The TARDIS deposits the Doctor, Ace and Hex in harm’s way on the front lines of World War I. After a close call with a German shell, they wind up in a makeshift military hospital, and as soon as the Doctor is fully recovered, he’s startled to find that there are orders awaiting him: they ask the British commanding officer to accord the Doctor and his associates full access to the hospital in order to investigate a murder that has yet to happen. Completely mystified, the Doctor begins investigating, but not before Hex warns him of one disturbing possibility: the future murder victim could be one of the time travelers. Hex discovers first-hand that horrifying experiments in mind control are taking place at this hospital, far ahead of their time, and crude – but effective. The Doctor and Ace find themselves on the receiving end of a none-too-subtle warning about poking around where they’re not welcome. They find an ally in a man who’s being kept off the front lines for fear that his pacifistic views will send him running into the arms of the enemy, but with the rest of the soldiers turned against him, he can’t offer the Doctor much help. When the murder finally takes place, however, it seems that the base commander has his own ideas as to who should face the music for the killing, whether his suspicions are founded in truth or not. But who knew about the murder ahead of time?
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Philip Olivier (Hex), Michael Cochrane (Lt. Col. Brook), Rob Dixon (Sgt. Wood), Rupert Wickham (Captain Dudgeon), Oliver Mellor (Private Taylor), Ian Hayles (Lance Corporal Burridge), Michael Adams (Private Dixon)
Timeline: between The Settling and Nocturne
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: A dark historical story with nary an alien influence anywhere, perhaps the only weakness of No Man’s Land is that – if you’re listening to the seventh Doctor audio adventures in their intended order – it follows on from another dark historical story with nary an alien influence anywhere (The Settling). The reality is that there were a few months between the two releases, but even the characters comment on the slight similarity – Ace warns Hex against causing another debacle like the one he precipitated in The Settling.
That said, there’s a lot going on with this story, helped along by some teriffic performances and good characterization. The attitudes and mores of the period being depicted seem to be accurately reflected, along with a little bit of post-modern questioning of the morality of either side in the war. Even the stuff that you think is pointing toward some sort of science fiction element is a bit of a clever red herring. With the new TV series’ apparent inability to go into Earth’s history without shoehorning some kind of alien invasion in somewhere, No Man’s Land‘s study of human evil, misguided intentions and manipulation is welcome. Listeners with softer sensibilities would be well advised to tread carefully, as there’s torture depicted involving one of the Doctor’s companions, though it’s really down to one very unpleasant scene, not a long, drawn-out part of the storyline.
Indeed, we seem to be setting Hex up for a big revelation that’s been a long time coming; all the way back to the surprise ending of Thicker Than Water, we’ve known that Hex is the orphaned son of Cassie, the ill-fated woman who the sixth Doctor and Evelyn were unable to save (Project: Twilight, Project: Lazarus). Hex’s background is brought up here in a prominent way, almost so out-of-place as to draw attention to itself. The Doctor’s later discovery that the ghastly mind control experiments were being monitored by The Forge – a shadowy organization that pilfers alien technology that falls to Earth for its own dark purposes (think Torchwood, but far less benevolent) – seems to be pointing up that the dots are being connected, and the plot threads tightened, for an eventual showdown between the Doctor and the Forge. What part Hex will play in that confrontation isn’t made clear here, of course, but too much is being signposted for nothing to happen.
Overall, No Man’s Land is a nicely-produced, excellently written tale of how far – and in some cases how low – one can reach for the means to end a war, but it may be too much like The Settling if you’re listening in story order.