April 2014 and the start of another Fifth Doctor trilogy, this giving us Nyssa as the companion. The honours fell to Mark Morris to kick things off with the intriguingly titled Moonflesh. With a great cast of John Banks, Tim Bentinck, Rosanna Miles, Francesca Hunt, Hugh Fraser and Geoffrey Breton alongside Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton what happens when we once more visit England…
Some great scene-setting on the Big Finish product page:
One wouldn’t normally expect to find elephants, gorillas and rhinoceroses roaming free in Suffolk in the year 1911. One wouldn’t normally expect to find an extra-dimensional police box at the same time/space location either. Two aliens, named the Doctor and Nyssa, exit said box, only to find themselves pursued by a hungry lioness – for they’ve landed in the private hunting grounds of the famous explorer Nathaniel Whitlock, who’s brought together a motley group of friends and acquaintances for a weekend’s shooting.
But one of Whitlock’s guests isn’t all they seem. One of them wants the secrets of the Moonflesh, the mystic mineral looked after by Whitlock’s retainer, a Native American known as Silver Crow. Because the Moonflesh is reputed to have the power to call down spirits from another realm…
…and soon, the hunters will become the hunted.
So a good setting for a story and despite the proximity to the start of World War I this is about a time of change not the build-up the war. The first disc introduces all the characters and a larger than life bunch they are with plenty of what appear at first glance appear to be stereotypes – arrogant industrialists, downtrodden son, bluff hunting cover, his feisty daughter and others besides. Amidst all this arrives the Doctor and Nyssa and are drawn to the mysterious glowing red crystal known as the Moonflesh!
Of course spirits arrive and start to possess various creatures and characters. The Doctor is thwarted in first first efforts to help and has to enlist the help of Silver Crow the Sioux (John Banks) to enter the ghost dance to finally defeat the foe.
My first impression was of a formulaic story in which all the pieces had predictable outcomes and as Ken Bentley states in the extras this needs larger than life performances to hold the attention. The second disc did allow a lot of the characters to have little twists and most of the them became more interesting than I had feared.
[pullquote]John Banks lifts this story with the character Silver Crow[/pullquote]
The story is a standard base under siege with a curious setting involving historically plausible African animals in 1911 Suffolk. What lifts this story is Silver Crow, a Sioux Indian as realised by the vocal talents of John Banks. This is not the first time that I have singled John Banks out for his skills but after listening to this I do wonder why he hasn’t his own regular character in a Big Finish series somewhere. Perhaps this would dilute his ability to cover so much ground in so many stories.
The idea of ghost dance may not be to everyone’s tastes but it is the single most distinct part of the story for me. Nyssa on the other hand had little to do (except get possessed) and apart from being the second pair of knowledgeable eyes and ears this could almost have been a solo Fifth Doctor story.
My overall view is that this was a well executed story that achieved more than its premise.