Seeds of War
Big Finish Productions
Written By: Matt Fitton and Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards
Released March 2013
After years of devastating war with a mysterious force know as the Eminence, humanity is finally starting to recover. The enemy has withdrawn and the last of its strongholds are being torn down. But when the Doctor and Mel arrive they discover that the war is far from over, for the Eminence has played a long game, and is ready to make the final move...
The Sixth Doctor and Mel are a pairing who have long been problematic for Doctor Who fans turned-writers. The two characters are often seen as totemic of the Doctor Who’s fall from grace in the 1980s and its eventual cancellation. Consequently many authors have sought to redeemed the characters in some way, something that Big Finish's writers have gone out of their way to do, especially in the company’s early years.
The Seeds of War is another in this long line of attempts to rehabilitate the characters and the era, but it approaches this in an interesting and rather unique way. In writing this story Matt Fitton and Nicholas Briggs have woven together numerous pieces of storytelling TV stories from the Sixth Doctor and Mel’s tenures on the show (seasons 22-24) and made them work a lot better than they did on TV.
The story’s opening is taken directly from Paradise Towers in a way that is a little disconcerting until you realise what is going on. The Doctor promises Mel a wonderful dining experience at the renowned Great Tower of Kalsos, but when they arrive they find the tower derelict and well past its glory days. However, rather than simply replaying Paradise Towers, the story moves on, zipping from location to location, encompassing more disparate elements of Sixth Doctor TV adventures as it does so (specifically Timelash and Trial of a Timelord parts 9-12).
Key to this is the concept of the ‘imagined sequel’, borrowed from Timelash. In that story the revelation that the Third Doctor had previously visited Karfel added little to the plot other than a sense of nostalgia. Here however, the Doctor’s previous encounter with the Eminence is absolutely integral to the plot. Keeping us in the dark about the Doctor’s past adventure it means that the writers can work in an important twist which changes the nature of the story. Listener’s who want to get the most out of The Seeds of War are advised to treat this is the Eminence’s first outing, rather than waiting for their chronological debut in Briggs’ Fourth Doctor play, Destroy the Infinite, which will be released next year.
But The Seeds of War isn't just a rewarding intellectual experiment, it also tells an exciting and involving story. The play is rigorously structured, with each episode moving the action to a different location (from the tower, to a spaceship, a colony world and finally Earth), while ratcheting up the stakes and adding to the mystery surrounding the Eminence as it goes. If there is one thing that lets the play down, it is that the conclusion is a little too reliant on events which occur ‘off-screen’ (as it were), meaning that the defeat of the Eminence doesn’t quite feel earned. However, the final scene with the Doctor and Mel is an utter joy, and for my money the best moment the characters have shared together in any medium.
The Seeds of War is a strong outing for Mel, as the only character who doesn’t know anything about the Eminence she’s very much our viewpoint character for the first half of the play, and we learn about the enemy as she does. Bonnie Langford is particularly strong playing Mel’s self-righteous anger, and the scenes where she berates Trellack are a world away from the character’s irritatingly priggish demeanour in Trial of a Timelord’s courtroom.
The play’s supporting characters are rather generic ‘space people’ which isn’t necessarily a problem in a story like this, but this production shows what a difference good actors can make. Ray Fearon and Lucy Russell put in such good performances as Barlow as Trellack that the other actors pale by comparison, and scenes without Baker, Langford, Fearon or Russell can be a bit of a drag. However, these scenes are necessary to give us a sense of the time and place we are in, and give a sense of the aftermath of war. Thankfully the fast pace of the play means these weaker scenes are kept to a minimum.
After over a decade of successful Big Finish productions based on this era of Doctor Who it may seem redundant for a play to be so focused on redeeming aspects of it. However, when the results are as strong as The Seeds of War, it is hard to find too much fault in this approach. The Seeds of War is one of Big Finish’s best Sixth Doctor plays and I hope that Matt Fitton (who scripted the play based on Briggs’ outline, and wrote The Wrong Doctors) returns to write for this particular TARDIS team again.