The Doctor is whisked away from his adventures with Peri, deposited on a world where time itself has been brought to a halt. Here he meets a young woman who claims to have been brought into existence mere seconds ago. Her mission is simple (to her): find and reassemble the segments of the Key to Time. The Doctor, in his previous incarnation, carried this mission out and inadvertently set this new quest for the Key in motion. The woman, who he names Amy for lack of any other name, is a tracer in humanoid form, capable of “smelling” nearby segmets of the Key. She has picked the Doctor to be her assistant. Their first stop is Mars, at an earlier stage of the planet’s development, when its native life forms are about to meet a destiny that will reshape their peaceful society into the form in which the Doctor knows them better: the Ice Warriors. And the Doctor – and the Key to Time – may be responsible for that drastic change.
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Ciara Janson (Amy), Laura Doddington (Zara), Nicholas Briggs (Isskar), Andrew Jones (Harmonious 14 Zink), Raquel Cassidy (Mesca), Jeremy James (Thetris), Heather Wright (Wembik)
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Just about any Doctor Who fan knows that one of the most beloved high points of the 1970s was the season-long quest for the Key to Time. That experiment, spread across the entirety of classic Doctor Who’s season, had quite an impact on the show’s mythos, introducing Romana, the second K-9 model, the Key itself, and the Black and White Guardians. Almost all of these things have resurfaced again, in later episodes, in audio form, in novels…but very few have revisited the Key itself. As Big Finish’s creative brass began realigning the release schedule into short “seasons” of audio adventures focusing on a single Doctor/companion combo, the first such “season” picks up the Key’s pieces – literally.
This three-story sequel to the Key to Time season was dubbed “Key 2 Time” by Big Finish, and it introduces a new companion in the form of a tabula rasa character named Amy; while she does exhibit her own judgement on simple matters, she’s a blank slate from a moral standpoint, and quickly begins to take her cues from the Doctor. She’s a sentient tracer – no more Geiger-coounter-esque props to carry around – and has a built-in affinity for the Key’s segments. So does her sister, Zara, who is literally her exact opposite – she has taken her moral cues from less savory characters than the Doctor, and it’s impossible to put anything past her.
As if all of this isn’t fascinating enough, we’re presented with a story that purports to shed light on the precise moment that peaceful Martians became bloodthirsty Ice Warriors. Though the Ice Warriors clocked up a grand total of four on-screen appearances between the second and third Doctors’ eras, fandom has latched onto them in print, in comics and in audios. The notion that we’re going to learn what the tipping point was that turned them into warlike beings is a promising one. Sadly, it’s that very moment that really isn’t delivered: the transformation happens “offstage” (I can’t really say “offscreen” since we’re dealing with audio here), and the impetus for the change is related to us in the past tense later. I suppose it’s just possible that spending too much of the story’s running time with the Ice Warriors might have made it more of an Ice Warrior story and less of a Key 2 Time story, but I still feel just a little bit cheated. You can’t really build up to the point where a major villain race in the show’s mythology collectively turned bad and then suddenly fast-forward and talk about it.
I normally wouldn’t demand that much specificity, except that I’m not an Ice Warrior fan: I’m waiting for someone to make them interesting. So much of the Ice Warriors’ history has been grafted onto them by fandom, either by way of the New Adventures or comics, that simply wasn’t there on TV…and yet, that cadre of fan authors and artists has yet to do much more with the Ice Warriors than turn them into the Doctor Who equivalent of the Klingons: yet another sci-fi alien race hidebound by a samurai code of honor. This story is most promising in the depiction of pre-Ice-Warrior Martians at peace, but lets the side down in not showing their fall.
The cast and sound design are top-notch, which helps to ease any dissatisfaction with the story itself. There’s also a “time bomb” built into the story arc that pays off the idea that all of this will be resolved in three stories, so at least this won’t be a contender for the Divergent Universe Award for the most drawn-out story arc on audio. An interesting listen, and more than enough to bring me back for the next story.