Going into this final release in the most recent Fifth Doctor Main Range trilogy I was expecting to like Conversion more based on the synopsis, but it actually ended up the other way around. That’s not saying the latter story was bad, and in fact the end scene was brilliant, but … well, let’s save the specifics for the actual review, shall we?
Synopsis (of Warzone):
At Warzone, competitors gather from across the galaxy to test the limits of their endurance and achieve their personal best. So, when the TARDIS materialises in the middle of a racetrack, the Doctor and his friends must literally run for their lives.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Warzone was quite unlike anything I’d heard / seen / read in Doctor Who before, which is high praise indeed! The Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Marc end up in the middle of a marathon race filled with deadly traps and have to join in or be trampled to death, though the catch is that all the runners have special wristbands that protect them from the dangers, making sure they’re pushed to limit, but never over it. It was a really fun concept, and the cast is soon split in three to explore different ideas:
The Doctor is stuck running with someone who is competing because she needs the rewards to fit into her society and improve herself, this leads to The Doctor (and the listener) getting filled in on the rules of the race. Tegan and Marc run together, with Marc liking it to the Greek games he watched as a slave and begins to really enjoy himself… which gets him nearly killed thanks to having no wristband, and Nyssa trails at the back of the race with a man who is running in a costume for charity, only really doing the race because all his friends have done it and pressured him to do it too.
It’s soon revealed that the prize is to get “upgraded”, false body parts, greater muscle strength etc, which The Doctor of course recognises as an early warning sign of Cybermen. Turns out the local populace had been using salvaged Cyber-tech to improve themselves, though they haven’t reached the “rob all emotions” bit yet. Marc gets partially Cyber-converted after his injury, leading to the cliffhanger as The Doctor, who swears that he won’t let another companion lose their life to the Cybermen, rushes off with Tegan and Nyssa to find a way to reverse the process, only leaving behind a warning about abusing the conversion machine and what it could lead to behind. It was a properly entertaining and well written two-parter. Hats all the way off for writer Chris Chapman.
A striking cover, especially the composites of the TARDIS crew running at the bottom of the picture.
Conversion was let down by a few bad characters chewing the scenery, but the core plot of The Doctor losing more and more of his super-nice personality in his desperate attempt to help Marc was great, both Peter Davison and Janet Fielding deserve praise here, The Doctor and Tegan go through some tough times but still JUST manage to stick together on a hostile Cyber-ship.
By the end of the story The Doctor undoes the Cyber-conditioning (taking out the returning 80s Cybermen / Cyber Leader who arrived in the process!) with the added luck that Marc was turned into a flesh-like Cyberman to blend into human society, therefore not looking outwardly any different. That being said, The Doctor gives Nyssa, Tegan and Marc a bunch of money and runs off, saying they’re obviously not safe with him anymore, complete with Tegan getting cross that he’s having a “Time Lord Strop” as he leaves in the TARDIS. So despite all the odds and God knows how many audio episodes, The Fifth Doctor and Tegan had a bit of character development! Shocker! It was great stuff, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this is followed up on next year.
As I said above, Conversion is let down by some weird comedy treasure hunters and a “funny” octopus alien nurse. They all do silly voices and/or supremely over act, and it stood out like a sore thumb not just because of coming after the brilliantly acted Warzone, but because of what The Doctor and Tegan were going through at the time with Marc. Oh and Nyssa, though she just stayed behind with Marc and slowed the Cybermen down a bit. It’s not in her character to show any emotion anyway, sadly…
It was the one negative in an otherwise top class double bill.
Beyond this following on from the other Marc-centric stories in this trilogy, the only other thing it has strong ties to is the Fifth Doctor TV classic “Earthshock”. Not only is Adric’s death and the mental effect it had on The Doctor a major plot point in this story, but the Cyber Leader claims to remember The Doctor shooting him with a gun in TV story (something to do with his memory being uploaded to some mainframe, though the shooting happened in the TARDIS, so I’m not sure that actually works… whatever!)
Warzone was damn-near flawless, and Conversion had a cracker of a conclusion, complete with actual character development for The Doctor and Tegan. Sadly the latter is let down by cheesy acting, so much so that I’ll separate the two stories in the score, despite how closely tied together they are. Regardless, this is a highlight release, I just hope they can follow it up next year!