THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Invaders from Mars

Written by Mark Gatiss Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2002
Continuity After The telemovie

Starring Paul McGann and India Fisher
Also featuring Ian Hallard, Mark Benton, Jonathan Rigby, David Benson, Paul Putner, Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, John Arthur

Synopsis: A year after a mysterious meteorite lit up the skies of New York state, Martian invaders laid waste to the nation. At least, according to soon-to-be infamous Orson Welles they did. But what if some of the panicked listeners to the legendary 'War of the Worlds' broadcast weren't just imagining things?


Reviews

What's that ticking...? by Joe Ford 6/3/02

When I first heard the free copy of episode one of this story with Doctor Who Magazine I thought I wasn't going to like the rest very much. It was all pretty confusing with so many characters vying for attention. There was enough wit in the script however to tempt me to but it. And I'm glad I did, not only is it a supremely witty piece but also a clever one. I can't think when I last had so much fun listening to Doctor Who (oh yeah, it was The One Doctor…but that masterpiece was a Christmas special!).

Mark Gatiss is such a good character writer, his wonderful creations were the highlight of his previous audio Phantasmagoria and he's done it again here. With the subject matter (alien invaisions of the late 30's) you can see him affectionately poking fun of the genre whilst celebrating the dawn of science-fiction too. Characters like Chaney and Ellis are so representive of what we would imagine gansters to be like that we can revel in their marvellous lines and shifty loyalties. Glory Bee was a fine foil for the Doctor and the outrageously camp Cosmo was simply perfect for his role in the scheme of things! You can tell the Doctor is having so much fun just being a part of these OTT shenanigans and Charley is as fun and bolshie as ever.

And what of the acting…? Sterling of course but what else would you expect from such actors as Jessica Stevenson and Simon Pegg (from the excellent Spaced). You can tell the cast had so much fun with the silly script. McGann has really come of age and lifts any scenes he is in. And I feel I should put in a worthy mention for the wonderful Ian Hallard who gives us his hysterical character Mouse with such a cool accent I was going around mimicking it for days!

The story was inspired, alien invasion stories heralding alien invasion stories heralding alien invasion stories (confused? You won't be, but like me you'll have so much fun realising just where the hell the invasion force is coming from!!). The Doctor's solution to the big pickle that they have found themselves in is brilliant and not at all a cop out. Oh and the two alien voices are damn near the most funny things I've ever heard!

This audio reminds me of the book range, pushing the series into new and more enjoyable territories. I would suggest you all listen to it for proof that McGann is still the Doctor at the moment. And a fucking damn fine one at that!

Watch this space for The Chimes of Midnight, written by Robert Shearman (The Holy Terror), the trailer made it sound just ace!


Invaders from EnglaMerica by Peter Niemeyer 25/3/02

Invaders from Mars wasn't a total wash. There were some good bits in it. Unfortunately, there were also some annoying bits, and in the end I felt the annoying bits made a stronger impression.

First off, I was a bit disappointed to see two 8th Doctor/Charlie adventures in a row set in America. Similar to the 5th Doctor/Nyssa run of The Land of the Dead and Winter for the Adept, it didn't make the adventure seem as fresh as it could have been.

Second, and forgive me for reiterating a complaint I had about Minuet in Hell, I wish Big Finish would get a few American actors or just avoid doing American-based stories. Nobody in the States refers to a network with a "the" in front of it. (Yes, I know it's "the BBC", but it's not "the CBS".) And why does Cosmo Devine joke in episode one that he's wanted in 49 states, when in 1938 there were only 48 states? Several of the New York accents were straight out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. This almost makes The Gunfighters look authentic.

There was also "authentic 1930's incidental music" between each scene. The idea was certainly original, but I also found it utterly annoying. It was acceptable for characters to sing in Oh No It Isn't because there was a reason for it. It was very much part of the story. The musical interludes in Invaders just felt tacked on and obtrusive.

My primary complaint, however, was that the episode itself just wasn't terribly original. I feel like I could have written this plot in 30 minutes while stuck in traffic. The television show was around for 26 seasons, and Big Finish has done the equivalent of four more seasons (using the Peter Davison years as standard length). Surely they realize the need to find new things for the Doctor to do. We've had some wonderfully original productions...Whispers of Terror, The Fearmonger, The Fires of Vulcan, The One Doctor... I know Big Finish can do better than this.

On the plus side, I do find myself still enjoying Paul McGann's Doctor. (No aspersions to Charley, but she just didn't have quite as much to do.) I liked the sound of the alien ray gun, which sounds remarkably similar to the death beams used by the Martians in the "War of the Worlds" movie. The aliens were very entertaining, especially in Part 4. It was also nice to have our first definitively gay characters in a Doctor Who audio.

Many people have used the convention of using a 1 to 10 rating scale for the entire story. I've seen some stories start out with great promise and then lose it later on, and others start slow but finish with a bang. So, I've decided to rate each part from 1 to 10, and I decide on my rating after listening to a given part but before listening to the next. This will hopefully capture the "arc of opinion" I experienced while listening to the story.

Individual Part Ratings (from 0 to 10): 6-6-6-7

(The story was fairly mediocre throughout. The aliens provided the tail-end boost to Part 4, but it wasn't enough to make the overall impression more than mediocre.)


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 4/4/02

Mark Gatiss was pretty much given the reins of Big Finish for this new 8th Doctor story. Not only does he write the script, but he directs it too - whether you like it, or not, is the result of Gatiss more than anyone. There is the small matter of the return of the 8th Doctor and Charley too, mind you - plenty then to look forward to. DWM very kindly gave us a preview, making the wait for the real thing that bit more exciting.

