Invaders from Mars has an absolutely genius concept, yet also incredibly simple. What if aliens turned up at the same time as Orson Welles was doing his War of the Worlds broadcast? It's perfect fodder for any science fiction, not just Doctor Who.
The episode starts off great as well. Fitting with the 1930's setting, everything comes across suitably noirish with the Doctor slipping into the role of a gumshoe, a PI that he found dead minutes before in mysterious circumstances. From there we get gangsters, femme fatales, nazis and a soviet agent. It's the absolute perfect noir setting. Except it would be if it wasn't for some bad voice acting and some truly terrible accents. Still it nails the era, even if in a slightly cliché way.
Yet there's some things missing in all of this. The aliens and Orson Welles. There's alien tech, and a subplot involving an invasion, but by that point there's so many agendas and double crosses going that it's hard to stick with any of them. Meanwhile Welles broadcasts his infamous radioplay and gets everyone in a panic. But that's before the real aliens become a big threat.
When all of those disparate plots finally come together it suddenly becomes clear we're playing all this for laughs and everything does start to make a bit more sense. But it being played for laughs, wasn't obvious for the previous two parts, or even the first half of the third. It's not until the alien's plan is revealed that the audience get the impression someone has their tongue in their cheek. And all the clichés being used make more sense too. Until that point it actually comes across as quite a serious serial, and not a very good one. The humour saves it, just, but not enough to make up for the middle section. The twist acts as a saviour as well, not only is it fantastic, but it ties all of the plot threads together, which until that point they'd been a complete mess.
Again, the big selling point of this serial, the very idea of the Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast, has very little to do with the main story other than it becomes a Deus Ex Machina to finish things off, which feels a little bit of a waste.
Oh and Charlie's story is barely addressed, except for the fact she realises she's practically in her own timezone now and she could just pop over the water and be home. It is a nice bit though, because the Doctor does that thing of pretending he didn't hear but worries about what's really going on with her. Obviously I'm not expecting it to be scattered around like modern story telling, in fact Minuet of Hell was more of a shock in that it did outright address it, but I do like the side glances that the writers do and can't wait for a big story to tackle it a little more.
Remember last time, how I said I couldn't wait for that big story that would tackle Charlie's ongoing plot? Turns out it was the very next serial. Chimes of Midnight addresses it in spades.
The entire serial runs around the belief of a woman who has been put-upon and down trodden for her entire life, and somehow found solace in the politeness of a little girl. A little girl who would one day become an anomaly in time, and when their lives cross years earlier (it's sentences like that which make Doctor Who so loveable) a huge paradox and chain of events kick off that only the Doctor can stop. Chimes of Midnight might just be the best Audio drama I've listened to yet.
It's a perfect audio story. A tight little story based entirely in one house, with a relatively small cast. Turning up in an Edwardian house during Christmas seems like an amazing cliché, but where it goes from there is genius and uses the upstairs/downstairs class system to amazing effect. It somehow even makes a living house scary. But this is really all about Charley, and it delivers on that promise amazingly.
There's certain tricks with companions that I'm amazed have never been done. Maybe this is my New Who sensibility coming out, since I've dealt with the Bad Wolf girl, the woman who merged with the Doctor, the impossible girl, the boy and girl who waited, and their half human half timelord offspring. Modern Who is very much about the companions. In Old Who they were there to get into trouble.
But with Charley Big Finish do here what Russell T. Davies would 'pioneer' with Rose. A companion with a role other than just being the Doctor's mate. It's not only genius, it is such a good choice for a companion plot it's hard to believe that it was never done before. Even more so that New Who haven't copied it like they rewrote Jubilee (Dalek) and Spare Parts (Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel).
I've heard rumblings that Evelyn's story manages something similar as well. But only six serials in and Charley is up there with Jamie and Martha in terms of stories. (Martha's gets a lot better after leaving the TARDIS).
Anyone looking for diving into audio Who, I'd highly recommend chaining Storm Warning, Sword of Orion and The Chimes of Midnight and you'll likely be hooked. They are Doctor Who at its finest, regardless of medium.