Doctor Who – Primeval – Review

doctor who primeval

Historical Context

5th Doctor and TardisStarring the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, Primeval returns the listener to Traken, Nyssa’s homeworld. The planet first appeared in Tom Baker’s almost-finale The Keeper of Traken, and has always been a favourite setting of mine. Primeval drops us earlier in the planet’s history, and picks up the lose thread from the show involving Nyssa’s mystery illness. Much of this story seems to revolve around exploring Nyssa in a more developed, continuity rich way than we ever saw on the screen, with references to the Charleston from Black Orchid, and even her change of costume later in the show.

The story belongs to a long run of audios set between Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity, and has The Doctor and Nyssa travelling alone together. The Fifth Doctor travelled with a single companion only once during the TV show’s original run, and it’s no surprise it was one of his strongest stories. Big Finish have known well enough to follow that example in recent years. (Though Janet Fielding’s refusal to revive Tegan may have been more influential.)

The Plot

the keeper of trakenThe mysterious fatigue that grounded Nyssa during Kinda makes a sudden reappearance. To treat her, The Doctor returns her to Traken centuries prior to its destruction. Here he finds experts Traken medicine, but the society on Traken is radically different to his last visit. In this era it is dominated by an almost religious dependence on their guiding power, The Source.

The locals seem unable to help Nyssa, and aren’t fond of the Doctor. Circumstances force him to seek help from a local terrorist, Kwundaar, who is believed to be a god by his followers. Kwundaar manipulates the Doctor into returning to Traken and destroying The Source. This allows Kwundaar to invade the planet. Once there he reveals himself to be the ancient God of Traken, cast out when society left the age of superstition. The Doctor challenges him to a battle of wills and wins, becoming the first Keeper of Traken.

The Result

NyssaPrimeval isn’t a very famous Big Finish release. Not as remembered as Jubilee or Spare Parts, it doesn’t feature a quirky Doctor performance or a remarkable new companion. It doesn’t matter. It just works. The setting plays a bit part of that. Traken was a remarkably visual place on the screen, and just evoking it in audio brings back memories. The story is  written for those familiar with Keeper, and yet in tone it reminds me of Caves of Androzani. The Doctor must care for a dying companion, there is a villain who monologues and waxes lyrical on politics and philosophy, and at one point The Doctor manages to screw it all up quiet dramatically. There’s humour here, but this story explores the difference between appropriate subservience and slavery. Both the people of Traken and Kwundaar’s forces are dogmatic, and both perceive the other as naive.

There are some touching moments along the way too. Nyssa reaffirms her desire to travel with The Doctor. When faced with the opportunity to return home, she draws a line under her life on Traken and moves on. We see a different side of Traken society. The emphasis on tradition is a part of life here, but at this time it’s stifling and isolationist. There is a moment when a physician from Traken meets one of the terrorists and is confronted with the fact that thousands outside Traken are dying from diseases she can easily treat. It’s moments in which the good and the bad are not so sharply delineated that Doctor Who excels.

It’s a solid script. It moves from place to place slowly, but it’s never plodding. Each scene contributes to the plot, and the sense of place. I got through it in two sittings for this re-listen but I’d have gone from start to finish if I’d had the time.

Final Thoughts

Too often stories are forgotten because they’re not “special”. They aren’t anniversary episodes or crossovers, Dalek or Cyberman stories. That doesn’t mean they aren’t well written. Primeval doesn’t try to shock and surprise you, instead it tries to welcome you back to a place you know, and tell a strong story there. It accomplishes this so well, I can’t fault it.

10/10

Doctor Who – Jubilee – Review

Doctor Who Jubilee Cover

Historical Context

Sixth Doctor

Ah, another day, another Big Finish review. I would change the title of this blog to Owen Reviews Big Finish if I didn’t have all those Eccleston Hardbacks sitting on my shelf that I keep promising myself I’ll get to. For now, however, the title stays even if we are talking about one of Big Finish’s most iconic tales.

What can I say about Jubilee?

