Big Finish Productions
The Judgment of Isskar

Written by Simon Guerrier Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2009

Starring Peter Davison and Ciara Janson

Synopsis: On a planet where Time stands still, the Doctor meets a woman who is just a few minutes old. She is a Tracer, sent into our Universe by her makers to locate the six segments of the Key to Time. This being without a name wants the Doctor to be her assistant, but she doesn't tell him the whole truth. Not at first.


My Favorite Alen Race by Adrian Loder 8/11/09

Before I begin the review proper, I just wanted to give my thanks to Big Finish for implementing downloadable content on their website last year, as this has greatly increased my ability to enjoy these stories. Not only does the reduced cost of DLC make the exchange rate pinch a lot less, but the ability to listen to an intriguing story mere minutes after purchasing it is rather wonderful.

There hasn't been a great deal of activity as far as new BF reviews on the DWRG, but while I can't speak for anyone else, for my part it hasn't been for a lack of listening to, and enjoying, these stories. While some of the recent audios have been subpar, several really excellent ones have been released in the last year or so, especially Son of the Dragon, Assassin in the Limelight, and The Boy That Time Forgot. I would love to review any of those three right now, but due to a financial pinch it'd been a while since I'd ordered any stories, so last night I decided to buy something new to listen to.

There were a number of attractive possibilities: some of the 8th Doctor items piqued my interest, and I was also eager to listen to more 6th Doctor stories now that Charley has become his companion rather than that of his future self. However, there is always that part of me that wants the first story I've listened to in a while to be a 5th Doctor story. There's something reassurring about them, even if the story itself is hardly standard stuff, such as with The Axis of Insanity. So there I was going over the list of recently-released audios and I discovered that a new Key To Time (which is being called Key 2 Time, haha so clever *sigh*) story arc has been produced, and guess which Doctor is in it?

However, the original Key To Time story was not something that was just crying out to me for a sequel and some of those stories were rather lackluster to begin with. However, I took a look at the descriptive blurb and saw that this story features the Ice Warriors. That sealed it for me, frankly. The fifth Doctor and the Ice Warriors and a new companion? Yes, please. You see, the Ice Warriors are my favorites of all Doctor Who's monsters, and you'll note I say monster and not villain or "bad guys". Actually, I ought to say "aliens" rather than monster, even; this is why I love the Ice Warriors, they have depth. Unlike the Daleks, unlike the Cybermen, unlike the Sontarans, the Ice Warriors, even on TV, were shown from different perspectives. With the second Doctor they were basically villainous, repilian aliens, but then came the thirrd Doctor's era and we learned that the Ice Warrior culture would evolve and outgrow militarism, and that some Ice Warriors would fight against this more civilized way of life.

And the audios have only added granularity to the depiction of the Ice Warriors and their culture. Although Frozen Time certainly has its flaws, it helps to flesh out the picture of Ice Warrior civilization as strong and resistant to outsiders, but very changed from their brutal, conquering past. And Red Dawn painted a subtle and compelling picture of a society built on honor, trust and respect. Unlike the Daleks and Cybermen and so many other creatures in Doctor Who, the Ice Warriors are three-dimensional and even if they may happen to be opposed to the Doctor at a certain point in time, as in this recent story, you can't help but see things from their perspective and care about their fate. This makes for a much more compelling story.

So, all of this is a long-winded way of saying that I just finished listening to The Judgement of Isskar, part 1 of the new Key To Time story arc, and thought it was quite good. It wasn't a tour de force of theatrical delights, but it also wasn't bad by any stretch and is, in my estimation, above-average.

For starters, the characters are, mostly, quite engaging and well-acted. Peter Davison's voice, I think, has aged much differently than that of Doctors 6, 7 and 8. He sounds quite good, but he does sound a lot more changed from his TV voice - and even his voice at the start of the Big Finish run - than the others, perhaps because the others had already aged more by that point? It doesn't really matter, though, because he is very strong in this performance, guiding new companion Amy who happens to be a bit more helpless than your typical newbie to the TARDIS. The fifth Doctor's compassion and selflessness are given the most play in this script and it works very well in playing off the honorable culture of the Ice Warriors and contrasting with the behavior of the villain of the piece.

Speaking of whom, the villain is not so much a cut-and-dried evil stereotype, as she is a sort of counterpoint to Amy, and in this the both of them are quite interesting, exploring the idea of what happens when a newly formed being, impressionable and without knowledge, latches onto a certain sort of person for help, and begins to be influenced by that person. Both of them are also well-acted, with both beginning to grow and show more open characterization as the story moves along.

The Ice Warriors are also well-portrayed, especially the titular Isskar. We always knew that the Ice Warriors would eventually become a peaceful race, but now we learn (and this is in the teaser blurb, so it's not a spoiler) that they were originally an entirely peaceful race, not even referring to themselves as Ice Warriors. Although not a lot of time is allowed for showing this culture before the event that changed their history forever, the time is used well, and the honorable code that drives them in later periods of their culture is already on display here.

In a lot of ways, the story is really Isskar's, as he remembers a time and a Mars that can never be returned to. The villain of the story plays on Isskar's single-minded fight to return the Ice Warriors to what they once were, and, as usual, the Doctor is involved in a misunderstanding regarding his own involvement. The exchanges near the end of the story between Isskar and the Doctor are rather touching and have a depth to them that is only possible because the Ice Warriors are not cardboard cutouts like other alien races. Sometimes they work with the Doctor, sometimes they fight against him, and sometimes they do a little of both.

I suppose I think these Ice Warrior stories work so well with the fifth Doctor because, even more than in his other incarnations, in his fifth self he really would like other people to just stop shooting and try and understand each other. And the Ice Warriors are the perfect race for stories about conflict between different cultural attitudes and attempts to bridge the gaps and begin to understand and respect one another, because their history with other races has known both peace and war and peace again.

As for the other alien race in this story, I'm afraid they seem mostly present for comedic effect and are actually somewhat tiresome. When the Ice Warriors barge in again it really saves things, and fortunately the other aliens are kept mostly in the background, but, as a result, seem a bit superfluous. The plot itself is nicely paced and fairly clever, the dialogue is good with some nice exchanges between Amy and the Doctor, as well as a good mix of introspection and action. It does drag a bit when we're stuck with the second alien race for a bit, but, as noted above, it picks up again when the Ice Warriors return.

All in all I give this story an 8/10. The Key to Time itself seems almsot secondary, but that's good - it serves its proper function as a device to drive character growth and the plot of the story, without the story getting too bogged down by the imposition of the Key to Time plot. Not a classic, but still very good.