Review – Big Finish Doctor Who #4: “The Land of the Dead”

This is the next in line of my Big Finish Productions Doctor Who retro-reviews.

#4 – “The Land of the Dead”

From Big Finish’s site:

Landing in Alaska, the Doctor and Nyssa encounter a group of people in a most unusual house, cut off not only by the harsh climate but by their individual secrets and obsessions.

Millionaire Shaun Brett is utilising chunks of the local area to construct a shrine to his dead father. But when deadly creatures start roaming outside, and a terrifying discovery is made inside the house, the Doctor realises that Brett has unleashed an unimaginably ancient force.

Written By: Stephen Cole

Directed By: Gary Russell


Peter Davison (The Doctor); Sarah Sutton (Nyssa); Lucy Campbell (Monica Lewis); Alistair Lock (Supplier); Christopher Scott (Shaun Brett); Neil Roberts (Tulung); Andrew Fettes (Gaborik)

*** minor spoilers ahead***

Sarah Sutton makes her Big Finish debut, reprising her role as the 5th Doctor’s companion, Nyssa of Traken.  As with Turlough and Peri, it’s as though Nyssa never left.  Sarah Sutton stepped right in where she left off and is a welcome addition to the lineup.  In this story, Nyssa’s specialization in bioelectronics comes to the forefront as she bridges the gap between science and native mysticism using the “primitive technology” available to her in the Northern Alaskan wastes.  The “local spirits” are seemingly upset with the rather unusual house being constructed here, one in which each room is a themed “monument” to the native landscape and materials – a room of wood, one of stone, one of bone, one of ice… you get the idea.  Nyssa’s mystery?  She has to help the Doctor to explain how creatures comprised only of bone and cartilage, seemingly older than the dinosaurs, can move about on their own… and how they can absorb the people around them and evolve at alarming rates.  This is why I like Nyssa: she’s smart enough to point out that if these things absorb the Doctor, his TARDIS opens up a lot of unfathomable problems.  No pressure to keep that menace contained!

Admittedly, the first time I heard this audio so many years ago, it didn’t do much for me.  I thought it was good, but didn’t give it much thought as I was listening to some of the early stories in rapid succession.  I’ve since heard it many times, and this is one of those stories that I can honestly say gets better and better every time I hear it.  The characters are fun, the story is creepy, and the companion is actually a partner in the Doctor’s work rather than just someone to say “What is it, Doctor?”  Always a bonus.  If I have any complaints, it’s that the half-Inuit character Tulung is somewhat stereotyped in the portrayal.  I grant you, stereotypes often begin somewhere, but this is a half-step away from the portrayal of Tonto on the old Lone Ranger radio series.  It’s not bad, but it’s unintentionally comical.

Counterbalancing that, and well worth the mention, this is the 5th Doctor at his absolute subtle best.  If you ever pay attention to Peter Davison’s era, his Doctor has this way of deflecting questions politely and taking charge of situations where he’s not even wanted.  It’s a hallmark of many Doctors, certainly, but he had a way of doing it that just seemed a little too natural, even when the people around him wanted nothing to do with him.  This script gives Davison the opportunity to relive those classic bits.  Like all of the other Doctors, he has a unique spin on the character’s charm (or lack thereof, depending on the incarnation), and in Davison’s case, it’s so understated that you have to be listening for it to even be aware of it.  Once you catch it, it’s hard for a fan not to grin because it’s just so spot-on perfect.