I suppose the most significant and well known fact about Jubilee these days is that it was rewritten by its author, Rob Shearman, for the Series 1 episode Dalek back in 2005. People familiar with that story will find a lot of the same story beats here, and quite a few surprises along the way, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

This is also one of those revered Big Finish stories from the early years of The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn. (Easily the most beloved pair up in the Big Finish library.) And quite possibly the story that sold us on Colin Baker’s Doctor forever. Evelyn would go on to define Big Finish’s Sixth Doctor for years, culminating in perhaps my favourite Doctor Who story, Arrangements for War.

So let’s dig in…

The Plot

Evelyn SmytheWhen the Doctor and Evelyn attempt to land in London 1903, the TARDIS detects something dangerous in the region, and jumps ahead a century to avoid it. They exit the TARDIS to find themselves in an abandoned room in the Tower of London. The TARDIS, still unhappy about the situation, leaves without them. Meanwhile, something isn’t quite right in the city. England is ruled by a shallow and despotic Emperor, while America is once again part of the English Empire. History has gone wrong, and it all seems to have something to do with a Dalek invasion 100 years earlier. An invasion in which The Doctor and Evelyn are famous for saving the day.

The entire society is obsessed with their invaders, Daleks are mocked and merchandised everywhere. As they near the day of Jubilee, the Emperor reveals a surprise. Imprisoned and tortured in the Tower of London is the last Dalek alive and when Jubilee arrives, they plan on publicly executing it. However, not everyone has the same thing in mind for the creature. To make matters worse, the Doctor is having flashbacks of a war he didn’t fight in, and there are rumours that the Emperor has another prisoner, secret to everyone, hidden away in the tower.

The Result

Black and White DalekThis is an incredible story. Like many, I went into this after watching Dalek, and it’s remarkable how the same core premise can be executed in two radically different ways.

This is still the story of a Dalek, held prisoner by people who don’t know well enough to fear it, and yet the two adventures couldn’t be more different. Shearman uses the script to explore more than just hubris, but the dangers of winning a war too well. Jubilee’s England is a country, and a people, that came so close to extinction, before obliterating their enemy so completely, that the war has come to dominate their lives. Their victory, and their hatred for their enemy, has come to define their entire culture. Within this, the Doctor’s pleas for growth, for rebuilding, fall on deaf ears. The people he meets just don’t understand a life that isn’t defined by war, conquest, and self-superiority. By defeating the Daleks, they have become the Daleks.

This isn’t just about the setting though, the story that plays out within it is remarkable. This isn’t an action story, and the Doctor’s part in bringing about the downfall of this tyranny is almost hands off. He tries so hard to reason this society out of their pit. Most of the action goes to Evelyn, who continues to prove why she’s the perfect companion for the Sixth Doctor. She’s a calmer, older character and from the first lines of the script, she won’t be bullied. Unlike Peri she holds his blustering to account. When she suddenly finds herself in an aggressively patriarchal society, she never considers laying low, choosing instead to talk to the Dalek. Much of the story finds the two of them separate, with Evelyn investigating the Tower while The Doctor is sent into the city. Here Evelyn finds some unpleasant truths about their involvement in the Invasion a century earlier, and it’s the final piece that ties the story together so nicely. Maggie Stables, always wonderful as Evelyn, brings the moment home beautifully.

Special mention goes to the character Rochester though. Initially, portrayed a fairly run of the mill despot, the extent of his madness is gradually, painfully revealed. When he takes the Doctor aside and explains to him that his tyranny is all for show, that he wants to be a good leader to his people, we suspect a ruse. The truth, that he genuinely believes he’s only playing the tyrant, while he willingly and cruelly terrorises those around him, comes as a nasty surprise.

Final Thoughts

Jubilee is so well remembered by Big Finish fans for good reason. This is that perfect combination of elements. Colin Baker is on fine form and continues to be the best Doctor on audio, Evelyn continues to be his strongest companion, we have a story that explores Time Travel, British culture, the complexities of war, and the politics of success, we have a Dalek, in what might be the first original Dalek idea since Genesis, we have a little humour, a little darkness, and a plot that trots along nicely. It comes to a slightly muddy finish, but after all that good, it’s hard to care. Doctor Who stories just don’t come much better.

