THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Land of the Dead

Written by Stephen Cole Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Running Time 90 mins
Released 2000
Continuity Between Time Flight and
Arc of Infinity

Starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Also featuring Lucy Campbell, Alistair Lock, Christopher Scott, Neil Roberts and Andrew Fetters

Synopsis: The Doctor and Nyssa find themselves drawn to Alaska. Local spirits are making drastic attempts to assail the land and Nyssa seems to be "in tune" with them - but she doesn't entirely like what she sees.


Reviews

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 10/2/00

Harking back to the traditional plotline of "base under siege", Land Of The Dead gives the underused team of Peter Davison`s Doctor and Sarah Sutton`s Nyssa the chance to shine; particularly as they are supported by a small but well chosen cast of both actors and charactors.

The setting of Alaska is refreshing, the storyline simple yet enjoyable and the effects as ever excellent. Coupled with great cliffhangers, Land Of The Dead is probably the strongest Doctor Who story to come from Big Finish. The absence of Janet Fielding (who you might expect to be here, had she not chosen to abstain from the series) is not noticeable, as the character of Monica Lewis is virtually a surrogate Tegan anyway.

Professor Brett (who unleashes the monsters) is sardonic and reminiscent of Lockwood from BBV`s Auton trilogy, while Tulung the young eskimo native serves as a love interest for Nyssa. All of this keeps the story flowing at a steady pace, and it is all the more enjoyable for it.


A Review by Elsa Frohman 13/2/00

I've just finished listening to this. Much better script than either of the two previous Big Finish audios I've listened to. (I haven't heard the Colin Baker one, whatever it ended up named).

Steve Cole's script is much less cliched and much more logical than Mark Gatiss' Phantasmagoria. Once you started thinking about it, Gatiss' story simply didn't hold together or make any sense.

The performances are variable. Lucy Campbell is competent as Monica Lewis, the interior decorator. Andrew Fettes and Neil Roberts are ludicrous as "Eskimos." Neither one seems to have a clear idea of what sort of accent an Inuit would have. Fettes seems, strangely, to have gone for French Canadian. Roberts' accent is less of a problem because he's supposed to be half American. But his American accent slips continually, and he delivers his lines as if he's reading them off 3X5 cards.

Sarah Sutton's voice has changed so radically since her Doctor Who days, that I wouldn't know that the character is supposed to be Nyssa if the Doctor didn't keep calling her that. But her acting is OK. Particularly since she's revisiting a character who never acted so you could notice it. :)

I realize that Peter's voice has changed since those days as well, but since I've been hearing it continuously, and the change has been gradual, I don't get any strong "that doesn't sound like the Fifth Doctor" vibes.

The story works pretty well. I have some small nitpicks. While the Fifth Doctor was known to be sacastic at times, Cole overdoes it. But at the same time, there are some nice satisfying bits in there too, so I won't kvetch too much. I know I'm on record saying I don't like Cole's writing, but this really isn't bad. I find myself wondering whether I'd like Cole to write a Fifth Doctor novel. He needs to tone down the sarcasm a bit... but with that adjustment, he might pull it off.

There are still problems with the recording levels. At times it's difficult to hear the dialog over the sound effects and incidental music. I DO wish Gary would get that straightened out. It's such a basic thing. The best script and performances can be so easily ruined with shoddy recording.

IMHO, Land of the Dead is the best of the audio adventures so far. (Excluding the Colin Baker one, since I haven't heard it.)


A Review by Graham Nelson 22/3/00

Nothing about this story was promising in advance -- one of the blandest titles on record (though I suppose "Doctor Who and the Permians" would have been worse), and a sleeve note by the author, confessing that "A combination of unforeseen events and shifting schedules left me with only a week to come up with the scripts". Say, twenty-five finished pages per day? -- but what the hell, Terry Nation could do it for The Chase. Pip and Jane Baker could do it. Let nobody say there aren't precedents. It doesn't get any better when the first disc starts playing, with the unassured tones of a continuity announcer, followed by the strains of the early-70s theme music -- not the more appropriate 80s version, oh no: the fan boy's favourite. Was this, one wondered, going to be a fantasy outing all round?

But appearances were entirely misleading, because from there on it was surprisingly good, often excellent, drama: smartly written, as intelligent as the genre allows, well played by a small cast and all in all thoroughly broadcastable -- immensely better than BBC Radio 5's depressingly mediocre, bordering on silly, Jon Pertwee serials, which racked up more haunches of honey-roast ham than Sainsbury's delicatessen in a pork promotion week. Barring the continuity announcer this presentation is highly professional, though it would I think have benefitted from having the cast list and credits read out at the end of episode 4. (Instead, the CD sleeve features pastiche Radio Times cuttings. They can't actually make you eleven years old again and provide you with hot buttered crumpets as you wait anxiously for the football results to finish, but believe me, they would if they could.)

