If there's one thing to thank Big Finish for, it's their revival of the pure historical story. The on-screen adventures of Doctor Who might have abandoned sci-fi free tales circa the second Doctor (bar the fifth Doctor's Black Orchid), but the Doctor's Big Finish audio adventures have had trips to Roman times, the Great Exhibition and 17th century Paris, to name but a few, all with minimal involvement of wibbly wobbly space things.
No Man's Land is a First World War story that has no War Lord or War Chief, no timorous beasties creeping around in the trenches, no Rani sucking off brain chemicals. But there's a murder about to happen in the next day or so – the British army has orders to expect someone called The Doctor and his two companions, who are coming to investigate it before it happens. Unfortunately for them, rather than the Seventh Doctor's Big Finish “A-Team” (Mel), he's brought his B-Team in tow: Ace and Hex.
Plot (a post-traumatic flashback to the Big Finish web site)
It is 1917 and the Doctor, Hex and Ace find themselves in a military hospital in northern France. But the terrifying, relentless brutality of the Great War that wages only a few miles away is the least of their concerns.
The travellers become metaphysical detectives when the Doctor receives orders to investigate a murder. A murder that has yet to be committed...
Who will be the victim? Who will be the murderer? What is the real purpose of the Hate Room? Can the Doctor solve the mystery before the simmering hate and anger at Charnage hospital erupts in to a frenzy of violence?
Is it any good?
No. Not really.
It's all right. It has some nice sound work that veers between very good and ZX Spectrum levels. Sylvester McCoy manages to resist the need to over-act and roll every single r for once. And it has chilling moments, I must confess, thanks to the addition of that other traditional Who element: the mad scientist.
But there are some ridiculous hammy moments from Michael Cochrane and other members of the supporting cast, the whole thing reminds you why they ditched historicals back in the good old days (they turn into tiresome educational supplements if you're not careful) and the plot makes little or no sense most of the time. The possible return to the time-manipulating seventh Doctor of seasons 25 and 26 suggested by those advance orders I mentioned proves to be a red herring and a nonsensical one at that.
Then we have Ace* and Hex. Now this double-act could have been a chance to inject some actual sex into the TARDIS for once, but The Settling threw that to one side. Hex is now Ace to Ace's Doctor, with Hex, as played by Philip Olivier (you know, that bloke off Brookie who won The Games last year), bumbling around, getting captured and messing things up. They're an interesting Jamie/Victoria-like pair, but despite their supposed ages, they still come across as a pair of asexual 13-year-olds trying their hardest to be grown-ups but not knowing how. At least Sophie Aldred's acting has improved.
So I'd definitely recommend not getting this one. There is a hint at the end, just like at the end of The Gathering, that an over-arching plot leading to some dramatic conclusion is being constructed for the series. But that's not reason enough to buy it, I don't think. I'll let you know if that changes thanks to some back-references in future stories.
*Or is it Dorothy? Or is it McShane? I forget which name they eventually settled on a while back to suggest she'd matured over the years, but we're back to Ace again for some reason.
Listen to the trailer
The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy)
Ace (Sophie Aldred)
Hex (Philip Olivier)
Lieutenant-Colonel Brook (Michael Cochrane)
Sergeant Wood (Rob Dixon)
Captain Dudgeon (Rupert Wickham)
Private Taylor (Oliver Mellor)
Lance-Corporal Burridge (Ian Hayles)
Private Dixon (Michael Adams)
Writer: Martin Day
Director: John Ainsworth
Release Date: November 2006
RRP: £14.99 (international £15.50)