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Big Finish Review: Lords of the Red Planet


By Mark Perkins

The TARDIS crew land on Mars, home of the Ice Warriors, far back in its history. The Doctor is convinced it’s much too early for them to meet their frozen foes…but the Doctor is wrong. Far below the surface of the planet an evil scheme is in motion. A scientist works night and day at the command of an insane despot. A despot intent on creating a terrifyingly familiar army.
What exactly does Zaadur plan? What dark secret lies at the heart of the Gandoran mines? How far will the Doctor go to save his friends? In the deepest caves, the true Lords of the Red Planet are ready to emerge… Can anyone possibly survive their birth?

Lords of the Red Planet was originally written by Brian Hayles as a follow up story to season 5’s The Ice Warriors. Scheduled for season 6, it was dropped in favour of the serial The Seeds of Death. Although Hayles’ re-wrote much of his Lords script, it failed to make the cut and became one of the many lost stories of Doctor Who. Over 40 years later, Big Finish enlisted writer John Dorney to adapt Lords of the Red Planet for its 4th season of Lost Stories audios. John explains in an interview special feature that he used Hayles’ first draft for episode one, but used the second draft for the remainder of the story.

The story presented by Dorney’s adaptation is essentially a proto “Genesis of the Ice Warriors”. It serves as an origin story for one of Doctor Who’s iconic alien species. Set on the planet Mars, the colony of Gandor have long since abandoned the surface in favour of an underground city. Its residents, the Gandorans, are a reptilian species under the control of self-appointed leader Zaadur. Zaadur’s chief scientist, Quendril, has been attempting for some time to create the evolutionary next step in their species. This will enable the Gandorans to survive without the need of the ‘life drink’ – a substance that enables them to live. In the process, he has created the ‘Saurian Evolutionaries’; reptilian creatures who are used to mine the life drink for the Gandorans.

Following another failure in his attempts to improve on the Saurian Evolutionaries, Quendril approaches the arrogant Zaadur and requests that she absolve him of any further responsibilities. Quendril has had enough of the death caused by his experiments. Zaadur demands that Quendril continue the experiments or she will withhold the life drink from his fellow Gandorans. Given the ultimatum, Quendril reluctantly concedes. He and his assistant, the failed experiment Rislor, resume their work.

At the same time, The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arrive on Mars. They proceed from the TARDIS in environmental suits, protecting them from the inhospitable atmosphere. Jamie, concerned about running into the Ice Warriors, is agitated. The Doctor reassures him by stating that they have arrived several thousands of years in the past, well before the Ice Warriors ever existed. Jamie’s concerns are well founded though when a group of Saurian hunters begin hunting them. Unable to make it back to the TARDIS, the Doctor and his companions are herded towards a trap and fall in. The trap turns into a lift and descends towards the city of Gandor below.

What struck me as I listened to the first episode was how much it reminded me of The Moonbase’s first episode. Not that it is a copy of that serial mind you but rather certain elements; such as the Doctor and his companions wearing environmental suits on a desolate surface. This was quite familiar. Of course, the previous audio I listed to this one was The Moonbase, so maybe my opinion is a bit askew.

So how does Lords of the Red Planet hold up as an origin story for the Ice Warriors? Quite well actually. While there were a few aspects that bugged me (past tense narration, first half pacing), these didn’t distract from the story as a whole. Although I haven’t seen Brian Hayles’ original drafts, I do believe John Dorney has done wonders here. In the original script, Zaadur was male, but Dorney alters the main antagonist’s gender to female. The result is a rather unsettling (in a good way) narcissistic Gandoran leader played by Abigail Thaw. Thaw, it has to be said, plays Zaadur with aplomb. Her interpretation and Dorney’s characterisation made me think of Zaadur as a cross between Adolf Hitler and the Alien Queen from Aliens. Extreme yes, but Zaadur’s actions in this story speak for themselves.

There is a lot of emotion in Lords of the Red Planet. Dorney has written what seem like odd relationships that work surprisingly well. Zoe’s relationship with prototype super-slave Aslor – a precursor to an Ice Lord – stands out the most for me. Aslor is Quendril’s last evolutionary experiment, but the first with an advanced sense of intelligence (aside from one or two previously failed experiments). He bonds with Zoe after she tries to help him. The other relationship of note, if you could call it that, is the one between Rislor (aka ‘The Hunchback of Mars’) and the princess Veltreena. The princess is a vain Gandoran who only cares for pretty things, including Jamie’s hair. Rislor is devoted to Veltreena and would die for her. She however is uninterested. It is clear by the end of the story these relationships – and one other – are so intricately woven into the plot that their importance cannot be overshadowed.

What about the actual Ice Warriors? Well, you can blame the Doctor and Jamie for that. Although originally given life through Quendril’s experiments, the Saurian Evolutionaries were given their ‘Ice Warrior’ name inadvertently by Jamie and the Doctor when they referred to them. Zaadur accepted this description of her ‘slaves’ and so the Ice Warriors were born. The Doctor’s response was hilarious. “Oh dear, I do believe I have just christened a species.”

Frazer Hines’ deliverance of the second Doctor’s lines is once again brilliant. He has captured the Doctor’s mannerisms perfectly. Even Michael Troughton – Patrick’s son and voice of Quendril – remarks that Frazer’s imitation of his father’s character is very good. In fact, the cast of Lords of the Red Planet is a largely family affair. Not only do we have Frazer playing Jamie and the Doctor, Michael playing Quendril, but Wendy Padbury’s own daughter, Charlie Hayes plays the Gandoran Veltreena. Add to that, Nick Briggs’ multiple Ice Warrior voices and we have a well-rounded cast.

As I listened to Lords of the Red Planet I started to get the impression that this was going to be Doctor Who’s version of Planet of the Apes. It didn’t quite get there, but I can imagine the scene is almost set. In fact, there were elements of the First Doctor story The Ark bleeding through towards the end. What happens to Gandor after the Doctor and his companions leave Mars at the end of this story and how does the origin of the Ice Warriors tie into the earlier Big Finish release The Judgement of Isskar, if at all? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Lords of the Red Planet is an enjoyably emotional ride. A story worthy of visualisation. Dorney’s adaptation works as what could’ve been a great 6th season story. If you like the Ice Warriors then I can certainly recommend Lords of the Red Planet.

Lords of the Red Planet is available now from Big Finish Productions

Written By: Brian Hayles, adapted by John Dorney
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Cast: Frazer Hines (Narrator, Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Narrator, Zoe), Michael Troughton (Quendril), Abigail Thaw (Zaadur), Charlie Hayes (Veltreena), Nicholas Briggs (Aslor, Risor, The Ice Warriors)

Mark Perkins has Big Finish on the brain. New to the medium, he has a big task ahead of him if he wants to listen to them all.




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