Protect and Survive is the first story to feature Ace and Hex since 2010’s Lurkers at Sunlights Edge. Since then there have been references to the colour of the TARDIS. It’s the second script to come from Jonathan Morris after his very enjoyable opening story THE CURSE OF DAVROS. The title is borrowed from the 1970’s and 1980’s Government public information series which was designed to tell UK citizens how to protect themselves during a nuclear attack. The story starts off with Ace and Hex in the TARDIS and no sign of the Doctor, to add to their worries the Cloister Bell. This pretty much indicates that this isn’t going to be a nice happy bunny rabbits story with rainbows. The story focuses on Ace and Hex and as the TARDIS lands we encounter Maggie and Albert who are a nice couple who are just doing what needs to be done to get themselves. There is a note made that history has been changed and that’s
It’s the end of episode two before the Doctor turns up. It’s quite a bold thing to do on the face of it because it means that the companions have to drive the story and Philip Olivier and Sophie Aldred are superb. The fact that there is no sign of Sylvester McCoy doesn’t register until he actually turns up. It’s 55 minutes that its just the four actors and throughout these two episodes I really did get a feeling that this is a very dark story. In fact I don’t think that a Doctor Who story (in my mind) has gone this dark since the Gary Russell era (pre-2007). It was quite a refreshing change of pace. At one point Hex is blinded and its well played by Olivier. These sort of scenes were quite harrowing and that’s quite an achievement for an audio play. If it had been on TV then I suspect it would have been even more shocking.I thought that the moment it really got quite dark was when they all got radiation sickness and they get progressively worse. They were trapped in the basement and had been there for nine days.
The moment when Maggie and Albert admit that they are aware that the same days are playing over and over again was quite a surprise and seemed to mark the moment when the story went from grim and dark mystery to proper sci-fi and the shift in tone was seamless. I didn’t see the whole timeloop thing coming. It was very clever and suited the story just right, then it gets even cleverer with the revelation that its all taking place in a sort of prison where Maggie and Albert are infact Elder Gods who have been put in this situation to be punished by the Doctor. It does seem quite a shocking thing for the Doctor to do but it fits in well with the latter stages of the Seventh Doctor’s era. The story poses some nice emotional scenes because there is one point where Ace and Hex have to decide who is going to stay and who is going to leave
I’ve been quite big on cliffhangers recently and this story has some pretty epic ones. Episode one is a nice once because it’s the build up of waiting for the heat blast to hit. The second one is better because it’s a chilling entrance for the Doctor who is overheard talking about being taught a lesson and I think it leads into a scene where Hex lets his frustrations with the Doctor come out. The final cliffhanger is also good one as we are introduced to Molok. The voice used seemed very familiar to me though I couldn’t think where. The Elder Gods were a very effective villain, their inclusion in the story was well handled.
There has been a thing in the Seventh Doctor stories over the last year or so about the colour of the TARDIS. It was white in ANGEL OF SCUTARI and black in ROBOPHOBIA and in this story its both. I am curious as to where this will end up. Protect and Survive is my favourite story of the year and possibly even for the last couple of years. It’s superbly written and directed, It’s solid with a tiny cast and like the previous Ace and Hex series, the opening story leads into the next which makes for an epic cliffhanger.