The Doctor is missing from the TARDIS, which is particularly alarming since the TARDIS is in flight. While Hex takes what seems like the most reasonable course of action – panic – Ace tries to land the TARDIS, bringing the timeship down in England in 1989. Oddly, the TARDIS’ police box exterior has turned white, and Hex and Ace find a couple preparing their cottage for the unthinkable: the world is on the brink of nuclear war, and the government has sent out pamphlets describing how its citizens can build and stock their own fallout shelters within their homes. Ace and Hex discover that history is following a different course than the 1989 they remember, but when they try to go back to the TARDIS and leave, they discover that it has dematerialized on its own, leaving them trapped. Ace decides to “borrow” the couple’s car to drive to London to contact UNIT to help her reach the Doctor, but she’s caught red-handed… just as sirens signal the beginning of World War III. An uneasy alliance becomes a necessity, especially when Hex is blinded by the blast of the bomb, but survival becomes a luxury – one that won’t be afforded to all four of them… unless, of course, they do things differently the next time.
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Philip Olivier (Hex), Ian Hogg (Albert), Elizabeth Bennett (Peggy), Peter Egan (Moloch / Announcer)
Notes: The radio announcements that recur throughout the story are based on real radio scripts and pamphlets that were prepared by the British government as part of the real “Protect & Survive” public information campaign to be deployed ahead of an imminent nuclear attack on British soil. The pamphlets mentioned were actually designed and printed, but not distributed until their existence was revealed by the newspapers, and public outcry forced disclosure of the campaign in 1980. This story shares that title with the first episode of Gerry Anderson’s Space Precinct (a space police series which played on the phrase’s similarity to “protect and serve”).
Timeline: after Lurkers At Sunlight’s Edge and before Black And White; possibly simultaneous with House Of Blue Fire
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Big Finish’s version of a “Doctor-lite”story (Blink, Love & Monsters, Turn Left) had an awfully big vat of lemons from which to make lemonade – namely, that Sylvester McCoy was busy filming The Hobbit and couldn’t be the centerpiece of the story. This leaves Ace to act as a sort of surrogate Doctor, with Hex as her companion, but somehow it all works – if anything, the disorientation of having no idea where the Doctor is for practically the entire story throws off any attempt to figure out what’s going on.
And if that’s not enough, Protect And Survive is the Cold War chiller that – ironically – Cold War itself fails to be on TV. Rather than establishing its time period by dropping throwaway gags about Ultravox, Protect And Survive is a reminder (especially for those of us of a certain age) of just how scary that period of all-too-recent history could be. This story seems to take place in an alternate history where, instead of glasnost throwing cold water on the cold war, everything literally goes to hell. When the air raid sirens are heard for the first time, it’s truly scary. When one of Big Finish’s most searingly intense sound design jobs kicks in with the dropping of the bomb, it’s terrifying and almost painful to hear.
I’ve heaped praise upon Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier before as the “current” seventh Doctor TARDIS team for Big Finish’s purposes, but they’re especially impressive here, having no choice but to carry the whole story on their backs. Ian Hogg and Elizabeth Bennett are equally impressive in their multi-character performances. With this small cast in place, at its best, Protect And Survive is like expertly written and performed theater – with some minor modification, it could absolutely be done on stage.
Even when the Doctor does show up, it’s no less comforting, because at this point he’s almost literally taking his revenge upon the gods and trying to play chess at a master level with all of reality at stake, and it’s hard to take his side when, at one point, a fate meant for the Doctor’s foes lies ahead instead for his companions. Hex does a lot of complaining about the Doctor’s master-manipulator tendencies in this story, and considering the trouble in which Hex finds himself, it’s hard to argue with his misgivings.
All of that leads to a surprise ending that, while it closes off Protect And Survive‘s immediate story, catapults Ace and Hex into their next adventure, ready or not. On its own merits, however, as a piece of drama, Protect And Survive is one of the best and most harrowing stories Big Finish has ever told within the Doctor Who format. It can’t be recommended highly enough.