Throughout Doctor Who's history `military' stories have cropped up many times. The classic situation being the Doctor and his companion finding themselves in the middle of a conflict between two factions. It's his inquisitiveness and dislike of violence put up against the brash actions of the military forces that make for such powerful storytelling and with `Pest Control', writer Peter Anghelides shows how this concept works just as well on audio.
Take the recent series 4 of Doctor Who for example - In that alone you had the Sontaran two-parter as well as the Doctor's Daughter - both encompassing strong military themes. Thus, `Pest Control' fits very well into the overall feel of series, also in the way it encompasses the grander scale and darker feel of that series. What you immediately notice though is that within the audio format, there is complete freedom to create wondrous worlds and alien races without limitations of budget and this really shows here, the story having an epic feel to it.
Things kick off with the Doctor and Donna landing on a desolate, war-torn planet, caught in a conflict between the centaur-like Aquabi and the human soldiers, the insectoid Serfians being introduced shortly later. The human soldiers are the key focus here, ranging from the down-to-earth grunts, a sneaky reporter type, an uncaring leader and downright sinister medical advisor. Each is explored in fascinating detail, tempers obviously reaching fever point as differing attitudes bounce off each other. Donna herself even gets conscripted up into the armed forces!
On the whole, this is quite a gritty story, featuring themes of racism, descriptions of injuries (neck broken, limbs almost severed), a pretty high death toll and plenty of destruction on a large scale. Another important theme picked up on by the Doctor himself is the very best and very worst that humans can showcase and this idea becomes in many ways the crux of this story.
Of course, as Doctor Who always does so well, this grim backdrop is perfectly balanced against lovely little dashes of lightness with loads of great comedy moments from the Doctor and Donna featuring in this story along with some quaint references to Star Trek and Harry Potter too. It's also interesting to note that that the two actually spend most of this story apart (a good two-thirds at least). This works to the story's strength though, allowing the characters to play to their own personal strengths and really shine.
Another important part of Doctor Who is its absorbance of various influences and working them into new, exciting visions. In `Pest Control' there's a whole host of touchstones, ranging from previous elements of the show itself (there's even a giant robot in this story) to classic sci-fi films like Aliens in the way the insectoid aliens burst out from the unwitting human hosts as well as the clear conflict within the human military itself.
This story flows really well, hooking you right from the start and is excellently paced. Maybe because it was written specifically for audio, this story feels cinematic by the and before long you've reached the terrifying track 11 of part 2, kickstarting an awesome finale.
In terms of production, David Tennant as an absolute joy to listen to as he narrates, conveying the Doctor just as well as he does on TV as well as supplying us with voices for a whole host of memorable supporting characters. There's also lots of nice atmospheric backing music and little touches of sound effects that just really bring out the realism in this story like the scary hisses and clicks of the Serfians.
So, all in all, whether you're a long time fan of Doctor Who or if this is your first taste of the show's audio range, you're in for a real treat with this story!