Peter Davison is assisted by the somewhat underused Sarah Sutton as Nyssa (an authentic touch there, for all that the author dutifully employs her biotech credentials) and also by an interior decorator called Monica. Monica is half Lara Croft, half Rachel Whiteread, fills the same dialogue requirements as Tegan, and is acted rather nicely by Lucy Campbell. Remarkably, considering that the opposition consists of ancient mythological forces untimely awak'd in the Alaskan wilderness, Monica's deft hand in fabrics turns out to be of crucial importance. Without spoiling any surprises (and this isn't the denouement anyway), suffice to say that the Permians have the most surprising weakness of any Doctor Who monster since the early days of the Cybermen. (The reader will recall that the Cybermen's only weakness was successively found to be radiation, chemical solvents, gravity, electricity, quick-setting plastics and gold, not counting imbecility that is. It seems a cruel fate to have more than three times as many Achilles heels as you have legs, but there we are.)

I shouldn't make The Land of the Dead sound camp in the least. In what is, in fact, a credible plot played straight, and thankfully without need of posturing megalomaniacs or random alien invasions, details casually trailed in the early episodes turn out to have significance later. The setup is a classic one in which our heroes turn up unexpectedly at an isolated community where odd things start to happen, and as always we have to suspend our disbelief at the way that the people in this community appear never to have engaged with each other's motives before now, so that they can work out their feelings about each other in front of us. Another classic motif is that, in part 3, everybody spontaneously decides to call the monsters Permians. (Hey, it worked for the Silurians. See the entry "UNFAMILIAR MONSTERS, MANKIND'S UNERRING ABILITY TO GUESS THE IDENTITIES OF" in Doctor Who: The Completely Useless Encyclopaedia, ed. Howarth and Lyons.) Part 1 is overlong, at about 31 minutes, and carried largely by Peter Davison's gusto as he lectures on Alaskan history. One wonders what it would have been like after a rough night of script editing by Eric Saward, with a Tardis bedroom scene added, during which Nyssa has a premonitory dream, after which the actual events are crammed into an incomprehensible barrage at the end. Here on CD, of course, it can just run five minutes over in its raw form and what the hell. Let me also remark that another sign of Mr Saward's non-involvement is that the story is self-contained, involves no classic baddies and makes pleasantly few elliptical references to Who continuity; just enough to confirm for the aficionado that this story takes place just after Earthshock and Time-Flight, as of course it must. (Nyssa is, therefore, understandably a little bored with having to learn about somebody else's geological history for the third time in a row.)

There's a certain sense in which radio sci-fi works better than TV, in that the visuals never let it down, given a good enough writer of the words. (The Land of the Dead has no music, but instead a stereo soundscape in convincingly 80s style: mostly plangent, fat bass synthesiser howls, with occasional sad flutes and the odd bit of desolate wind noise. It sounds quite like The Five Doctors, actually.) The words, of course, are everything, especially when it comes to describing magnificent vistas, terrifying monsters and unexpected but, let's face it, largely visual events. The tricky point is for the script-writer to find an excuse for someone to say, in a moment of crisis and dire peril, "Look, Doctor, it must be eighty feet tall and it's coming right for us, and are those teeth? They look more like claws, and I can see a glint of metal I think, and...". Most of the standard dodges are on offer in this production -- the Doctor and Nyssa exchange bad news by radio telephone, for instance. James Follett, in his classic "Earthsearch" serials of the early 1980s, was a master of this sort of relayed landscape; indeed there's plenty more in the 1950s epic "Journey Into Space", the third serial of which ("The Earth in Peril") contains an astonishingly tedious and annoying sequence in which the cast spend twenty minutes in pitch darkness, feeling their way around the walls and telling each other the layout. Nothing like that here; and the absence of picture spares us what would probably be a spectacularly silly moment when our heroes discover a woolly mammoth's bottom poking out of the wall and still wriggling. Think Animatronics. Think unemployed actors who used to play the pantomime horse in "Rentaghost". Think Myrka Beast. Think how lucky you are this is an audio production.

One reason why audio sci-fi can work so well is that there are no corridors to be running down, no model shots to be panning endlessly over. Frantic cuts between one story thread and another, in the style of the wildly over-edited later serials of John Nathan-Turner, are impossible, so the script is necessarily more theatrical and relies on more traditional dramatic virtues, i.e., dialogue. Plot. Motivation. There are quite a few ideas in this story, though it never deviates from a staunchly Doctor Who line on magic and mythology, borrowed in turn from Nigel Kneale's Quatermass serials (myths are corrupted memories of scientifically explicable events, etc., etc.). In short a bad writer could make a far worse audio Who than a TV one ever could be, but a good writer could potentially make a far better one, and if this story isn't as strong as Earthshock it's a lot better than The Visitation or Four to Doomsday or Time-Flight. Mr Cole's week was pretty well spent.

