Big Finish: THE HUMAN FRONTIER Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matthew Kresal takes the long route with the crew of The Human Frontier.

To say that science fiction has had a long history on audio would be an understatement. The same would be true when talking about Big Finish, who've spent some two decades now producing audio dramas based on everything from Doctor Who to The Prisoner and Gerry Anderson properties. More recently, the company has begun branching out, creating original properties. The latest of these is the brainchild of Nicholas Briggs, best known as the voice of Daleks and Cybermen, but also a formidable creative mind as a writer and director. Briggs brings listeners along on a journey with the four-part drama The Human Frontier, offering a SF tale free of property trappings.

Given that free reign, Briggs offers up compelling ideas. The title refers to a massive spacecraft, launched in secret by an Elon Musk like figure in our future (played convincingly by Briggs himself) with colonists on board. One of them is Exographer Anna Swift (Pepter Lunkuse), who finds herself the first awakened after something happens at the end of the ship's thousand-year journey. It turns out that humanity hasn't been idle, that another group of colonists, led by the forefathers of the planet's leader Brett Triton (Clive Wood), arrived in a faster than light speed craft to claim this world, and the future there isn't quite so hopeful. It's the culture clash between the two, and what happened to humanity in the time between the Human Frontier's launch and arrival, that shapes the drama across four packed episodes. Ones that explore human nature, our relationships with both each other and technology, and whether history repeats itself.

As longtime listeners to Big Finish might realize from that brief description, this is territory clearly of interest to Briggs. He explored similar themes in a number of his Big Finish works, including the Cyberman spin-off series and the concluding set of The Prisoner. Here, however, without the constraints of pre-existing properties, he can explore those ideas in fresh ways. That includes how he tells the story, with the first episode focusing on Anna and the Human Frontier's Commander Daisy Bailey (Genevieve Gaunt) through three different points in the mission that define the relationship between them. It can be heady at times, particularly in the opening episode, where it can be a head-scratcher as to where precisely the listener is in the timeline. Once episode two starts, though, Briggs keeps the storytelling largely linear, letting character moments and revelations build-up, adding layer upon layer to the story. It's an engaging mix of genre and drama, one which raises a lot of questions and provides some answers, but not necessarily to all of them.

That it's so compelling is also due, in no small part, to the cast. Pepter Lunkuse proves perfect as Exographer Anna Swift, thrust into events that will define not just her but humanity's future. It's Swift who, not only serves as the audience's way into this world but gets put through the wringer physically and emotionally over the four hours but never loses her humanity. Lunkuse's enthusiasm is on display not only in the episodes but in the extras where she geeks out with Briggs over the spacesuit she wore for promotional images, including the cover art. Having appeared in last year's Fifth Doctor release Warzone/Conversion, Lunkuse has proven quite a find for the company, and, hopefully, we'll hear more of her in future.

Surrounding her is a cast made of Big Finish veterans, particularly those who worked on Briggs' version of The Prisoner. Genevieve Gaunt, as Commander Bailey, offers up an intriguing performance, in a role that requires some range given the nature of what happens with the character; from falling in love to commanding a spaceship. Lucy Briggs-Owen, meanwhile, brings some much-needed humanity to the AI system Nilly, offering up warmth and humanity instead of a bland, soulless computer voice. Clive Wood brings a sense of presence but also, surprisingly, desperation to the role of President Brett Triton, a man one feels is barely clinging onto his sanity. Rounding off the cast is Big Finish's Number Six Mark Elstob in a pair of roles that sound completely different from one another, letting him show off some of his considerable talents, and Briggs himself as the aforementioned Musk-like figure behind the mission. Though The Human Frontier might lack a "name" such as Alex Kingston or David Warner from other Big Finish originals, it's still as strong a cast as you'll find anywhere in the company's catalog, bringing this incredible world to life.

And what a world Briggs and co have created. Speaking for myself, I can only hope that this isn't the last we've heard of these characters. Because what they've created is a captivating piece of work, and there are still questions left unanswered. Perhaps, to quote another franchise, the human adventure is just beginning.

The Human Frontier is available from the Big Finish website here.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places. 

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