Tuesday, 30 August 2016

215 - FIESTA OF THE DAMNED

With Mel back on board the TARDIS the new trilogy of adventures for her, Seven, Ace continues in Fiesta of the Damned. Whereas last months was a slick clever postmodern take on a heist movie, this release is a very traditional Doctor Who story in its construction, which is no bad thing as we have not had one for a while. Its an opportunity to step back and enjoy the bread and butter of why we all love Doctor Who so much and why it has lasted so very long – this is a “pseudo historical” very much along the lines of The Time Meddler or The Masque of Mandragora where the TARDIS team arrive in an earth historical setting but encounter an alien menace – and the setting they find themselves in is very interesting.
 Fiesta of the Damned is set in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War and involves the TARDIS team wanting a taste of the real Spain, but instead falling in with the remnants of a Republican army who are on the run from Franco’s Fascist Nationalist army. The troops are led by the charismatic Juan Romero (Enzo Sqillino Jnr) who before the war was a Farmer and just wants to go back to being a farmer – but as a man of conviction he is doing what he feels is the right thing. There is also a plucky english journalist reporting on the war George Newman (Christopher Hatherall). Arriving in the middle of a nationalist bombing raid the Republicans, George & team TARDIS head to the nearby town of Farissa for shelter. So far, so traditional in its construction, the story even satisfies the original remit of the show by being educational – I found myself learning some interesting facts about the origins of the civil war and of the terrible aftermath which left tens of thousands of Republicans executed and General Franco as dictator of Spain for 36 years.
 As I said earlier though, this is a pseudo historical and does have an alien threat, an alien seeding device which transforms anything it comes into contact with into, well, a sort of hotchpotch alien creature made up of all the species that it has assimilated over the years – if you think of the Tula spaceship and how it “repaired” people in The Empty Child you wont be far wrong – the seeding becomes a zombie like infection but transmitted via touch rather than bite and as the Doctor, Ace & George try to stop it at its source, Mel is teamed up with Juan as the town of Farissa falls under siege to the infected humans.
 The story is very much a throwback to sixties & seventies Who, but the characterisation is really something special. Big Finish have done wonders in the past giving Bonnie Langford’s Mel a more rounded, likeable and believable character and this is added to in this story as we see a blossoming but ultimately doomed romance with Juan, their conversations about the nature of war and going back to the life you had after it is all over are moving and full of pathos. Mel has a wistful & mature quality to her that was missing on TV and scenes like she has in this story only confirm what a missed opportunity her TV appearances were.
So a story of no surprises but a story of immense character and a story that has fired my passion for history & made me want to find out more about the Spanish Civil War. It may be an old school Fiesta but it has definitely passed its MOT – 7/10.