It’s my second outing with the Missing Adventures line of Big Finish’s Doctor Who adventures, and this time we’re going with Mission to Magnus. For those not in the know, this line is based on bringing to life Doctor Who stories that for one reason or another were never produced. And the run of stories that I’ve come into possession of all feature Colin Baker as the Doctor, with Nicola Bryant as Peri, as they come from the non-existent Season 23 which was being planned before the series was put on a forced hiatus, leading the production team to axe all their plans and replace them with The Trial of a Time Lord (for better or for worse).
Last time, when I wrote about The Nightmare Fair, I talked about how disappointed I was in the utter lack of story that the title contained, in spite of containing the welcome return of the Celestial Toymaker. Mission to Magnus certainly rectifies this.
The adventure’s running time is filled to the brim with characters, interesting concepts, and tons of plot. This includes the introduction of heretofore unmentioned Time Lord bully whose taunting the Doctor never got over, a sisterhood of psychics who rule over their world who fear an invading army of men from a nearby planet, the sneaky machinations of Sil from the previous year’s Vengeance on Varos, and, if that’s not enough, the return of the Ice Warriors, who hadn’t been seen on TV for nearly ten years at that point. It’s an inventive script with lots of diverting story elements, and some memorable performance, particularly by Nabil Shaban as the creepy and incredibly weird Sil and Malcolm Rennie as the utterly absurd Anzor (the aforementioned former school bully).
Unfortunately, it’s also full of a lot of ridiculous stuff, such as a story element where the Ice Warriors try and succeed in setting off a bomb strong enough to blow Magnus off it’s orbit and change its climate, but without killing everyone. And then even stranger, the Doctor sets off another bomb and blows it back. Also Anzor, who figures prominently in the first half of the story, nearly completely disappears from the second part, leaving the listener with the impression that he was only there to kill time while we were waiting for the dramatic reveal of the Ice Warriors at the end of the first half.
More cringe-inducing is the treatment of gender relations in the story. Magnus is a female-dominated planet, explained by the fact that men can’t live on the surface of the world because of a virus that makes the sunlight fatal to men. The women have developed a society in which they are self-sufficient and fairly arrogant, particularly toward the aggressive men from a neighboring world. Anzor treats this situation as absurd and constantly treats the women as incompetent merely because they are women. Now, dramatically, this isn’t too bad because Anzor is obviously meant to be a nitwit and his views and opinions are treated as those of a fool. But the story becomes more and more uncomfortable as it approaches its conclusion, when the aggressive army of men show up and turn out to be as aggressive as we thought, but also willing to be allies in the fight against the Ice Warriors. Over the course of this, they decide that marrying these women would be a lot better than fighting them, a fact they more or less insist in spite of the women’s confusion over the whole issue. The story ends with the men chuckling various romantic double entendres and sexual innuendos to each other while the women prattle around aghast at the thought of what sort of activities they will be required to participate in as these guy’s wives. And then Sil makes a joke about profiting from selling them all matrimonial goods and baby supplies.
Up until that point the story had been unstable and inconsistent, but entertaining. It feels dated, but not offensive. But then that ending really missed the boat and made the whole thing a lot more awkward then it needed to be, and in light of that it made it hard to try to defend the story’s other flawed but potentially enjoyable qualities.