falls asunder. For once, the image of the ongoing destruction – I’m being vague as I don’t want to give too much away – is extremely well realised by the Big Finish effects department, and the episode eventually ends with the Doctor and Amy facing almost certain death. There literally is no way that they can logically escape from the predicament that they find themselves in.

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Until a most unexpected thing occurs.

And that, sadly, is where the story ends. As with most of the newer Big Finish stories, this one is left on an unresolved cliff-hanger, no doubt to encourage the listeners to buy the next instalment. Now, I know that Big Finish do have to make their money, but due to the lack of standalone stories, it makes the series harder to follow for the more casual listener who mightn’t have the £13 a month to purchase every single release, and they will be more likely to give up paying attention altogether than to persevere.

Just a thought.

As it was, this story was thoroughly entertaining – an excellent script, excellent new characters who were both well-developed and extremely believable, and also a stellar performance by the Doctor himself. Some minor irks came from the occasionally rather cluttered and incomprehensible action sequences, but all in all, I would heartily recommend The Judgement Of Isskar.