Thought I was done with new Doctor Who releases this month? Ha! There is one more audio box to go through, and that starts with The Iron Legion (or “Doctor Who and The Iron Legion”, but that’s a bit of a mouthful…) Unlike the next story in the set, I haven’t gotten around to reviewing the comic this is adapted from on this site, but I know I will some day, so I’ve future proofed the title! Anyway, The Iron Legion is a crazy and very cartoony story in comic form, and I’m happy to say it’s just as crazy and cartoony in audio form as well! Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
1979 AD! Led by the terrible General Ironicus, the mighty Iron Legion – robot veterans of the Eternal War – have come, seen and conquered the English village of Stockbridge!
Caught up in the mayhem, the Doctor pursues the Legion back through the great Dimension Duct to their place of origin – an alternative Earth where Rome never fell…
But can he survive the horrors of the gladiatorial Hyp-Arena long enough to uncover the terrifying secret at the heart of the Galactic Roman Empire?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
The Doctor (Tom Baker) – Currently travelling alone, The Doctor is enjoying a good chat with himself until he soon finds his way to Stockbridge, where he ends up facing down a squad of robotic Romans from another dimension… well, it beats talking to yourself!
General Ironicus (Brian Protheroe) – The robotic general of the Iron Legion of the Roman Empire of an Earth where it didn’t fall. He is one of the few beings that knows the true secret behind the Empire.
Magog (Christine Kavanagh) – Magog is the leader of the Malevilus, a group of powerful beings that are secretly controlling the Roman Empire from behind the scenes. She is currently disguised as the mother of the current Emperor in order to keep up appearances…
Vesuvius (Toby Longworth) – Vesuvius is a small and neurotic robot who retains some of the oldest knowledge of the alternate Roman Empire, even if a lot of it has seemingly been erased…
Morris (Joseph Kloska) – Morris is a prisoner of the Roman Empire who, let’s just say, isn’t the brightest bulb in the box. He keeps trying to escape, and each escape attempt has leads to him getting more and more injured, and therefore more and more cybernetically augmented. Still, he’ll keep trying…
Doug and Viv (Steve Hansell & Esther Hall) – Doug and Viv are two perfectly normal members of Stockbridge who are unlucky enough to be around when The Iron Legion invades…
Adolphus Caesar (Luke Franks) – Caesar is the teenage Emperor of the highly advanced alternate Roman Empire, but he couldn’t care less, and is far more interested in computer games and “cool” stuff.
The Malevilus (Alistair Lock) – The Malevilus are a race of hideous, winged beings that control the Roman Empire from behind the scenes, looking forward to being fed new humans when needed…
A lovely cover. If you’re wondering, the cover for Parts Three and Four is the same, but with the classic logo instead…
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the original comic strip is properly bonkers, full of 2000 AD-like small black and white panels of crazy robots, weird creatures and a very British sense of humour, and happily the audio adaptation manages to keep that feel (well, apart from the black and white panels part, obviously!) A Roman army of robots from another world arrives in Stockbridge and captures a bunch of humans at the same time The Doctor arrives looking for some sweets. He defeats a Robo-Roman and tries to flee, but his TARDIS is pulled into the same dimensional hole the Romans used to arrive, and soon use to go back.
What follows is a crazy ride full of weird and funny characters, a cheesy villainous threat and lot’s of Tom Baker having an absolute ball, so it’s hard not to listen to it with a smile on your face. He meets amusingly neurotic little robot Vesuvius, who often says “These days, these days!” as he panics about every little thing, including the light on his head going out. He meets Morris, who talks in classic simple-man speak (“Morris happy met Doctor, me think you friend!” sort of thing) and has lots of funny lines about the times he tried to escape only to get recaptured and have more of his body replaced with robotics due to his painful failures. Finally, exclusive to the audio version, we have Doug and Viv, a normal English couple, complete with plenty of bickering, humorously no-selling all the madness around them and just looking for a way back home. The group all play off of each other well.
The villains of the piece are good too. Ironicus is a good loyal soldier type, with a look (like a bird) that means he’s good for insults, and Magog and the rest of the Malevilus are cheesy cartoon villains in the best way possible. A flashback where Magog and Ironicus kill then-baby Caesar’s mother before Magog takes her form was quite dramatic, if immediately played for laughs by Caesars lack of a reaction to it, or at the very least, easily persuaded to just drop it and leave reaction to it. The Doctor manages to find a recording of it locked deep in Vesuvius’s memory banks and play it to the Roman Empire, inciting a rebellion that includes creatures from around the galaxy who are on the planet for a gladiatorial contest teaming up with horrid human experiments to fight the Robotic Legionnaires… Quite the mental image, that one! (or actual image, if you have the comic, not that those scenes are identical or anything…)
Overall it was a really fun two hours, with plenty of scene and location changes to keep things going. Seriously, I can think of a few more fun moments from the middle of the story I haven’t even touched on, so it’s certainly a fun roller coaster ride!
Not a lot, though I will say the visual nature of the source material did seem to lead adapter Alan Barnes to rely a bit too much on unnatural-sounding descriptive text. “Oh, that’s a nice >exact description of weapon or piece of clothing< you have there!” or “My word, look at that! It’s like >exact and detailed description of location or event to someone who is standing next to you and therefore able to see what your describing<”. That sort of thing. Didn’t ruin it at all or anything, but I did start to notice it after a while…
I decided to add the overall cover as it features Vesuvius, who otherwise doesn’t appear on the standalone Iron Legion one!
Not a lot to mention here, continuity-wise. In both the comic and the audio versions sees The Doctor list off a long list of aliens he’d encountered to try to remember the Malevilus, but I’m not going to sit and list them all!
The small town of Stockbridge has appeared frequently in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, first appearing by name in the Fifth Doctor story “Stars Fell on Stockbridge”, but retroactively included in the previous story “The Tides of Time”. “The Iron Legion” comic wasn’t actually set there originally, but it was assumed by later fans to be the same one, just for the sake of it being the first DWM story. This audio version flat-out admits it!
The audio version of The Iron Legion does a great job of keeping the comic atmosphere while still making a good and extended audio adaptation. Just like how the novel adaptations always felt different from the other Big Finish audios thanks to deeper and larger cast of characters and an often more complex plot, this feels different due to a very cartoony set of characters and a great background score that feels like… well, again, a good old fashion cartoon! It’s great stuff, and highly recommended!