10/10

Doctor Who – Bang-Bang-A-Boom – Review

bang bang a boom cover

Historical Context

7thDoctorOne of Big Finish’s strengths has been in embracing all of the vast, and occasionally contradictory, history of Doctor Who and working with it. This is why in my Sirens of Time review I mentioned how satisfying it was to find a story so enthusiastically supportive of Colin Baker’s Doctor. It’s why we get great stories like The Fires of Vulcan, which take the early Seventh Doctor and Mel, and put them in their best possible light, showing us a Seven and Mel that could have been. It’s also why we have stories like Bang-Bang-A-Boom, which unapologetically enjoy how goofy the show actually was during Sylvester McCoy’s first year, and try to return to that odd time.

It’s a brave choice, given how this period in the show is generally thought of. I’ll put my hands in the air and admit now, I don’t really care for it. Some fans of the Seventh Doctor, more familiar with his literary incarnation might be surprised at just how silly he is here, but Big Finish still try to cater to all aspects of the franchise. That’s pretty admirable.

Show how does a story set during this divisive period hold up?

The Plot

MelDoctorWhoAfter my last few reviews, I’m going to reign the plot summaries in a little. I do keep forgetting I’m not here just to summarise. With that in mind, what’s Bang-Bang-A-Boom about?

The Seventh Doctor and Mel materialise on a space shuttle, finding the crew dead. They manage to transport themselves away, just before a bomb planted on the shuttle detonates, arriving on the space station the shuttle was heading for. The station, named Dark Station 8, is awaiting their new commanding officer, and the Doctor slips into the role. It turns out the station is to play host to the Intergalactic Song Contest, a sort of interstellar Eurovision being attended by miserable squabbling delegates. While the Doctor tries to recover the TARDIS from the wreckage, someone starts bumping off the delegates, and it seems like everyone on the station has a secret to conceal.

The Result

If my plot summary made this story seem tense in anyway, I’m sorry to have misled you. Don’t take that the wrong way, this is a good story, but it’s a comedy through and through. The space station and its staff are all slightly mean spirited parodies of Star Trek officers, and there’s a running subplot about the Doctor falling in love with one of the delegates. This isn’t a story that wants to be cool, or for you to be impressed with how clever the Doctor is, it wants to be silly, odd, and referential. It succeeds, but I was surprised to find how much I was enjoying it by the end.

Doctor Who doesn’t do comedy much. Big Finish have dipped their toe in the water more often than the TV series ever did, but the show has always settled for serious premises with a few low level laughs throughout. This story tried to be a bit more out and out funny. It doesn’t always work. One character is, for example, a parody of Terry Wogan and soon outlives his welcome. Also, while the Eurovision setting in general is quite entertaining, the Star Trek parody isn’t funny. It never gets funny. It feels insecure and out of date, as if Star Trek was nothing more than technobabble, hammy accents, and space lovin’. (I like Trek, sue me.)

However, even with those niggles, the story works. The opening setup of the Doctor stealing an authority figure’s identity is ripped right from Power of the Daleks, and yet it’s done with no scheming or threat. The Doctor barely comes up with the idea himself, and he spends most of the story trying on uniforms and enjoying being in control. This is the distracted Seven of Time and the Rani. He does crack the big mystery at the end, and we see a glimmer of the Doctor as we know him, but for the most part this is a story about melodrama in an enclosed space. As the bodies begin to mount, the Doctor is clearly enjoying being the Poirot of the story. Early Seventh Doctor isn’t my favourite, but he’s written well here and the story works.

I should, of course, mention Mel. I am one of those people who finds Mel insufferable in her brief run on the show. Her voice, the dialogue she’s given, her general uselessness. Mel always felt like a cartoon character. Why she works on audio, I couldn’t say, but I imagine it has something to do with writers staying as far away from her TV characterisation as possible. I have greatly enjoyed Mel in many stories since. (My favourite recommendation is The Juggernauts, in which she is forced to live without the Doctor for a bit. Its a great performance.) Here she’s practicly running the show. We get a sense that the regeneration wasn’t so long ago. She’s frustrating by his mangling of idioms, and she seems surprised that he’s making it all up as he goes a long. She’s a strong character here and while she’s filling a pretty generic companion role, Bonnie Langford does a great job.

