Invaders from Mars was the first of a new “season” of Big Finish audio adventures featuring Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor and India Fisher as his companion Charley, produced back in the early days of the company (2002). It features guest appearances by Simon Pegg (famous for lots of things, including being Scotty in the recent Star Trek movies, and the Editor in the 9th Doctor story The Long Game) and Jessica Stevenson (aka Jessica Hynes, who played Joan Redfern in the 10th Doctor stories Human Nature and The Family of Blood). It was also written and directed by Mart Gatiss, who is well known for writing a bunch of modern Doctor Who episodes, as well as co-creating Sherlock.
In spite of all this, it’s really not all that good of a story. It’s a bit confused about what direction it wants to go in. There are lots of different narrative threads which reflect a whole range of genres, that all sort of smooshed together: we’ve got gangsters, Russian spies, Nazi sympathizers, private investigations, and alien invaders, all jostling for position. It’s meant to be an homage of old-time radio drama, complete with overly-dramatic incidental music, but it ends up being an awkward hodge-podge of elements, with lots of players who feel more like people playing “audio dress-up” rather than trying to play real people. The worst offenders are the mobsters, whose absurd accents and vocal affections are laughable, but not funny.
A lot of the story is supposed to be funny, one supposes, and some of it actually, but a lot of it falls flat. The plot is also full of lots of holes and contrivances that makes it hard to engage with. To share an example, the main villain of the story kidnaps the lover of a radio executive to blackmail him into finding out where some mobsters have their headquarters. In one scene, these two guys speak on the phone…but later, to communicate, they go to the bother of the radio executive embedding a secret signal in a public radio broadcast. After the signal, the two guys meet face to face. If they can speak on the phone, and they can meet face to face, then what’s the point of the secret radio signal? It’s a confusing plot point that takes a decent amount of time in a story that’s already too crowded. And it doesn’t result in anything–shortly after this both the executive and his lover are perfunctorily killed off–so that this whole plotline has basically no narrative consequence at all, except that the bad guy finds out where the mob headquarters is, something that could have been done in another simpler way.
An interesting part of the backdrop of this whole story is that much of it is set the night of Orson Welles’ famed War of the Worlds radio broadcast, and I have to concede there is some clever use of this in the story. There are various characters, include actual alien invaders, who come to believe that Martians have invaded the earth, which is an amusing notion. And it’s interesting to hear Orson Welles being played as a character in the story–he actually has quite a lot to do, along with fellow actor / producer John Houseman. It’s not common to hear in Doctor Who actors playing real people whose real voices are actually quite famous, but actor David Benson does a decent job, and it’s kind of interesting to hear the Doctor interacting with the famed actor and director.
So there are good points to the drama, and it’s never boring, but it’s not enough to make up for the story’s uneven tone and overall sense of clutter.