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Audio Drama Review
2029 AD. In the desert of Arizona, billionaire philanthropist Dr Hugo Macht is trying to save the world from climate change. But his great project to “scrub the sky clean” with nanoatomic machines grinds to an unscheduled halt when his diggers break into something unexpected: a Viking burial barrow containing eight corpses, a mysterious shield, an even more mysterious inscription… and a yet more mysterious traveller in time and space, known only as the Doctor. And that’s not even the strangest part of Dr Macht’s day. Soon, it’ll begin to snow. Soon, the Doctor and his girl Friday, Mrs Constance Clarke, will come face to face with an ancient horror in the blizzard – a Frost Giant, in need of a new body… in need of flesh...
As I was jottin’ down (see what I did there?) my notes about this double CD release, I observed quite a few similarities to The Ice Warriors – or rather to The Ice Warriors as its writer Brian Hayles had originally intended. In Shield of the Jötunn, the TARDIS arrives in the future, to find the Earth facing ecological disaster. Soon a burial site is uncovered (though not in the ice but under the sands of Arizona), a burial site for warriors – Viking warriors. Hayles had envisaged his Ice Warriors as Viking-like humanoids, as some of his dialogue attests: the scientist Arden observes that, “He [Varga] looks pre-Viking,” and Jamie concurs that, “It looks like a Viking warrior. Look at the helmet.” In this audio drama, Viking runes warn of ice and war, and soon it starts to snow…
Such echoes are probably coincidental – and in any case, writer Ian Edginton steers his story in a rather different direction, resurrecting not a Viking, but another kind of ice warrior, an enormous alien believed by the Vikings to be a Jötunn (a frost giant from Jötunnheimr, one of the nine worlds of Norse mythology). This is the Big Finish debut of Edginton, who is better known as a prolific comic book writer. Accordingly, the TARDIS crew are faced with a menace that is grander in scale than one imagines could have been convincingly achieved on television, but would not have seemed out of place in the pages of a comic – or, as Colin Baker points out in the interviews at the end of Disc Two, in a blockbuster movie.
Adding to the sense of scope is a largely Stateside setting and cast of characters, played by authentic American actors, including Michael J Shannon. Director Louise Jameson (taking charge of her first main range title) also plays a cameo role as a Viking wise woman, who is a bit similar to Leela if I’m honest, but otherwise she does a stand-up job at the helm of this production. Meanwhile, sound designer Martin Montague gives us a clear sense of the different locations, including a memorable buzzing hum for the terraformer control room.
As scripted by Edginton, the Sixth Doctor is a perfect blend of his decidedly unlikeable self from Season 22, whose alien morals and values tended to offend the sensibilities of human beings, and the more compassionate Time Lord of Season 23. In Shield of the Jötunn, the Doctor is not unmoved to the perils faced by those around him, including his companion Constance (Miranda Raison), but he doesn’t waste precious time beating his breast about it when there’s something more productive he can do which may ultimately save them. His moral stance is, in fact, a good match for Constance’s wartime pragmatism, and he shares some excellent banter with her.
We don’t get any more answers as to what Constance is trying to achieve by travelling with the Doctor (I expect that will be followed up in a future trilogy), though she emphatically insists that she’s not a deserter. Dialogue between her and Professor Lisa Zetterling (Nell Mooney) confirms that Constance is still wearing her Wren’s uniform, whereas the cover illustration by Tom Webster appears to show Raison in her own 21st-century clothes.
Raison and Jameson are the queens of this Viking tale, and I hope they swiftly return.
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