‘Warzone’ and ‘Conversion’, a double header of linked two-parters, close the current monthly adventures storyline. Travelling with Tegan, Nyssa and new companion Marc, the Fifth Doctor finds himself involved in first a deadly race and then seeking out an old foe.
The TARDIS lands amid what they fear is a battle, before realising it is a race – the titular Warzone. Forced to either join or be trampled, the crew are split apart; The Doctor and Nyssa find running mates, while Marc’s gladiator-like zeal sees him sprinting headlong into trouble while Tegan follows behind.
Written by Chris Chapman, the story satirises Parkrun culture with a sinister technological twist; competitors strive to achieve their personal best by any means necessary. It is a clever take on familiar themes of dehumanization and technical advancement. There’s plenty of humour here too, with automated cheers from the crowd watching on. We particularly enjoyed the moment where Tegan received a complimentary footwear upgrade, freeing her from high heels for once.
Script Editor Guy Adams picks up the story which follows on directly and we are keen not to reveal too much; naturally, Simon Holub’s vivid cover and the “Excellent” guest cast will have most listeners on the right track.
At a medical centre, Nyssa finds herself dealing with a peculiar alien medic and her drones. Meanwhile, the Doctor seeks out old adversaries and runs into techno-pirates Herb and Creasy. The pair are played entertainingly by Angela Bruce and Liz Sutherland-Lim.
There is a lot of packed into these two episodes as the Doctor struggles not to lose another friend. With echoes of ‘Earthshock’ in the script, it has been good to hear the TARDIS crew confront their grief for Adric.
One surprising element the story tackles is the return of the Cyber-Leader. While the TV show cast David Banks repeatedly, seemingly playing the same character, it was never acknowledged. Guy Adams provides a nifty solution, surpassing our own pet theories, granting him a reason to recognise the Doctor.
With the two-parter format, widely used for the Fourth Doctor, this trilogy has notched up five stories. It feels like a mini-season and the approach has helped elevate Marc’s status beyond that of a guest star. George Watkins has been a terrific addition to the cast, with shades of a latter-day Jamie McCrimmon about his performance. Both Nyssa and Tegan also fare well, the former able to demonstrate her technical skills and the latter enjoying some strident words with the Doctor while trying to stay alive.
As for the Time Lord himself, it was good to hear him pushed and come out fighting. Shades of the determination we saw in his final story are foreshadowed and Peter Davison gives a riveting performance: it was thrilling for his Doctor to be so brutal.
Thanks to Robert Hardy’s immersive sound design and cracking synthy score, plus the assured direction of Scott Handcock, these stories move from frenetic action to escalating menace. With a surprise ending, Fifth Doctor continuity fans may well be scrabbling to re-gig their timelines too!