Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor Adventures SILVER AND ICE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor Adventures SILVER AND ICE Review

Tony’s feeling a little chilly.
Silver and Ice promises two main things – an adventure with Cybermen, and a return to Ribos, the deeply feudal world visited by the Fourth Doctor and the First Romana at the start of their quest for the Key to Time.

It delivers on both of those promises – but probably not in the ways you were expecting.

A Bad Day In Tinseltown is a brisk two-parter from King of Sontar, Dan Starkey. And yes, it’s both Cybertastic, properly body-horror creepy, and a hell of a lot of fun along the way.

It takes place in the frontier-and-then-some town of BrightEdge, more commonly known as Tinseltown – not because of its affinity with show business (though that’s something Mayor Mungo – played by Starkey himself – would love to change), but because it mines a sparkly metallic substance, out of which it makes mostly everything, so the town itself has a metallic, twinkly feeling.

Never trust a twinkling town.

When Mel and the Doctor arrive, very much in Season 24 mode, but with an important shift in the Doctor’s mood signalled, the town is about to undergo… changes. Undercover invaders, a mostly ruined Cyber-spaceship embedded in the local geography, chicanery, corruption, entertainment, and a wannabe-dictator so ineffably dim they plan to use Cybermen to achieve their goals, without in any sense either knowing what a Cyberman is, or understanding to any degree quite how out of their depth they are.

It's a right old romp, A Bad Day In Tinseltown, in that very particular Season 24 way where the cast would have been filled with headline-making guest stars, before the decision was taken to turn renowned comedic star Sylvester McCoy into the most brooding and darkest Doctor in the show’s history up to that point. In other words, it’s a lot of fun.

The Cybermen are used in an interesting way that delivers on their body horror potential without matching the cover art that shows an Eighties-contemporary Cyberman. That’s possibly something to keep in mind. Big Finish has tended to use any Cyber-voice available except for the Eighties one (which, for whole generations of fans is THE Cyber-voice, as hallmarked by David Banks and Mark Hardy), and while there are some riffs on Cyber-voices from differing eras, if you’re looking for an all-out Cyber-fest with different types meeting up and the like, you may be disappointed. But there’s plenty to keep you occupied, including Jeany Spark as a standout character who sounds like nothing so much as an interstellar Liz Truss. No, wait, come back!

Having only the two episodes in which to unfold, there’s a sense here of one of those Doctor Who stories where the Doctor turns up JUST as a situation that’s been developing for some time is about to go totally tonto, and that can sweep you off your feet if you’re not careful. But as a distinctly on-brief Season 24 story, Mel’s first meet with the Cybermen is rich, textured, great fun and distinctly creepy in turn, and leaves you feeling like you’ve been well served.

The Ribos Inheritance, by Jonathan Barnes, takes the planet of Ribos – noted on screen for its feudal system, and rendered in quite a BBC budget way – and explores it on a much larger canvas than the Key To Time story would ever have had the scope to do. In particular, there are barbarian tribes, warriors, dodgy saleswomen (though technically, not on Ribos), palace intrigues, and the most unlikely king of Ribos you could imagine.

King Kari (the increasingly ubiquitous and always welcome Homer Todiwala) plays distinctly against the Received Pronunciation royalty of our first trip to Ribos, so we immediately sense that something on Ribos isn’t right. That’s confirmed as soon as we arrive with the Doctor and Mel, because the Doctor has intended to bring them to Suntime on Ribos. Instead of which, it’s perishing cold, just like the first time. In a fun and sideways look at climate change, something has played havoc with the cycles of Ribos’ dualistic weather, meaning all the economic prosperity and contentment of Suntime has been delayed, and many of the aristocratic natives are getting restless under the reign of cockney King Kari.

No return to Ribos would be entirely complete though without the re-emergence of one of Robert Holmes’ finest character parts, Garron, the con-man last seen trying to sell the planet to the Graff Vynda-K, while getting his grubby mitts on a chunky lump of priceless jethryk.

Originally played by the fabulous Iain Cuthbertson, Garron’s are shoes you don’t step into lightly. David Rintoul though gives us a Garron that touches on all the keynotes of Cuthbertson’s original, but takes the character forward, as is appropriate for the story. The result is a Garron who feels just as loveably, amorally roguish as the original, but one who might well be worth revisiting in future stories – especially given the way this one ends.

Without giving away all of Jonathan Barnes’ secrets, there’s something that connects the extended Icetime, the unlikely king, and the revolution of the Count of Hishtar (Paul Bazely, seeming to have a fine old time as the revolting aristo), and it’s Garron. Having lost his young sidekick Unstoffe to potential true love, he’s rather more central to events here than he was in The Ribos Operation, and while they never have the same comic banter, he finds someone to furiously disagree with him in the long cold of this extended Icetime, in the barbarian Sandarr (Vivienne Rochester – worth at least twice whatever her fee for this story was, and a voice to bring back in any role, any time, please and thank you).

As the story progresses, it becomes a multi-strand quest for two parts of a mighty MacGuffin, which can bring the Icetime to an end, with the Doctor insinuating himself into King Kari’s retinue, Mel catching the wandering eye of the Count, and Garron and Sandarr trying to find the MacGuffin through their own, distinctly different, information networks, and ideally resist the urge to kill each other.

When it’s finally found, there are big changes in store for Ribos, for Sandarr, for Garron and Kari, and ultimately for the Doctor and Mel, too. The whole thing ultimately satisfies like a finished jigsaw puzzle, and yet it also screams for a sequel, a Suntime Ribos tale, with a reunion of some of these characters some years on.

There are some lovely chronological touches towards the end of this story, too. As Bonnie Langford notes in the Behind The Scenes features, Mel can’t really help liking the loveable rogue that is Garron, and he serves for her almost as a taster of the experience she will later have with Sabalom Glitz (another loveable con-man who, by the time Mel encountered him, had lost his regular sidekick – and of course, essentially the Garron of the 1980s, also written by Robert Holmes).

And we also get a taste here of the changing Seventh Doctor. At the start of A Bad Day in Tinseltown, the Doctor is brooding over the fact that he feels that since his regeneration, he has a lot more changing to do, as though the Spoonerizing spoon-player is just something of an expectation he’s put on himself, a smile painted onto something older and darker.

The end of The Ribos Inheritance shows us what we assume is the first true incidence of the Dark Doctor emerging – certainly it shocks Mel when she sees it, and makes her ask the Doctor to make sure he’s more like the clever, personable, compassionate Doctor she knows in future, rather than the pitiless manipulator and digger-up-of-secrets he becomes by the end of their time on Ribos.

They’re not about to storm off in their own directions yet – they have too much affection for one another to do that at this point. But The Ribos Inheritance makes full use of the opportunity it has to show a differentiating of paths and natures, to retrospectively make the Dragonfire parting more logical than it ever was on screen.

As a box set, Silver and Ice brings you a real punch in the memory. Tinseltown has a degree of the high camp of Delta and the Bannermen, underlined with political chicanery, gruesome body horror and sparkly Cybermen. Ribos has a much grander scope than anything in Season 24 would have had the budget to deliver, but positions itself to give us an extremely important turning point in the Seventh Doctor’s development, as well as a sprawling saga of royalty, family, and comic drama on an… erm… iceworld.

What you get out of Silver and Ice will largely depend on what you expect going in. It absolutely delivers on its premises and promises, and gives you a cracking pair of fun McCoy stories, with twinges and pulls of a darker Doctor to come. You’ll laugh, you’ll squirm, you’ll thrill (particularly in The Ribos Inheritance), and you may well punch the air at least once, too. 35 years on from Season 24, Silver and Ice proves the spirit of the time is still able to produce impressive, enjoyable Who that pushes all the right silly, shocking, comic, dramatic buttons.

Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor Adventures: Silver and Ice is available to purchase from the Big Finish website..

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

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