Review: Mistfall

One of the major appeals for Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio release is the line’s ability to revisit lesser-known parts of the show’s past. Much as long-time Who viewers would love to see an appearance by the Rani, for example, or perhaps even Sil, it’s unlikely to happen. And it’s unlikely that the TARDIS would ever land on Metebelis Three so that the Twelfth Doctor could face off with the Queen of Spiders once more. However, with the Big Finish releases, such scenarios are not only possible, they’re likely. Nostalgia is one of the driving forces of the Doctor Who line, particularly for the “classic” Doctors appearing in them.

The real test for these nostalgic stories, though, is if they simply wallow in the past, or if they also manage to bring something new to the table as well. Is there a more modern take on a past character? Is there a new angle for an old storyline? If there isn’t something new, then that nostalgic element can get boring fairly quickly, as it becomes an old friend who’s good to see, but unfortunately doesn’t have much to say.

Fortunately, that’s not the case with Mistfall, the opening adventure of a trilogy of Fifth Doctor adventures set in E-Space – the same place where a trio of televised Doctor Who adventures (“Full Circle”, “State of Decay”, and “Warrior’s Gate”) featuring the Fourth Doctor took place. And not only does Mistfall rely on that bit of nostalgia, it’s also a sequel to “Full Circle”. Written by Andrew Smith, who also penned “Circle”, Mistfall hits a lot of the same themes and beats as its predecessor. But there’s enough new ideas injected into the story – and, in particular, one new character – that keeps it feeling fresh, and not just a retread of an old but good televised adventure.

Mistfall begins with the crew of the TARDIS – the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough, and an older Nyssa (brought onboard once more after twenty-odd years on Terminus) – rediscovering some of Adric’s old calculations for negative E-Space coordinates. Adric had stated before his untimely demise in “Earthshock” that he’d been able to figure out a way back to E-Space … and, as it turns out, he was correct, as the calculations lead the TARDIS back through a CVE to that other universe, and lead the Doctor and his companions to a new set of adventures there.

Much like the original “Full Circle”, the first planet that the TARDIS lands on is the planet Alzarius, home to the Sleestak Marshmen. There, the Doctor and his companions encounter explorers from the world of New Alzarius – the descendants of the original inhabitants who left in the Starliner, many generations before – who are there ostensibly to study the homeworld of their ancestors, and to learn more about the Marshmen. Of course, nothing’s that simple, and it’s up to the Doctor and the rest of the TARDIS crew to figure out exactly what’s going on, and to put a stop to some rather nefarious activities before it’s too late.

In terms of story, Mistfall follows the outline of its source material from “Full Circle” closely – perhaps a bit too closely at times. The titular mist appears conveniently just when the TARDIS arrives. Evil experiments on the Marshmen. Yet more mistaken beliefs that the Marshmen are evil and must be destroyed. But what makes things interesting is that unlike “Full Circle”, Mistfall gets to explore some of these ideas in depth. There’s real debate about the good that comes from the Marshmen experiments, for example, and the downside of stopping them – it’s not just a five-second good/evil debate. Mistfall gets the luxury of taking “Full Circle” and looking at the source material with a more nuanced eye, and that’s a very good thing.

Mistfall also follows some of the ideas first presented in “Full Circle” to some logical extensions. For example, in that original story, the Alzarians are revealed to be the descendants of the Marshmen. But were there any evolutionary steps in between? What were they like? The answer to that comes in Mistfall in the form of the character Fem … and it’s interesting to see which characters treat her as Alzarian, while others give her the disdain they give a Marshman. Again, it’s a level of complexity rarely seen in the original story, and it’s wonderful to see here.

In terms of performance, there’s some marvelous ones in this story. Peter Davison is great as the Fifth Doctor, professing his indignation and outrage at what’s happening on Alzarius as only he can. I particularly enjoyed Janet Fielding as Tegan in Mistfall as well – the Big Finish adventures (such as this one) do a great job of showing that she’s more than a “mouth with legs”, but clever, compassionate … and yes, easily outraged. Also of particular note is the appearance of Jemma Redgrave (U.N.I.T.’s Kate Stewart, in the modern Who series) as Decider Merrion. She gets a great role in this story as someone who trying’s to balance what’s best for the New Alzarians versus what’s best for the planet Alzarius – and that’s no simple task. She gives a great performance of someone who’s often conflicted, but still trying to do the right thing.

In fairness, if you’ve never seen “Full Circle”, I do wonder how much you might enjoy this story. There is a certain amount of assumption that the listener is familiar with that original televised story, enough so that I could understand how someone who’d never seen it might be a little lost listening to Mistfall at times. But for such a listener, I still think this would be an enjoyable story … and for Who fans familiar with “Full Circle”, this one would definitely be a treat. The story’s available now on the Big Finish website.

-Mike

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