By the time the story is over, the threat has grown a bit, but it never gets past its comedy origins, with The Doctor’s denouement a list of false accusations similar to Series 4’s The Unicorn and the Wasp. When the killer is revealed, everyone probably saw it a mile off. We do get the only good Wogan gag in the show though. This Doctor is so much fun when he feels like he’s scored a win, though.

Final Thoughts

The Doctor and MelBang-Bang-A-Boom takes the era of Doctor Who I find least watchable and turns it into something enjoyable and fun. It isn’t too serious, and I can imagine being disappointed if you wanted something with a little more tension, but it worked for me. I like this Doctor and Mel, and though it’s fair to say it isn’t the Doctor at his “coolest”, it does call up a little of that old 2000AD, British comics style plot Andrew Cartmel used to like so much.

7/10

Doctor Who – The Blue Tooth – Review

Historical Context

liz_shawThe Companion Chronicles have always been a little disappointing to me. Don’t get me wrong, I understand their purpose. There are good stories still to be told for the Doctors no longer with us, and a good companion centric story can be fun, but it’s fair to say the early entires weren’t always that entertaining. The narration aspect brings the whole thing closer to audio-book feel than a play, and that hasn’t always been used to great effect. Except, of course, for the Third Doctor. This might be a personal bias, Pertwee’s run is quite easily my favourite chapter of the original series. I think the calibre of actors helps though. Caroline John and Katy Manning are still excellent performers, and with the Third Doctor’s tenure confined to one place and time, I think it’s easier to take the listener back to UNIT without having to work too hard.

They also occasionally excel at filling those little gaps we miss, plug holes fans have long wondered about. The Blue Tooth hits three of these, addressing why Liz Shaw left UNIT so abruptly, correcting the absence of Cybermen from Pertwee’s run, and finally detailing the origin of that absurd floppy white hat Shaw wore that time. It’s probably my favourite of the early Companion Chronicles, and after re-listening for this review, it’s not hard to see why.

The Plot

pertwee_420x284It begins when Liz Shaw goes to visit an old University friend who doesn’t show. She decides to visit her at her home and tease her for forgetting, but it seems like nobody is home. Until she sees someone twitching at the bedroom curtain. She uses the spare key to sneak in and discovers a gruesome sight. The place is a mess, there’s some melted electrical junk in the fireplace, and the cat has suffered a gruesome death. Distraught, she calls the Doctor only to find he’s on his way already. Other scientists in the area have been vanishing under unusual circumstances.

Once the Doctor arrives, he identifies the charred remains of a television in the melted gloop, and comes to the conclusion that something was eating it. Liz and the Doctor join with UNIT to investigate the scenes of the other disappearances. The only connection that can find between them is that each person received a letter from the University Dentist. While the Brigadier and the Doctor investigate a coincidentally timed suicide, Liz goes to check out the dentist. While there, she passes out and wakes up to find the dentist has given her a filling. In a daze she stumbles out and drifts off again until she becomes aware The Doctor is bringing her round.

The Doctor informs Liz that the body from the suicide was being controlled by some sort of living blue metal that still seems to be alive even though the body is dead. As the continue to investigate, the find more traces of the metal being spread by little silver robots. The Doctor identifies them as Cybermats. From there, the story becomes something of a body horror story, as the Cybermats manage to infect a UNIT soldier, who attempts to pass the infection on. Liz also discovers the filling in her tooth is made of the same blue metal, and is potentially working to transform her into the same creature.

While the Doctor works on an antidote, the tooth starts to do its work on Liz and calls her back to her friend’s home. There she finds the wreckage of a crashed Cyberman ship, buried since the events of The Invasion, and the source of the cybermats. When the Doctor finally arrives to rescue her, he discovers the leader of the Cybermen isn’t quite what he seems. A human scientist who discovered the wreckage and was taken over by it. He tries to reason with it but fails and has to use the antidote against them to save Liz.

When it’s all over, Liz is clearly unsettled, while the Doctor is disturbed to find the Brigadier has turned his antidote into a new weapon.

The Result

CybermanThis is such a great story for so many reasons, but the biggest is probably what makes it the most authentic for this era. This is a horror story. Not just a Brain of Morbius type gag horror, but Shop Window Dummies coming to life, dolls animating in the back seat, empty astronauts returning to earth wrong horror. This is the story of a dentist who gives you fillings that eat you out from the inside, metal maggots that crawl into your skin and run around corrupting you. It’s done in a family friendly way, but this takes the concept of Cyber-Conversion and turns it into The Fly. It feels like a UNIT story through and through, with real people facing a threat from unusual types of life that they just aren’t prepared for. It’s so strong, and it’s Liz’s story too. This is a companion that often gets the short end of the stick, and here she’s really strong.

The Doctor isn’t that captivating in it, of course, but it’s difficult to do that sometimes with the format. He appears, he invents the antidote, and gets to be typically disappointed when  humanity lets him down, but here he takes a back seat to just how hideous the Cybermen are.

And speaking of the Cybermen. A common criticism of the Cybermen, particularly these days, is that all they really do is threaten and march. Sure, they’ve had their schemes, but they’re essentially an army enemy. Here they find a whole new angle on them that explores them almost as a disease, a race of malicious sci-fi zombies. And it’s effective. I can’t think of a story that has ever made conversion feel so viscerally frightening. So much so that the story never feels the need to go beyond that. We see very few old school, full form Cybermen here, and even then it isn’t as we expect.

Final Thoughts

Liz Shaw is probably an underrated companion. I can’t say she’s one of my favourites, but this story finds another Liz in there, a Liz who has a life beyond science. That captured my interest, and the Cybermen seal the deal. This is a really solid story, that never feels like it wouldn’t fit in its era. It might never have got past the BBC censors, but it’s UNIT Who through and through.

8/10

Doctor Who – Energy of the Daleks – Review

Historical Context

tom_baker_2When Big Finish first announced their licensed Doctor Who range in 1999, fans were thrilled, though no doubt disappointed by the absence of two names from the project. The first, Paul McGann, star of the 1996 TV Movie and for all intents and purposes, the “current” Doctor of the time. McGann would join them shortly after and would be, for some time at least, the beneficiary of Big Finish’s most groundbreaking, forward thinking stories. The other name was Tom Baker.S

Baker was known to be a prickly, and unpredictable figure when it came to Doctor Who so it probably wasn’t too surprising when he didn’t return to the role and not particularly surprising when he announced over ten years later that he wouldn’t mind giving it a go after all. Besides, he’s just done the Hornet’s Nest series for BBC audio and he does love to maintain his unpredictable reputation.

Rather than filtering in to the usual monthly range, Baker is granted his own series, similar to the 8th Doctor series that began on radio. While this story is third in the run, it was the first recorded, and given the inclusion of the Daleks and Leela for the first time, the one I was most looking forward to. Leela herself is an old Big Finish stalwart, but reuniting her with her Doctor was a long time coming.

leela_jameson-leela-classic-doctor-whoStill I went into this story with mixed feelings because, quite frankly, I have mixed feelings about Baker. I find him amusing and entertaining both as The Doctor and as his convention persona, but I find his entitlement about the role a little frustrating. Baker should always have been welcome at Big Finish, of course, but the fawning and bending over backwards to seemed necessary to make it happen turns my stomach a bit. I enjoy his Doctor on TV, though not so much after his third year, but I find his audio performance a bit mixed. This is partly due to age, his performance in Hornet’s next was jarring at first, but mostly because we were listening to a much older man. It grew on me, but there’s no denying Tom Baker sounds the least like he did on TV of any of the cast Big Finish have signed.

So… On to the story.

The Plot

Energy of the Daleks opens with the Doctor and Leela heading to earth in 2015. After a little vintage back and forth in the TARDIS about Leela’s clothes, they step out into what is essentially 21st Century London. All is not well, however, as the two are soon roped into an Occupy style protest against energy poverty. The target of the protest is a MegaCorp called GlobeSphere, which claims it has the power to provide free energy to the entire world and yet keeps putting off the big switch on date.

12-dalek-frontIt isn’t long before GlobeSphere send their private security forces into to break up the process, Leela and the Doctor are separated. Leela is arrested, while the Doctor ends up on the run with Coulson, one of GlobeSphere’s major critics. Leela is taken in to the GlobeSphere Headquarters and interrogated, here they discover readings that indicate she is a time traveller. This alerts the masterminds behind GlobeSphere, The Daleks.

The Doctor and Coulson cover the history of GlobeSphere, Coulson was once business partners with GlobeSphere’s founder Damien Stephens. Coulson tells the Doctor that Damien suddenly changed one day and he doesn’t understand. The Doctor smells a rat, he also reveals they GlobeSphere’s security forces aren’t just thugs, they’re Robomen.

Together, the Doctor and Coulson, with the help of a bit of gadgetry and a mobile phone, break into GlobeSphere and rescue Leela just before she’s robotised. They also manage to track the source of GlobeSphere’s energy generation (it’s on the Moon, of course) and pretty much torture a Dalek to tell them how to get there. Once there our heroes discover the partially robotised and brainwashed Damien, and his staff, the Dalek Masterminds, and the Energy Transmitter. They manage to deprogram Damien, the Doctor defeats the Daleks through technical wizardry, and the day is saved. The Doctor asks the Daleks what they’re doing all this, and they reveal the idea was to make the world dependent on GlobeSphere energy, drip feed the supply, and gradually starve the human population off so they’re no longer a threat to the Daleks in the future.

The Result

Meh.

There are a few major problems with this story that aren’t helped by one big one.

Firstly, the story starts off at a slight disadvantage because it’s one of the few past Doctor stories that really tries to set itself in a topical present day situation, and it’s doing it with the Doctor whose tenure is currently the furthest away. The idea of the Fourth Doctor making gags about 2015 society, wearing trainers, mobile phones, and protest politics is silly enough on paper, but when the story actually does it, it’s insufferable. As we settle in, it improves dramatically because the concepts being explored are meaningful and absolutely the Doctor’s area of expertise. The Doctor at one point describes energy poverty as the latest battle in mankind’s struggle between wealth and compassion. And it’s wonderful. What starts off feeling like a weird anachronism gradually becomes a strength.

The other problem is that this is a simple story that would like to be complicated, possibly because The Fourth Doctor adventures cap at an hour long. By the time things start to get intricate, the story needs to wrap up.

The other little problem is the Daleks, their involvement in this story seems largely arbitrary. The moment it is revealed that the Daleks are behind it all struck me as an interruption to a much better story, rather than a satisfying and transformative turn in the plot.

But these all pale in comparison that what it probably the biggest issue with this story. Baker just doesn’t carry the story, he never really reaches a point where he sounds like his classic Doctor. That wouldn’t be the end of the world, Baker managed to form a new kind of Fourth Doctor in Hornet’s Nest, but that doesn’t happen here. It genuinely feels like the deal for getting Baker on board was that he wouldn’t be required to put in any effort. And so this is a story starring Tom Baker, the funny old man who turns up at signings, not the Fourth Doctor.

Final Thoughts

This is a story with a few good ideas and separated from the Daleks, might have been something special. Tom Baker is there, but it never really feels like you’re listening to the Doctor. The end result is something that feels constrained by its need to nod to the past, even while it pushed into the modern and the topical.

5/10

Doctor Who – The Sirens of Time – Review

Historical Context

sirens2Ah, The Sirens of Time. This seems like an oddly fitting way to begin a new blog. I’ve been away from blogging for a while and itching to return, I’ve been rediscovering my love of Who these last few months. What better way to kick off my return to the medium than with Doctor Who’s own mini-revival from 1999.

For people who don’t know the story, Doctor Who was cancelled in the 80s after an astonishingly long run for a children’s science fiction show, a brief attempt to revive the show was made with the help of American money in 1996 (leading to the creation of the 8th Doctor) but after that went nowhere, Doctor Who was effectively only continuing through comics published in Doctor Who Magazine, and the BBC’s 8th Doctor novel range.

This wasn’t such a bad fate, of course, it’s commonly said among older fans that Doctor Who didn’t stop in the 80s, it just stopped being on TV. In 1999 Big Finish entered the ring,  they were a small company making audio plays sold direct on CD and Cassette, many of whom had written for the Doctor Who novel ranges, or worked on fan productions before. With no small amount of excitement, it was announced that they would be working on a series of officially licensed Doctor Who audio plays, starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy each reprising their respective Doctors. Fandom went insane, much excitement was had by all, and Big Finish decided to kick it off with a big, multi-Doctor story to showcase their new assets.

That story was The Sirens of Time. 

The Plot

timelords3So what’s it about?

Gallifrey is under attack by a mysterious foe that seems to render Time Travel impossible. Caught by surprise and under siege, the Time Lords know only one thing about their enemy, it has some connection to the Doctor. Meanwhile, the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors are each going about their business, the first three episodes are each devoted to a single Doctor, and while they build a picture of the growing problem, it isn’t until episode four that they come together, and the mystery is solved. The Time Lords try to contact each Doctor but communications are garbled and the messages don’t get through.

Each of the Doctor’s self contained parts are quite different, the Seventh’s Doctor’s story sees him working to prevent an old war criminal from being assassinate on a hostile planet in the future, the Fifth Doctor finds himself stranded on a German U-Boat in World War One, separated from his TARDIS, while Six’s story takes place close to the main event, at an intergalactic conference established to explore a new temporal phenomena.

When the Doctors are united, it becomes clear that each of their stories takes place a pivotal point in galactic history, with their decisions altering history in radical ways. Their changes have resulted in giving Gallifrey’s enemy, the Knights of Velysha, a tactical advantage, and by the final chapter of this story the Time Lords are almost at the point of extinction.

It’s up to the Doctors to save the day, but the solution relies on the fate of a creature called the Temperon, imprisoned by the Knights of Velysha, and the source of their power. But by the end of the story it becomes clear the Temperon has a purpose of its own.

The Result

sixthdoctorOh where to start.

I will confess to a fondness for this story, despite its flaws. If the summary sounds complicated, it is. It might not seem in at first listen, but that’s because each of the Doctor’s individual chapters are slow, short, and simple. The Fifth Doctor’s section is probably the strongest, though this isn’t Davison’s best performance. It seems to have a stronger sense of place than the other stories, no doubt because it’s a historical Earth setting. Six and Seven’s stories don’t really feel tangible, they’re short on atmosphere. The whole story feels a little bit like it’s missing the audio equivalent of set dressing. They sound empty, and cold.

The plot is pretty weak too, there’s an element of The Beast Below here, with the trapped behemoth not being quite what it seems, but most of the overarching plot, and most of Colin Baker’s segment, is classic, Invasion of Time era Gallifreyan waffle. It’s impenetrable and sort of dull. It feels very written for the fans, as if Big Finish though this was the kind of intricate detailing the hardcore Who-Heads were all about.

Part of the problem is it tries to do too much, it wants to give each Doctor a good start, and tell a multi-doctor story, and be a big Gallifreyan epic. It ends up accomplishing few of its goals.

There is good though, firstly it’s clear that Big Finish wanted to redeem Colin Baker right from the start. This is his story, he takes the lead when the Doctors are together, and he leads the plot in his own section. Furthermore, he gets to push the save-the-day button, and even gets a brief monologue about why his Doctor unique and yet still the same Doctor we know and love. It’s a brave choice for a Doctor who was still very much maligned in fan circles at this time, and wrongly blamed for the show’s decline. It very much foreshadows the excellent job Baker will do in Big Finish stories to come.

The performances are solid all round, with the melancholy, quiet McCoy employed more than he would be later on in Big Finish’s run too. Davison is, as Davison always is. A solid, thoughtful performance, that shows why he’s probably the best actor to play the part. In the end, it’s the performances that carry the day, hearing the Doctor’s together is a charm, as this would be the first time any of them would co-habit a story, and there’s a clear joy for the writers in exploring it. Unfortunately the story is a slow and sterile dud, that relied too much on the novelty of seeing the Doctors return.

Final Thoughts

More interesting for a historical perspective than anything else, some solid performances, and worth hearing just for the Sixth Doctor’s explanation of how regeneration affects personality traits. Early days for Big Finish though, and the cold, quietness of it all might surprise you.

4 / 10