Fiesta of the Damned is another triumph for Big Finish, despite just possibly missing an opportunity along the way. Guy Adams has written a thoroughly enjoyable story for the new Seventh Doctor crew of Ace and Mel that takes them to Spain.
The latest attempt at a holiday fails on the first hurdle – who picks the Spanish Civil War for a vacation?!
A quick product page synopsis tells us:
In search of “a taste of the real Spain”, the TARDIS transports the Doctor, Ace and rejoined crewmember Mel not to sizzling Fuerteventura, or the golden sands of the Costa Brava – but to 1938, amid the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.
Having fallen in with a rag-tag column of Republican soldiers, the time and space travellers seek shelter from Franco’s bombers in the walled town of Farissa – only to discover themselves besieged by dead men returned to life…
The story quickly splits up the main characters and lets them get to know various locals, or bump into the inner plot (zombies created by alien tech). Ace gets to flirt with English reporter George Newman (Christopher Hatherall) and Mel forms a more genuine relationship with local revolutionary Juan Romero (Enzo Squillino Jnr). This allows the listener to experience events from two directions and the Doctor is relegated to a more comic figure (dinosaur toy walkie talkies anyone?) mainly there to wave a magic wand and get rid of the bad guys.
The story is richer than that brief summary suggests, and the events of the war come to life well even if they aren’t centre stage. George Newman gets a moment in the TARDIS and shares some emotional insights with Ace. These help paint a picture of Ace as far more mature than the rebellious teen of Dragonfire and both her and Mel’s relationships feel like parts of their lives they would be happy to revisit.
Guy Adams is ubiquitous and never turns in a bad story. That said what starts as an excellent story of war-torn Spain, well cast and tightly directed by Ken Bentley chooses instead to explore (but only partly) a zombie story and mixes that up with yet another alien threat. It’s a little bit painting by numbers, and while this is very good I came away wanting something different. It’s hard to see how the Newman / Ace sequences would have worked without dipping into the world of pure science fiction, but Mel’s story could have been even stronger in a purely historical context.
Minor gripes for a great story.