Big Finish: Doctor Who THE LOVECRAFT INVASION Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who THE LOVECRAFT INVASION Review

Matthew Kresal summons Cthulhu...

The "celebrity historical," as it's become known, has been an intriguing little subgenre of Doctor Who. It's allowed the Time Lord to meet everyone from Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie to Winston Churchill and Rosa Parks. Big Finish, those longtime purveyors of the series via audio drama, have gotten in on the game too, with the Doctor meeting the likes of Charles Darwin and Emily Brontë. And now, concluding the latest Sixth Doctor trilogy, he meets the man who gave us Cthulhu, Shoggoths, and the Necronomicon: H.P. Lovecraft.

Of course, this isn't the first time Doctor Who, as a franchise, has played with Lovecraft's ideas. The New Adventures novels of the 1990s played with his concepts, including in the Holmesian crossover All-Consuming Fire, which Big Finish adapted for audio in 2015. A few years before that, in 2010, Big Finish had used a Lovecraft proxy named CP Doveday as the centerpiece for the Seventh Doctor audio Lurkers at Sunlight's Edge. For The Lovecraft Invasion, not only would his creations feature, offering a chance for fans to hear them come alive while also presenting a primer for newcomers, but also take a very different approach to an encounter with a historical figure.

That's due in no small part to featuring the man himself, since Lovecraft was more than just a writer of influential weird fiction. As genre fans and authors have been dealing with for decades, he was also a racist and (insert quite a few) phobic. How does one separate the man from his work, when the former so informs the latter? Does one try to understand him in context or dismiss him outright? Especially when, in the case of this story, a weaponized mind-parasite grabs hold of him? Those are the central questions that writer Robert Valentine asks across the four episodes of The Lovecraft Invasion, which sees the Sixth Doctor, alongside companions Flip and Constance, teaming up with a 51st-century bounty hunter in a race to keep Lovecraft's nightmares from spilling out into the real world. At a time when fans of science fiction and fantasy are debating over how to reckon over the legacies of not only Lovecraft but other towering figures of the genre, it's as timely a story as any Big Finish has released.

However you feel on that subject, you'll likely want a good story to wrap those questions around. That's something that Valentine delivers in spades, from the wham-bam in media res opening right down to the Sixth Doctor's parting words to the author. It's also clear that this writer is a fan of Lovecraft, filling the adventure with references and characters from his legendary works, and using Lisa Greenwood's Flip to remind us just how influential they've become. Also as a Classic Who fan, one couldn't help but detect echoes of The Invisible Enemy, that ill-regard TV story about both the infection of a mind and the Doctor with a companion in tow heading into it. To his credit, and perhaps because of how vivid Lovecraft's creations were or due to the audio medium, Valentine avoids the pitfalls of that particular serial. What he offers up is a fast-paced, thought-provoking journey into the mountains of madness, a gripping yarn that explores the question of art and artists, and where the line between them lies.

Valentine's script is also blessed by just how well-realized it is, starting with the cast. Colin Baker's Doctor has been one of Big Finish's biggest revelations over the years, handing in strong performances, and making the best scripts majestic. Baker certainly does so here, firing on all cylinders throughout, showcasing both his chemistry with Greenwood in particular, but also the ethical side of his Doctor, building up to what is likely to be an iconic moment for him at Big Finish. Combined with the performances of Greenwood, Miranda Raison as Constance, and Alan Marriott as both the author and one of his wish-fulfillment creations, it's one heck of a cast to say the very least.

As I've often said in my reviews, Big Finish also has a strong game on the production side. The Lovecraft Invasion is no exception to that and, in fact, is a perfect example of how essential sound design and music are. Between Andy Hardwick and Peter Doggart, the pair create something that genuinely sounds like a Hollywood movie without the pictures attached to it. From a close shave escape from the 51st-century to 1937 Providence, Rhode Island, and Lovecraft's Arkham and its Miskatonic University, they create compelling worlds for the characters to inhabit, especially when some of the best-known parts of the Cthulhu mythos come into play. Add on an atmospheric score from Hardwick, and you have one of Big Finish's most gripping pieces of work.

Even with 2020 being a year filled with knocking it out of the ballpark releases from Big Finish, The Lovecraft Invasion is a highlight. Robert Valentine offers a multi-faceted script, an exploration of a legendary but problematic author whose works have defined a genre for decades wrapped inside an engaging science fiction thriller, one that hooks the listener in and doesn't let go. It's also a release that highlights Colin Baker as the Doctor, the strengths of the company's casting, and the soundscapes it creates. For all those reasons, this reviewer has no hesitation in calling this one of the best Big Finish releases of the year, from any range.

Doctor Who: The Lovecraft Invasion is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until August 31st 2020, and on general sale after this date. 

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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