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Audio Drama Review
The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Mary Shelley to the continent of Zelonia on the frontier world Draxine - where, many moons ago, the twin city states of Garrak and Stronghaven bore testament to mankind’s colonial spirit. That was before the sinister death cult of Garrak’s President Harmon took hold, and Garrak annihilated itself in an apocalyptic explosion. Before the bones of Garrak’s dead came back to life, and its skeletal citizens began marching on Stronghaven. But what does it want, this army of death, and can anything stop it? In search of answers, the Doctor and Mary must journey into the dead heart of a dead city to face a terrifying adversary, whose ambitions transcend the stuff of life itself...
The final release in this Eighth Doctor / Mary Shelley trilogy takes the authoress far away from her own planet and period for the first time - to Draxine, a tenth-generation human colony world. You might think that this would make for a particularly intriguing story, but for some reason Army of Death did not grip me any more than its predecessors, The Witch from the Well and especially The Silver Turk. Perhaps Mary just fits in better on Earth.
That is not to say that this tale is a complete fantasy, even though it features an army of creepy walking skellingtons. There’s a political aspect to Jason Arnopp’s script, in which a president is manipulated, expatriates of a defeated enemy nation are treated with the utmost suspicion (as were Germans in Europe and people of Japanese origin in the USA in the aftermath of World War II), and the body politic proves to be more than just a metaphor. Even for the TARDIS crew, things are more down to earth, despite their being on another planet. The Doctor (Paul McGann) had previously been concerned that putting Mary (Julie Cox) in mortal danger during their travels might alter the course of history - but he has reckoned without a quite different threat to her recorded fate...
The production boasts a stellar cast, including Carolyn Pickles (May to December), Eva Pope (Waterloo Road) and Mitch Benn (The Now Show). David Harewood is in it too, though I confess that, unlike the other performers, his name did not ring any bells for me until I got to the interviews at the end of Disc 2. Once again Trevor Cooper provides sterling support - though not for the first time his voice is all too recognisable in multiple roles, as three human characters and a load of hovering robots.
From a recognisable voice to an unrecognisable one: for some reason, McGann’s tones sound much deeper during the 16 minutes of interviews than during the drama itself. Is this a fault on the CD extras, or does his voice get treated in post-production to keep the Eighth Doctor sounding youthful? Disc 1 concludes with ten minutes of music by Fool Circle Productions, the style of which evokes a range of eras, from ’80s Who to Torchwood.
If that isn’t enough to persuade you to part with your cash, take out a subscription to Big Finish’s main monthly range of Doctor Who titles, including Army of Death, and you will also receive the exclusive special release The Five Companions!
The final scene of Army of Death appears to indicate that Mary will soon leave the Doctor’s company, though that hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully the Time Lord’s errant piloting of the TARDIS will ensure at least one more trilogy with Julie Cox on board. Thinking of leaving, Mary? Oh yeah, you and whose army?