Doctor Who: Warlock’s Cross – Starring Sylvester McCoy, Tracey Childs, Blake Harrison, Genevieve Gaunt, Richard Gibson, Tom Milligan & Russ Bain. Written by Steve Lyons & Directed by Jamie Anderson – 2xCD / Download (Big Finish)
Warning: the following review contains spoilers for earlier releases The Helliax Rift and Hour of the Cybermen.
Big Finish has done something a little bit different with their “crossover trilogy” this year. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then here’s the skinny: every year, Big Finish releases thirteen Main Range stories – one per month, with an extra one at the end of the year (the extra one used to come in September for some reason, but it now seems to be a part of December’s release schedule). This allows the audio company to schedule a trilogy of stories each for Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. The remaining releases are divided up thusly: one of them is a “special” release – often (though not always) a CD entitled “Blankedy-blank and Other Stories”, which usually consists of four one-hour stories, and an extra trilogy of stories where the Fifth Doctor is featured in one, the Sixth Doctor in the second and the Seventh Doctor in the third. Examples of this trilogy in the past include the “Locum Doctors” trilogy, where Doctors were teamed up with companions from their past; the “Two Masters” trilogy, which saw the Alex Macqueen Master cross timelines with the Geoffrey Beevers Master; the “two stories” trilogy, in which each CD in the trilogy featured not one 4-episode story, but two 2-episode stories; and the “1963” trilogy, which featured each Doctor facing a danger on earth sometime in the year 1963 (as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations).
In the past, each year’s multiple Doctor trilogy featured stories that were released one after the other, in succession, just like each Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctor trilogy throughout the year. This year, however, Big Finish has decided to do things a little differently. For the “Daniel Hopkins/UNIT” trilogy, the stories have been released at different times of the year, in order to give the impression of a certain amount of time passing between each story. In April’s The Helliax Rift the Fifth Doctor arrived on Earth and met UNIT Medical Officer Daniel Hopkins. Together, the two of them thwarted an alien incursion and developed a guarded friendship. All of this fell apart, however, in July’s Hour of the Cybermen, which saw a very different Daniel Hopkins, hardened and broken following the death of his family in a terrible fire betray UNIT to the Cybermen. When the Doctor left, Hopkins – still under a certain amount of Cyber-control – had been taken prisoner by UNIT and placed in a kind of cryogenic suspension, keeping him safe until he could be deprogrammed.
Which brings us to Warlock’s Cross. Many years have passed since Hopkins’ initial incarceration, and he is still being held in a high security UNIT facility. Hopkins (still played by the excellent Blake Harrison) is even more soured and fractured than he had been in Hour of the Cybermen. But there’s something more. A secret that lies nestled deep within his half-converted brain. A secret tied to a devastating disaster that occurred years ago in a place called Warlock’s Cross.
Enter Gregory Lord, a young activist determined to expose UNIT as conspirators who seek to deceive the public about the existence of extraterrestrials. Manipulated by his mysterious connection, one Linda Maxwell (last seen as Corporal Linda Maxwell, in April’s The Helliax Rift), Gregory makes contact with a certain someone inside UNIT, in preparation for a full-fledged frontal assault against the secretive organization.
And circumstances are made much more interesting when that “certain someone” inside UNIT turns out to be Dr. Elizabeth Klein, scientific advisor to the organization and one-time companion to the Doctor. Of course, Klein is a very different person from the Nazi agent who originally intercepted the Doctor and Ace at Colditz Castle during the Second World War. Her timeline has now been completely rewritten, and she has found herself harbouring a somewhat begrudged respect for the man she once swore revenge on. It is now the mid-1990s, a few years before UNIT becomes the Unified Intelligence Taskforce, and Klein is under the command of Colonel McKenna, a uninformed pencil-pusher who is not even aware of the existence of the Doctor. It’s sad to see the once-great UNIT in this state; the only thing that really gets us through it is the knowledge that it will shortly be reborn under Kate Stewart.
If there is one overarching theme that Warlock’s Cross deals with, it’s that the shadows of the past catch up with us all. The story deals with that short period of time immediately after Daniel Hopkins’ family had perished, but before he had been contacted by the Cybermen. During that time, an alien ship, guided by an advanced artificial intelligence (which uses the super-original monicker “Ship”), crash landed on earth, and its attempts to escape resulted in a devastating massacre and the disappearance of Linda Maxwell. Now, years later, Ship’s systems have reactivated, and its new plans to break free could spell doom for the entire planet.
Warlock’s Cross is much more of a character study then anything else, and as a result it is definitely the slowest of the three stories in this year’s trilogy. That, coupled with the all-encompassing tragedy that is Daniel Hopkin’s life, makes this a darker and more foreboding release. For those of us who originally saw Hopkins (in The Helliax Rift) as a potential new, ongoing friend of the Doctor, his enmity can get a little overwhelming at times. Whether or not this is the tale of his redemption or his further decline is obviously something that cannot be revealed without ruining the story; suffice it to say that – much like Elizabeth Klein – Hopkins’ relationship with the Doctor is much more complicated than the average companion or foe.
Despite the slower pace, it is wonderful to hear Tracy Childs back in action as Klein. In many ways, Klein has been a complete triumph of character development for Big Finish, and it is so obvious that Childs absolutely relishes the opportunity to play such a well-developed character. Klein is never static; every time she reappears there is a new aspect to her development. Sylvester McCoy also seems to rise to new heights every time he encounters Childs’ Klein; the duo seems to be locked in a never-ending dance, sometimes at odds with each other, sometimes allies, but always just a little uncertain of one another.
While Warlock’s Cross ends the Daniel Hopkins trilogy more on a fizzle than with a bang, it still has a lot going for it. It is very much a character piece, revisiting some individuals that we haven’t heard from since earlier in the year, while also giving new players their own time in the spotlight. Both Richard Gibson as Colonel McKenna, and Tom Milligan as Gregory Lord, give outstanding performances, and Genevieve Gaunt, as Linda Maxwell, rides a delightfully twisted transformation of character since we last saw her in The Helliax Pit. And while a little exposition is certainly necessary Steve Lyons’ script tightly pulls together all the loose threads from earlier on in the year without making the listener feel like we are spending too much time going over old ground. Director Jamie Anderson has had quite a job over the past several months, directing all five Seventh Doctor releases plus the other two Daniel Hopkins/UNIT stories, and while the works of another director (after such a long time working with the same people and on the same subject matter) might begin to feel stale, Anderson rises to the challenge, giving us something fresh each time. Warlock’s Cross is worth a listen, not simply to see how the Daniel Hopkins story eventually ends, but also to see how the Doctor deals with ongoing tragedy, something the seventh incarnation of the Time Lord seeks to avoid at all costs. Peter McAlpine