Like its stablemate this month, The Time Museum, this is definitely not a story to pick up as a casual fan. Instead, it’s the start of a pay-off for a number of plotlines that have been percolating within the Seventh Doctor range for some time. It’s almost a Companion Chronicle for Hex and Ace – there’s a limited involvement by Sylvester McCoy owing to his commitments to The Hobbit, but as with many of the Companion Chronicles, just because the actor playing the Time Lord isn’t present, that doesn’t mean that the Doctor isn’t heavily involved.
Jonathan Morris’ scripts are tightly constructed, providing some real opportunities for Philip Olivier, Sophie Aldred and guest cast Ian Hogg, Elizabeth Bennett and Peter Egan, with director Ken Bentley pulling some occasionally extraordinary performances from them.
The first two episodes are bleak: imagine a combination of Raymond Briggs’ When The Wind Blows and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. You’ve got the British phlegm and not-quite-understanding of the former in Peggy and Albert, and the despairing hope and search for a figure who will sort everything out from the latter. It’s a hell of an effective pairing, and it’s something of a relief when the third episode moves the plot into a new course although there’s something of the “no second chances” hardness of David Tennant’s incarnation in the way the Doctor behaves in this story, which could leave a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth for the listener as it does Hex.
Protect and Survive isn’t a standalone tale. As Philip Olivier notes in the CD extras, it picks up on elements from a number of past stories – both those featuring Ace and Hex, and the Seventh Doctor solo tales – and adds further levels to them, some of which I’m sure aren’t apparent just yet!
Verdict: Almost a Doctor Who version of Big Finish’s Drama Showcase, this is a taut and sometimes terrifying production. 8/10