Writer: Scott Handcock
Director: Jamie Anderson
Featuring: Peter Davison :Blake Harrison :
Russ Bain :Genevieve Gaunt
Big Finish Productions - First Released April 2018
Running Time: 2 Hours Approx
Available on General Release from 31st May 2018
Big Finish are ringing the changes with the main range as it nears its twentieth anniversary next year. To start this off their fourth release for 2018 see them break with the tradition of trilogies of consecutive releases featuring the same Doctor and companion team. Instead, Peter Davison returns as the Fifth Doctor, this time travelling alone for what at first glance appears to be a standalone adventure. The Helliax Rift, from the pen of writer and sometime producer/director Scott Handcock introduces a new 1980s UNIT team headed by Russ Bain as Lieutenant Colonel Price, assisted byGenevieve Gaunt as Corporal Maxwell and Acting medical officer Lieutenant Daniel Hopkins, played by former Inbetweeners star Blake Harrison, a genuine casting coup for Big Finish.
The story opens with the Doctor already in situ tracking an alien signal which in transpires has also come to UNIT’s attention. This sets up a humorous encounter which references Peter Davison’s other famous role as Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. Before long UNIT have captured their errant scientific advisor who quickly falls foul of Colonel Price’s impatience. He does however form an easier relationship with Harrison’s Daniel Hopkins, a likeable character very much in the mould of Harry Sullivan (who naturally is name-dropped) who slips very quickly into the companion role for this story. The other new UNIT characters Price and his comms officer Linda Maxwell are also well written characters and will hopefully have more interaction in their next appearance. Russ Bain’s Colonel Price is certainly far from being the new Brigadier in terms of likeability, especially during the play’s conclusion. Time will tell as to whether his relationship with the Doctor improves in future encounters, although one imagines the Doctor’s next incarnation will be even less likely to relate him.
The new UNIT team are joined for this story by an interesting pair of alien researchers played by Deborah Thomas and Anna Louise Plowman. There is additional support from Big Finish regulars Robbie Stevens and Jacob Dudman, the latter portraying a key role in the concluding act of the play. One does occasionally wish they would get someone less instantly recognisable than the play’s author to provide the voice of a lift.
As ever, there is evocative sound design from Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian, with some great 80s style music cues from Kraemer. After a rather mixed start to the year featuring the season 19 TARDIS team, this enjoyable story sees the main range very much back on track. This reviewer will be very much anticipating the return of the new 80s UNIT team for July’s Hour of the Cybermen, featuring some other very special guests.
As for the Fifth Doctor, “…now it’s time to take a bow like all your other selves…” but he will no doubt return at an as-yet to be confirmed date either later this year or early in 2019. In the meantime, our next few monthly adventures will see the welcome return of the Sixth Doctor for three seemingly unconnected adventures, beginning in May with the arrival of a possible new companion in The Lure of the Nomad.