Written by William Gallagher, directed by Nicholas Briggs
Released March 2012
“I said it before, the human race is indomitable… it is also the first race to realize that if you boil a frog slowly enough it won’t realize until it is too late.”
In the far future, the planet Earth has survived an encounter with solar radiation, leaving it a desolate blasted heath. The population planned ahead by building a massive ark containing the population preserved in suspension. When they reclaimed their planet, they found that rebuilding their once great civilization was not the only challenge they faced. A threat from the cold depths of space threatens to defeat humanity in its bid for dominance over the nearly inhospitable planet. By frozen Loch Lomond, the Doctor and his companion Flip find a family daring the odds by establishing a house in what could be the most unwelcome place on the planet.
Cut off from the technological wonder that is Nerva City, the Buchman family is attempting to make the best of a bad situation as only a family can, awkwardly. Veronica is bitter and resentful, husband Roger is emotionally distant and secretive and young ‘Toasty’ seems oblivious to the danger. When they welcome the Doctor and Flip to a delightful meal of ‘forage porridge,’ the moods gets grim. Consisting solely of strange green material found on the surrounding ground, forage porridge is not food at all. The Doctor sadly informs them that it is actually Wirrn mucus.
Cue my stomach to seize.
The Doctor and Flip traveled via transmat, that miracle method of getting from point ‘a’ to ‘b’ instantaneously first seen in Brian Hayle’s Seeds of Death. But it has become faulty, with help only accessible across the frozen loch. Flip volunteers to pilot the astro-light formerly belonging to the long deceased Ion. This leaves the Doctor to unravel just what skeletons are rattling around in the Buchman family closet and how deadly it could be.
Wirrn Isle is a clever and emotionally engaging story that excels in adventure (Flip playing the brave heroine is a nice touch and given that this is her last story to date, I worried for her safety) and in creepy horror (settlers eating cooked mucus not gross enough? There’s plenty more including the twitching ‘branches’ that Flip spots peeking out from the ice). Both Gallagher and Briggs note that the real strength of this story is the characters who are so well supported by the cast. Without these compelling performances, the story would fall flat due to some dubious decisions.
I am a big fan of the Wirrn and am happy to see them return. Setting the story after the Tom Baker classic Ark in Space is a nice touch as is hearkening back to Sontaran Experiment with the garbled dialect of the astronauts echoes in Sheer Jawn (played by veteran actor and sometime Sontaran Dan Starkey). However, the plot moves from point A to B to C and then back to B and A… which is really odd. Flip flies to a transmat hub to make it to the city with the Doctor and Veronica following on foot. When she arrives at Nerva City, it mainly consists of three characters and some unconvincing background crowd noise. We are meant to believe that while the Buchman family are eating plates of snot and fighting giant insects that the rest of the human race are celebrating a hair-brained Olympics based on half-remembered facts. It was so poor that I waited for the reveal that Nerva City was abandoned and the human race was still in suspension, but no.
The Doctor, Veronica, Roger and Toasty make a last stand in the cabin while Ion attempts to raid the place several times via the transmat with varying results. Despite a strong start, Flip spends much of the second half of Wirrn Isle trying to get back in the action.
In the behind the scenes material Baker notes that he thought the script was hard to follow due to the constant transmatting from place to place. But the real problem is that the characters keep jumping back to where they started, making Nerva City seem barely believable.
The real star for this story, as always, is Colin Baker. He has a knack for making the most absurd and incomprehensible plot sound acceptable. In this instance, he has some intense material to deal with and a great guest cast including the excellent Lisa Greenwood as Flip who has made a big impact on the listening fans of the Big Finish series. I have long held the opinion that the Sixth incarnation of the Doctor is the most brilliant and this story definitely supports that. The Doctor’s rewiring of the transmat system is ingenious and achieved with relatively few resources. Add to this the Doctor’s strong moral ground as he tries to explain that simple xenophobia is not reason enough to kill another living creature and you have one of the best characterizations ever. I know, I stand in a countable minority, but Six is one of the greats.
But the Doctor is not alone! He has Flip Jackson, the youngest companion to date (unless you count the comic strips). The Doctor has had his hands full in the past trying to keep his companions out of trouble, but Flip flat out welcomes it. We finally see this plot idea of Flip’s daredevil persona come to a head here, prompting the Doctor to finally accept that his travels are not just exciting jaunts through time and space but continual taunts with death that cannot go on forever.
The Wirrn and the future Earth are both used to great affect in this story, I just wish that it had more places to go than back to where it started. Even so, I do recommend it for the horror and adventure.
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