On the whole, I've been sceptical about most of the attempts to extend Doctor Who beyond its episodic television existence, from the Doctor Who and the Pescatons LP to the Paul McGann movie, to say nothing of the ceaseless books, the crisp packets and the computer games. Perhaps that's my loss. But of all of these apocrypha, The Land of the Dead felt most like the real thing. Unlike every other audio spin-off I've heard, this stood as a satisfying radio play in its own right. If it's typical of the new Big Finish productions, then the BBC should be looking over its shoulder and angling to buy the broadcast rights. It should certainly be asking itself why somebody else has made the best new Doctor Who material since 1989, and without need of a fabulous budget. In the mean time go out and get a copy: you won't regret it.


A Second "Good But Not Great" For Doctor #5 by Peter Niemeyer 19/7/00

In many ways, my reaction to Land of the Dead is nearly identical to Phantasmagoria.

Certainly the specifics of this review will be different, but the general impression was the same. This was a decent adventure that kept my attention well enough. Perhaps its most significant flaws is that it doesn't live up to the promise of Whispers of Terror.

The story does play itself out like a standard base-under-seige story, which in and of itself isn't unique for Who but is a bit atypical for the Fifth Doctor. You'd more expect the Second Doctor to be in a story like this. The Alaska setting was relatively fresh. (I guess the BBC couldn't easily pass off a quarry for some desolate frozen tundra.) For the cast, Davison does his typical good job as the Doctor. Lucy Campbell's Monica Lewis was an adequate foil to the Doctor. I do have to admit I found the eskimos rather unconvincing.

Sarah Sutton has unfortunately fallen into the same vein as Mark Strickson and Nicola Bryant...there's something about their performance that just wasn't quite right. Though on the positive side, Sutton has come the closest to recapturing her on-screen character.

I do have to give compliments to the fact that the script gave Nyssa something of importance, and that she also made reference to the destruction of her homeworld. It always bothered me that this obviously tramatic event was rarely mentioned in the series after Logopolis, and when Nyssa sees the Melkur in Time-Flight, she moans about how it killed her father, conveniently ignoring that the Melkur/Master also caused her whole star system to become an entropy-incinerated cinder. But, I digress. I also liked her complaint to the Doctor that she had no clue what he was talking about when he went on and on about Alaskan history. How unfortunate that Nyssa didn't have this kind of writing back in Season 19.

The only big negative I have about the story is the layout of the house. It was integral to the plot, and yet I had a hard time keeping track of it. There is a nice map provided with the CD, but I didn't notice this until half-way into the story. And even then, I didn't look at it while I was listening to the story. It waqs too intrusive to the suspension of disbelief.

So whatever score I gave to Phantasmagoria, I'll give here. (8 out of 10) I do think Big Finish is heading in the right direction. And if they try to push the envelope a little more a la Whispers of Terror, I'd be more than happy to encourage them.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 8/5/01

Peter Davison’s Doctor is brilliant – of that there is no question. The sheer joy of having him back, doing these Audio Adventures is a major pleasure. Phantasmagoria showed that he had lost none of the charm he had as the Doctor many years ago – this is his next offering. He’s joined by Nyssa this time – possibly the companion that worked best with the 5th Doctor on Television.

Land of the Dead isn’t a bad story, by any means – it’s just not that great. Set in the snowy wastes of Alaska it should have atmosphere galore. Big Finish provide a haunting musical accompaniment to the action, for sure – you feel cold just listening to it. Stephen Cole emphasizes the culture that exists there, and the contrast with the rest of the world. There are many monologues about the ancient spirits, and the mixed blood the main characters have is never far from the main action. As I say it should have atmosphere galore.

But it doesn’t. The family feud that exists between Brett and Tulong is mentioned that much, it becomes uninteresting. The Permians roar, and then roar some more to provide cliffhangers. Monica Lewis comments sarcastically about something or other – and then she does it again later on. There is so much repetition, it’s like the Adventure is being stretched to fit its 4-part allotted time.

The story does contain some cracking ideas though. Brett’s house is a Architectural Marvel, providing the mind with some wonderful imagery. The Alaskan Waste setting provides a “cut-off from the outside world” scenario that is always striking. The Doctor dominates the action, trying to figure out how to defeat the Permian Menace. Davison is a great Doctor.

