1963: The Space Race reviewed

October 2013 and the turn of Jonathan Morris to entertain us with the main range tale 1963: The Space Race. This is a story for the Sixth Doctor and Peri and is set on in November 1963 in and around a Soviet rocket base. With last month’s 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men setting a high standard, how does this story fare?

Will it be a race for space or a waste of space [groan!] – find out

The story

The synopsis from the Big Finish product page is:

November 1963, and the Soviet space programme reigns supreme. Having sent the first animals, then the first men beyond Earth’s atmosphere, now they’re sending a manned capsule into orbit around the Moon.

Just as Vostok Seven passes over into the dark side, however, its life support system fails. Only the intervention of the Sixth Doctor and Peri, adopting the identities of scientists from Moscow University, means that contact with the capsule is regained.

But something has happened to the cosmonaut on board. She appears to have lost her memory, and developed extreme claustrophobia. Maybe she’s not quite as human as she used to be…

Peri and the Doctor end up helping Russian scientist rescue missing Vostok. As they do they find that the astronaut is change (in ways that I would spoil to explain) and a deep mystery is afoot. The only solution is for the Doctor to go to the moon (shades of Seeds of Death) where he encounters a US moonbase! To make things more complex there is a mysterious black-hole like artefact occupying the moonbase instead of its crew.

The Doctor returns to Earth but meanwhile the cosmonaut has escaped and is using all the local animals to form an army to attack the Soviet rocket base staff and the local town. They then use human parts to augment more and more animals and to enhance their army. Of course the long-term aim is to rule the world.

Throw in some spies and a very significant event from late November 1963 and you have an ambitious mix of ingredients.

The storytelling

As usual all actors are in tip top form and the overall mood is very dark. Peri is left behind when the Doctor goes to the moon and has a decent part of the plot to own and I personally think this is one of the best of Nicola Bryant’s many very good performances as Peri. I can’t single out any other performances – none disappoint.

I was disappointed by two things though – the Doctor casually jumps in and out of the black hole artefact on a whim which bothers the physicist hidden in the dark corners of my brain. I also lost the thread of how the returning surgically altered cosmonaut managed to do so much as she bootstrapped her animal army.

That aside this is a decent tale convincingly capturing the cold war sensibilities of the time.

Final Thoughts

In an interview for Vortex Jonathan Morris talks of writing a story that evokes Asimov and Clarke; for my own part I heard influences of Fred Pohl’s Gateway series, Animal Farm and The Island of Doctor Moreau. This is not a tribute story though but a well executed tale that stands on its own two feet. For me, though, it is a bit less than the sum of its parts.

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