Ah, 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.
So 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.
Oh 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.
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