Much like with Poison of the Daleks, my immediate thought was “World War II again?” but unlike the Dalek story before this, I quickly thought to myself “That being said, the Third Doctor had very few historical-set stories, and never appeared in WWII, so…It’s actually quite fresh for this incarnation”. So ignoring the setting, is it fresh? or more importantly, is it any good? Let’s find out!
When the Doctor accepts an invitation to an audience with a popular horror writer, he’s expecting a rather dull evening. But he quickly senses the presence of another Gallifreyan nearby. The Time Lords have a mission for him.
Soon the Doctor and Jo find themselves at the height of the Second World War in 1943. Caught up in a struggle involving occultist Nazis, the Prime Minister, top secret agencies and a mysteriously powerful amulet, they must distinguish friend from foe and avoid sacrifice upon the altar of evil.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Although it’s set during WWII, really it’s more of an Indiana Jones style occult / demon summoning story complete with Nazis and a powerful artefact at the centre, though in this case it’s a Time Lord artefact known as “The Amulet of the Wastelands”. The Doctor and Jo meet an author in the present day (or the present day of the Third Doctor era) who was also a World War II Wing Commander during the War and together they’re met by a Time Lady who appears out of nowhere and gives our lead the mission to head to the past to retrieve the Amulet. The Wing Commander in question, Douglas Quilter (Mark Elstob) knew this was all going to happen because he met them during WWII in a nice little time travel plot-point. It’s a fine set up, and is done with enough pace to have a WWII set cliffhanger to Part 1!
As for the actual story itself… it’s good. Not amazing, but kept me entertained. Basically The Doctor and Jo have a brief chat with Winston Churchill (once again played by Ian McNeice) and Quilter before The Doctor heads off to a mysterious manor house where an accused Nazi sympathiser is being kept under house arrest, and is the most likely location for the Amulet. The Doctor is accompanied by Quilter’s co-worker Daisy Chapel (Jeany Spark), who turns out to be a double agent and drugs our favourite Time Lord on the way to the house. The Doctor escapes, gets recaptured by order of the mysterious Time Lady, is about to be sacrificed on madman Davenport Finch’s alter (Davenport is played by Terry “Davros” Molloy!) but is rescued by Jo.
Eventually Chapel kills Finch and tries to escape, but when cornered decides to commit suicide. Oh, and she had the Amulet all along, so they get that and tell Quilter to keep it safe where nobody would look, which turns out to be his sock drawer. The Doctor and Jo head back to the 70s (or was it the 80s etc.) and that’s that! So beyond the Time Lord artefact, it was pretty much a pure historical, though one that plays with ideas of the supernatural rather than playing with the historical setting.
Churchill featuring so heavily on the cover is a tad misleading, he’s barely more than a cameo in the story!
There was a lot of build up to the arrival of an evil mage, or magus or Master (I knew Big Finish too well that if The Master were in this story they’d announce it in a press release and stick him on the cover!) but in the end it was a supposed to be a Nazi who had pretended defect but went into hiding, but that was all misdirection from the Nazis themselves and he didn’t exist at all. *shrugs* Oh well! Kind of annoying, but it put Mr. Finch into despair and there was a sort of fitting irony that it came from the Nazi equivalent to the department Quilter was a member of, so I understood the idea behind it. Still can’t say that having so much dialogue and plot revolve around something that’s just dropped immediately didn’t fall a little flat for me.
Overall though, as I’ve said, it wasn’t the most exciting story. It had some good characters and some fun moments, but I never felt excited for the next part to start.
Not much. The Time Lady who appears out of nowhere is a reference to the Time Lord in a bowler hat who appeared out of nowhere to give the Third Doctor a message during “Terror of the Autons”.
Ian McNeice’s Winston Church first appeared in Eleventh Doctor story “Victory of the Daleks” and has appeared a few times on audio recently, including “Subterfuge”, a Seventh Doctor audio released just two months ago.
Operation: Hellfire is a perfectly fine World War II story, full of spies, doublecrossing and occult worship. Despite this it’s sadly not the most exciting story, it didn’t leave me hooked, but it did keep me entertained. Somewhere in the middle of the scale, as I’m unlikely to listen again, but it wasn’t bad by any stretch.