The main range continues to plough forward with the next Sixth Doctor / Constance / Flip story, and boy it’s a dozy. Scorched Earth takes place in France just after its liberation, in other words Constance’s near future, and so this story really explores the differences between Constance from the 1940s and Flip from the 2010s. Throw in some soldiers on all sides of the war and a fiery alien and you’ve got a hit on your hands! Let’s take a closer look.
July 1944. The TARDIS materialises in a small village near Rouen, where celebrations are in full swing. A joyful France is in the midst of liberation as the local population welcome a battalion of Allied soldiers – along with a colourfully dressed Doctor and his two rather excited friends.
But there are screams amidst the celebrations as an angry crowd dish out their brand of justice to one of their own that they have branded a traitor. While Constance and Flip find themselves on opposite sides of a war beyond a war, the Doctor has other concerns. The local community is used to the fires of battle, but a new type of blaze is burning – leaping from aircraft to aircraft, man to man – and this fire seems to be just as eager for revenge as the village mob.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the main conflict of this story is between the companions. Walking around the recently liberated town they see a mob surrounding a terrified girl, cutting her hair in a ritual of humiliation for being a conspirator. Flip is naturally outraged, whereas Constance tries telling her that if she really was a conspirator then she deserves what she’s getting. Flip nearly gets in trouble for trying to break it up, only saved by The Doctor smoothing things over and taking both him companions away, and two arguing their viewpoints as they go. Things get worse when Flip meets the accused, Clementine (Katarina Olsson) and befriends her, while Constance ends up bumping into, and being taken out to lunch by, Lucien (Philip DeLancy) the man who arranged the humiliation. It was really interesting to see these contrasting viewpoints go at it, Constance saying that Flip doesn’t know what it was like to be in the midst of the War, Flip countering with all the other unjustly suffering people they’ve helped, and genuinely doesn’t understand her opinion.
Throughout this we’ve had The Doctor and some local allied soldiers investigating a ball of fire with a smiling face that’s been burning down Nazi planes and the like. Turns out that Lucien is in control of it as it likes his raw hatred, and he soon sets it on Clementine while Flip is in her apartment with her, the final act that convinces Constance that maybe he isn’t all that nice. Once they survive that ordeal The Doctor and companions confront Lucien and are put in a makeshift prison and have the fire creature set on them, giving them no time to argue, luckily for them. The Doctor convinces the Furio, as it’s apparently known, to go to Berlin, where the final fight is taking place so it can gorge on as much hatred as it wants, which then leads to Constance berating The Doctor for sending it towards a city full of people.
A top class cover that shows you don’t have to put all the companions on the cover every time.
This leads to a cracker of a final part where The Doctor, Flip and Clementine chase the Furio in a bi-plane, while Constance follows below with a tied up Lucien (and two POW Nazis) and a convoy of allied troops ahead. Eventually Lucien learns to let go of his hate as now the war is over there won’t be an obvious direction for it, something Constance herself admits to having to learn. The Furio cuts psychic contact with him and The Doctor tells it to head for Skaro if it wants to feed on hate, which it does. Flip and Constance have a quick chat to make up and say sorry before the trio head off in the TARDIS.
It’s a great story, full of just as much emotional drama as action, and it’s all well written, acted and paced. Credit to writer Chris Chapman for looking inward for a source of drama rather than from a new location or enemy, instead of having a laugh with the differences in time periods between Flip and Constance, it becomes a source of drama. Even the allied soldiers and POW Nazis featured in the story are amusing and interesting respectively.
Very little, thinking about it. I guess if you’re into Doctor Who just for evil aliens and exploding corridors then you might find this “boring”, but that would just be personal taste. You can’t deny how great Scorched Earth is as a piece of audio drama.
Not much! I mean, there are obvious callbacks to previous Constance and Flip stories for the sake of their relationship or the former’s connection to the war, but Scorched Earth doesn’t directly connect to anything.
I don’t normally mention the books (though that may change…) but the Sixth Doctor already appeared in France during 1944 in the book “The Shadow in the Glass”.
Scorched Earth is one of those Main Range stories that just takes you by surprise. Much like Operation: Hellfire released at the same time as this, I thought “World War II? AGAIN?” but I was wrong this time in a completely different way. The WWII setting was used to create drama between the two companions and play off of Constance’s place in history, it wasn’t WWII for the sake of recognisable costumes and familiar setting (especially as it’s audio…) Basically, I highly recommend listening to Scorched Earth!