After last month’s A Life of Crime saw Mel Bush re-united with the Seventh Doctor and Ace, the second part of this trilogy sees the TARDIS land the three of them in the heart of the Spanish Civil War. It’s 1938, and the tide is turning against the Republican forces. Captain Juan Romero and his men, along with the Doctor and companions, seek refuge from Franco’s bombers in the town of Farissa. But worse horrors await here, as townsfolk and injured soldiers are transformed by a nasty alien virus.
Though the Spanish Civil War is a lively and fascinating period of recent history, it’s been almost entirely untouched by Doctor Who media until now. Thankfully, it’s clear from the opening of Fiesta of the Damned that writer Guy Adams has really done his research and come up with a story that both fits well into this period and reflects on the themes of war and nationalism that inevitably arise. If you’re not too clued up on your knowledge of this period, you will be by the end of the story.
Plus, the well-developed side characters add a lot of depth to the setting, particularly as they’re paired up with the Doctor’s companions; Romero (Enzo Squillino Jnr) is devoted to helping his country, whatever it takes, though Mel discovers he used to live a peaceful life as a farmer, while journalist George Newman (Christopher Hathrall) is, like Ace, an adrenaline junkie. We also meet the mayor of Farissa and Luis, a leper shunned by the town. All have been affected by this war in different and profound ways, and all emerge from this adventure changed – and only for some of them is that a physical change into an alien beastie.
Yes, despite the historical detail and weighty themes, this is an action-packed story, with a gruesome and original villain for our heroes to fight, although one side plot near the end involving the Doctor faffing around with an alien computer does distract from this more exciting stuff. Ken Bentley’s direction brings this story to life – with carefully layered background sounds including townspeople and various animals, you can picture the military camp, town, and caves of Spain as if they were on your TV screen.
So, despite the odd point at which it can drag, Fiesta of the Damned shines thanks to a great setting brought to life masterfully, a fierce alien menace, and some deep, well acted character stories. This is how historical Doctor Who should be done!
DOCTOR WHO: FIESTA OF THE DAMNED / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / AUTHOR: GUY ADAMS / STARRING: SYLVESTER MCCOY, BONNIE LANGFORD, SOPHIE ALDRED / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW