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Audio Drama Review
In search of ‘a taste of the real Spain’, the TARDIS transports the Doctor, Ace and newly rejoined crewmember Mel not to sizzling Fuerteventura, or the golden sands of the Costa Brava – but to 1938, amid the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Having fallen in with a rag-tag column of Republican soldiers, the time and space travellers seek shelter from Franco’s bombers in the walled town of Farissa – only to find themselves besieged by dead men returned to life…
I came to this audio drama with no real expectations. The only thought that occurred to me upon seeing the title on the cover was a frivolous one on the potential for future adventures involving models of car manufactured by Ford: Cortina of the Cursed, The Escort of Evil, Sierra of the Cybermen… So I was pleasantly blown away (as opposed to being unpleasantly blown away by one of Franco’s bombers) when I actually started listening to Fiesta of the Damned.
The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is stirringly sombre as he speaks of the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War and the unpleasant fate that awaits the Republican rebels. Perhaps McCoy’s passionate performance was aided by the fact that he actually visited Francoist Spain before the Fascist regime fell in 1975, as he reveals in interviews at the end of Disc Two. Mel (Bonnie Langford) is back to her morally upright self after A Life of Crime, forming an alliance with the rebel commander Juan Romero, who is played to world-weary perfection by Enzo Squillino Jnr. Meanwhile, a slightly more mature Ace (Sophie Aldred) than we’ve had in the last couple of post-Hex releases buddies up with an eager English war correspondent, George Newman (Christopher Hatherall).
For a while, I thought George was going to turn out to be George Orwell, in a Timelash / Herbert George Wells type revelation. However, a modicum of fact-checking told me that I was wrong – this adventure takes place a year after Orwell had returned to England from the battlefield (Homage to Catalonia, his account of the experience, was published in 1938) and his real name was not Newman but Eric Arthur Blair. Nevertheless, perhaps writer Guy Adams is paying tribute to Orwell, who twice featured a pub called The Newman Arms in his novels – a homage to Homage to Catalonia, anyone?
The opening episode is almost purely historical, before an unearthly threat makes its presence known at the end of the instalment. The increasing prominence of the science-fiction aspects of the story tends to push the civil war setting into the background during the final three episodes, but still allows Fiesta of the Damned to be a moving and surprisingly uplifting experience.
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