Cast: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Philip Olvier, Ian Hogg, Elizabeth Bennett, Peter Egan.
For anyone who lived during the cold war period and especially during the dark days of the threat of possible nuclear war, then Jonathon Morris’ latest play for Big Finish, Protect and Survive, will give chills of the everyday terror once more. To those that listen to Doctor Who audio plays and only know of the dread that was nuclear obliteration, it offers an insight into a world that dominated by fear, mistrust and the ever-increasing spectre of terror.
Protect and Survive draws on all the uncertainty of the time but in Doctor Who’s own indomitable way. The everyday fear is magnified and for Ace and Hex, portrayed by the indomitable Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier the fear is very real and through them the listener is able to imagine how it would affect the ordinary. In a very similar way to Raymond Briggs’ masterpiece from 1982, When The Wind Blows was able to achieve the thought of the unimaginable days after a nuclear attack on Britain and how it slowly killed the Bloggs’ afterwards, Doctor Who showed the emotion and rising tension in one of Jonathon Morris more acute and devastatingly well-written stories.
Where Jonathon Morris doesn’t overstep the boundaries of a good story and making it surreal is by eliminating the need for nostalgia in the old couple which were played well by Ian Hogg and Elizabeth Bennett. In a play of overwhelming bleakness, there is no need for the characters to reminisce about other wars, the anxiety of not seeing loved ones again and friction that is created by the closeness and terrifying claustrophobia is more than enough to give the feeling of apprehension down the spine. Added to this the voice of Peter Egan as the radio announcer and it adds up to overall feeling of apprehension throughout. Older listeners will remember the detached voice of authority from the late Patrick Allen who voiced the adverts on Protect and Survive in the 1980’s, in Peter Egan they could have found a natural successor, it can be only hoped that he is never needed.
Where the story falls down slightly is the lack of “Doctor” in the script. It is a play that relies for the vast majority of the recording on the talent of the other five members of the cast. It works because it has to and they should all be congratulated on their part in creating an accessible and deeply enjoyable story. When Sylvester McCoy does appear towards the end of the second part, it is marked not with relief but with a sense of dread that even the Doctor cannot stop human kind finally destroying itself.
The Doctor is back but this time he may have left it too late.
Protect and Survive is available to buy now from Worlds Apart on Lime Street, Liverpool.
Ian D. Hall