The first of two 2nd Doctor stories from last month that I’m finally catching up on, and I’m glad I listened to this one first because… well, it was a bit dull. It had some good concepts and performances, but it was quite a slog to get through, and it would have come across as far worse had I listened to it after the second story… But enough about that, let’s take a closer look at Home Guard, shall we?
It’s the middle of the Second World War and Ben Jackson has returned to visit his married friends Polly and Jamie in their quiet English village. But they can’t quite shake the feeling that something’s not right…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
The story is very good at slowly building tension, making the listener try and figure out just what’s going on as the mystery deepens. Ben, Jamie and Polly being seemingly involved in the Second World War, with The Doctor revealed to be something of a drill sergeant, was obviously odd enough, then “the enemy” turned out to be large alien bug-like ships on large spindly legs. It’s an alien planet that’s had a human colony on it, but the humans and the locals have lived in peace until the former began to take more and more land off of the latter. Obviously in the end our main cast break free of the control, The Doctor finds out it’s The Master behind it all, and then overcome his plan. It’s fine, but slow going…
This is the last story featuring Elliot Chapman as Ben Jackson, so I’d like to reiterate how great he was in the role, and that I’m sad to see him go.
Also I had to laugh that at one point, as The Doctor is trying to break Ben free from the mind control, he says something along the lines of “this has happened before, to you! Remember the Macra!” Mr. Guerrier at least admitting through his writing that this is such an over-used trope that its even happened to this exact Doctor / Companion combo… I’m not sure if that should be in the good or bad, but I’ll leave it here…
As per usual, even a boring story still has a great cover!
The problem with stories like this is the balance between “how are our favourite characters so different and will they go back to their usual selves?!” and “okay, stop trying to establish this new status quo that’s clearly going to be undone by the end of these two hours and start doing things please”. I felt Home Guard got off to a good start, but by the middle of the story I was feeling bored. It didn’t help that a lot of the other characters weren’t very interesting, or that The Master was being played by an actor now outed as a complete twat.
That’s just one paragraph, but there was quite a lot I didn’t like…
This earliest version of The Master (unfortunately unlikely to appear again thanks to James Drayfus, as already mentioned, being a complete twat) previously appeared in the First Doctor audio story “The Destination Wars”.
Also as previously mentioned, The Doctor talks about previous adventures he and Ben have had, including specifically “The Macra Terror” to Ben in order to get him to snap out of it. I also have to say that this is the fourth time this exact TARDIS team has been in a WWII-set story, even if the idea behind this particular adventure is that it turns out not to be WWII. Those other three stories as the companion chronicles “Resistance” and “The Forsaken”, as well as previous Early Adventure “The Night Witches”.
The Home Guard is a good story with some fun moments, but it drags a lot. It spends a lot of time setting up a new world with these characters for the sole purpose of them breaking free of it and leaving, but sadly it’s just not very interesting, the other new characters aren’t all that good and I couldn’t get invested in this new Master due to certain real-life revelations. Just under average, in the end…