What really stands out, above everything else of this production, is the original idea - the foundation on which the drama was built. That central concept is glorious, and you would be pretty hard pushed to make a pigs ear of it, I would guess. New York is in the grip of Orson Welles/War of the Worlds fever. The legendary broadcast is on the airwaves. Meanwhile a real alien presence makes its impact felt amongst the gangsters left over from the prohibition years. It's a marvelous idea, and one I was looking forward to listening to.

As for the realization of this great idea, my feelings are mixed.

The story takes a while to get going. Gatiss introduces us to a wide assortment of characters, perhaps too many. The Doctor arrives, Paul McGann's clipped tones are quiet and measured, compared to the booming 6th Doctor that has so enriched this audio range. The dialogue seems rushed at times, and it's a struggle to figure out where everyone fits in. Charley seems out of sorts, and doesn't really do a great deal throughout. She had been great in the previous 4 8th Doctor Audios, but here she seemed lost - ironically in a time period very close to her own.

Of the guest cast, it is only when the aliens arrive, that the rest come to life. The mix of New York accents, gangster jargon, Russian spies, Nazi infiltrators all seems to be a bit messy. But when the threat is clear, and the enemy the same for everyone, this is when the characters finally come into their own. From the previews I was expecting Cosmo to be over-the-top drag queen - but, despite the odd innuendo, it's an okay performance. The rest are no more than reasonably defined, they are cyphers - but I expect that was the intention. There just seems too many players, which affects how much time can be devoted to each, to their individual loss.

The world that Invaders From Mars is set in is reasonably well depicted. It is the traditional view of the 1930s, and there is a comic book like feel to much of the proceedings (Dick Tracy being an obvious inspiration). What music there is, is of the over-the-top-dramatic type, bookending most scenes. There should have been more music - a bit of jazz would have been welcome. The era could have been realized better.

The 8th Doctor is back for his Second Season, and this is one of 6 widely assorted stories to look forward to. Whilst Invaders From Mars is possibly the worst 8th Doctor Audio to date, it is still pretty good. I'm really looking for better than just "pretty good" from this new Who though. 7/10


Not A Good Start by Robert Thomas 11/5/02

I've criticized some stories before for only having a good start and not having anything else to shout about. With this one however the opposite is the case, believe me after I heard CD 1 I should have been thinking, 'I hope the second one is better,' instead I was thinking, 'I hope CD 2 is sharp enough to cut my ears off!'

The opening parts have far to many characters and not enough action. However as said above things improve when the 'Invaders' of the piece arrive. It's both a wordy story as well as an action story and this may be why it tends to lose its way at times. It's been described as brassy and to be honest that's the best way to describe it if you want to be polite, if you don't want to be polite the words loud and annoying would be more suitable.

The climax however is one of the most interesting and amusing of the Big Finish stuff so far. As for the acting, Paul McGann's Doctor continues to impress, Charley on the other hand tends to get lost in the mix. As for the guest cast none practically stand out and some only spring into life when interacting with the 'Invaders.'

In short it's worth listening for the final two parts alone. If you gave up at the end of part two I'd recommend that you continue, however if you're thinking of buying it listen to the second CD only - trust me it's a lot better this way.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 15/6/02

Kicking off a new season of adventures for The Eighth Doctor and Charley, Invaders From Mars is an entertaining tale from the pen of Mark Gatiss. The plot sees Orson Welles broadcast of The War Of The Worlds, whilst a real alien invasion actually gets underway. Invaders From Mars is basically lightweight, complete with that Big Finish speciality; the dodgy American accent (although the Russian accents aren`t crash hot either), the aliens aren`t convincing enough to be considered a real threat and it all feels like something from the Tom Baker era. Not that this is bad, it's refreshing, but it hardly taxes the imagination.

Paul McGann is great, with top dialogue as he plays detective and Time Lord respectively. And whilst India Fisher`s Charley isn`t involved a great deal, she is also on fine form. Of the guest cast Jessica Stevenson stands out for me, and a return in another role would be welcome. If Invaders From Mars had been released later in the season it wouldn`t feel right, but as an opener it succeeds.


A Review by John Seavey 7/5/04

It's really difficult to believe that this came from the same Mark Gatiss who wrote the wonderful Nightshade, or even the same Mark Gatiss who wrote the reasonably good Phantasmagoria, or even the same Mark Gatiss who wrote the fairly mediocre Last of the Gaderene. In fact, it's scarcely credible that this came from the same Mark Gatiss who wrote the quite bad St. Anthony's Fire. It's awful.

The Orson Welles connection, ostensibly the main inspiration for the story, consists mostly of the story cutting back to Welles every twenty minutes or so just so that we don't forget who he is. The evil aliens don't even hear 'War of the Worlds' -- the Doctor has to do a special re-enactment an hour or two later. The evil aliens aren't even evil -- just pathetic. The whole thing seems as though it wants to be a mix of comedy and horror, but fails at both... the jokes aren't funny and the screams aren't scary.

And the NAMES! "Glory Bee!" "Don Chaney!" "Bix Biro!" OK, Glory Bee's supposed to be an alias, but a) nobody seems to notice she's using what has to be the world's most obviously fake name, and b) what's everyone else's excuse? Honestly, the actors try their best, but they're hamstrung by a script that seems to have already been run through the shredder, and there's just no way you can succeed if you've got a bad script. The worst part is, there's a great script lurking somewhere in the basic concept, but now we'll probably never see it.