Onto the rest of the cast:-

Nyssa is a disappointment. Telling Tulong about the past was plain dumb, her continued trust of Tulong unbalanced. She is better in later Audios, thank goodness. Monica Lewis is the stand-in Tegan character – but nowhere near as good. What started out as a good character became rather one-dimensional by the end of the story. Brett, as the leading baddie, is pretty good. He has one of those menacing voices so required of villains – but even he goes nowhere with his character.

So as a summary – Davison is great, there’s some great ideas – but the story lacks magic overall. 6/10.


Ho, ho, ho by Robert Thomas 15/1/02

Typical, for a Christmas present I get the Big Finnish set in Alaska. It's got snow and ice in it but sadly no elves and Santa.

I quite enjoyed it and its really quite rompy, as opposed to being utter p*** which I heard it was. All the faults such as being too visual, badly acted and uninteresting are not to be found. It's actually very light on plot although the story never really drags as what happens happens with a sense of style. I can't comment about the Alaskan accents because I've never heard one before but they didn't strike me as bad, unlike the yanks in Minuet. The acting is top notch with Davison really enjoying himself, the character of Monica really stands out and is amongst my favorite original Big Finish characters. I think I missed the explanation of the hybrids so if you blink you might miss a lot. The map was quite useful and helps to understand the action as a lot takes place in the building, but it's not impossible to follow it without the map.

So all in all quite a fun little story, you wont miss much from not listening to it, but if you do you'll enjoy it.


A Review by Brian May 8/11/05

The Land of the Dead is a fairly average but nonetheless entertaining adventure. You can tell it's been written in a week, as the sleeve notes attest, for the plotting is fairly haphazard, lacking any real complexity or sophistication (that's not to say that all enjoyable Doctor Who has to be deep and complicated, of course). It sufficiently holds the interest while you're listening, although it drifts from your thoughts soon after it's over.

It's no more than an isolated base under siege tale (well, Brett's house is a sort of a base, isn't it?) mixed with the resurrection of an ancient entity. Fortunately the awakening force isn't some all-powerful sentience that made us yawn during the early 1990s; it's just a vicious species of rampaging monster. The Primeans are well conceptualised, especially their adaptation to their environment and absorption of human characteristics and knowledge.

Peter Davison is fantastic. It's his third Big Finish adventure, and he's settled back into the role of the fifth Doctor with consummate ease, easily recapturing his distinctive speech patterns and mannerisms, and you can visualise his pained shrugs and wearied frowns perfectly! Sarah Sutton on the other hand, is not so good. Her sixteen-year absence as Nyssa is very noticeable. The actress has matured, especially vocally, and she has a hard time trying to regress back to the young girl her character is. But she's never what you'd call downright awful (ahem, except for her delivery of lines at part one's climax). Nevertheless Nyssa herself benefits from some good writing; she's a bit more philosophical, although she retains a lot of the televised character's naivety (which is a good thing actually, as it retains some continuity).

Neil Roberts and Andrew Fettes put in rather bland performances as Tulung and Gaborik, with some dreadful accents. Christopher Scott as Brett starts off very awkwardly, as if he's uncomfortable with the character, and he often overacts. But by episode four he's settled in, paradoxically becoming more restrained and controlled as his character becomes ever more unhinged. Lucy Campbell is a delight as Monica. Despite some trite dialogue written for her (the "retro" dynamite close to the end is shocking), she's a smart, sarcastic and sassy woman (the tea-making exchange when she and Nyssa trap the Doctor is wonderful). She doesn't have the sharp wit or rapport with the Doctor as Nerys Hughes's Todd in Kinda, but she's still a good foil and an acceptable surrogate companion.

The feel is appropriately cold and claustrophobic, and there are some tense moments, with episode two's cliffhanger being especially good. Gary Russell's direction has a few weak moments. The attempt by the Doctor to avoid the airplane colliding with the TARDIS, and the first attack by the monsters (upon the Doctor and Nyssa in the tundra), are rather loose and unfocused, and could have both been tightened by a considerable few seconds. The Alaskan wilderness, and the myths and legends of its inhabitants, is a great idea for a Doctor Who story although, as mentioned, the rushed writing means that much of its potential hasn't been tapped. The third episode is too static (and too long), the whole Brett/Tulung conflict is unengaging and their showdown in the old mine is similarly dull. And the realisation that fire is the weapon to use against the Primeans is the ultimate example of how rushed the story is. The Doctor's droll observation "It's so simple it's almost ridiculous" is the writer's acknowledgment of this (and an apology to the listener), but still it's not much of an excuse.

But sloppy endings are not new to Doctor Who, and the final line, as Monica flirts with Tulung, is a nice way to close. As I mentioned earlier, you're guaranteed an entertaining escapade with The Land of the Dead, although it's rather inconsequential. It won't stay in your mind for too long. 5.5/10