Released as part of the Monthly Adventures from Big Finish these two adventures on one release feature the 7th Doctor, Ace and Hex. The 7th Doctor, Ace and Hex ended their regular travels together in 2014 when Hex departed in Signs and Wonders. But time travel is a wonderful thing and Big Finish have brought this popular trio back together for two more adventures set in the early days of their travels together.
The Flying Dutchman by writer Gemma Arrowsmith
Ahoy, me hearties come aboard the trading ship Isabella for a cool little romp written by writer Gemma Arrowsmith who has several writing credits for Big Finish. This story actually feels like a breath of fresh air. In these uncertain times whereas a nation, a world, we are in essence constrained and following rules to survive we are taken to the year 1742 the open sea, which could be lawless and w. There is a sense of freedom and adventure in being with this “fickle mistress” and it’s against this background where sailors would have fought the natural elements as listeners we are invited into. The Isabella encounters The Flying Dutchman, a legendary ghost ship and for anyone seeing the ship, it is taken as an omen of impending disaster.
The 18th century myth says the ship is never able to make port and so is doomed to sail the oceans forever. This story also explores the competitive and uneasy relationship between the Captain of the Isabella, Alexander Marfleet, and his Chief Mate Unsworth. One of the story themes is about being courageous and gaining the courage to be or become who you are or want to be. There is a fascinating battle between the two men as Unsworth instinctively behaves that he knows the sea better than the captain whilst Marfleet, new to the role, flounders with his instructions to the crew.
Unsworth admits he wants to be the Captain and should have been and there is the clear suggestion that Marfleet has only gained the captaincy because of his father. Marfleet seems eager to kill the Tardis crew initially and there is a touch of the military a legacy of his father about him. He grows as the story progresses, changes his reactions which meant I ultimately rather liked him.
Without giving away too much of the plot I enjoyed listening to the tension between the two men which comments on a suggested class divide which might apply today but also highlights the struggle between illogical conviction and rational thinking. The captain has inherited his father’s superstitious beliefs about evil spirits, dark magic and demons and Unsworth exploit this somewhat to show himself as the stronger, wiser or more reasonable almost heroic second in command. There something quite intriguing about exploring how the human mind tries to justify a mystery. Unsworth portrays himself as a neutralising balance as the ghosts become more menacing by initiating the instruction for the ghosts to retreat in front of the captain and suggesting an odd move to pray…
“Mark my words, this storm is a warning. A dark omen. Our journey is sure to be met with disaster ”
Captain Alexander Marfleet
It’s a well-used plot device that wherever the Doctor goes he’s not necessarily accepted to be a benign force and so it proves to be when the Tardis crew arrive abroad the ship Isabella. The ship’s crew are instantly suspicious of the strangers, hostile, bloodthirsty and as frequently occurs our Tardis crew are captured, escape and are captured again as they fail to return to the safety of the Tardis. The 7th Doctor is wonderfully portrayed by Sylvester McCoy. He just knows his character so well and he plays him with a curious air. He’s one step ahead once he works out what’s going on and just prefers not to tell his companions. Ace thinks the explanation of the Flying Dutchmen is due to aliens and Hex thinks there are actually ghosts haunting the Isabella. I’m meeting all these new companions through Big Finish and it’s becoming fun seeing how they react with the Doctor and the television companions. Hex seems a little unsure of himself, of the Doctor and uncomfortable as the landlubber of the trio. But his scouse accent is very winning to my ears. He at one-point questions whether the Doctor is cynical but I believe he isn’t that, well not entirely.
Call it manipulation or testing their intelligence but the Doctor pits Ace and Hex against each other to investigate the goings-on. Sophie Aldred is excellent as always. If I close my eyes season 26 Ace is here thankfully not calling the Doctor “Professor”. She’s strong, a fighter, appropriate in this situation and develops a seemingly unlikely friend in-cabin boy Archie who she mentors and who plays a significant part in the solving of the mystery. Archie has a good heart but a secret of his own.
As a child, I was fascinated by stories of unusual phenomena and mysteries (Does anyone remember the marvellous ITV series Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World? ) so knowing the premise of this story was a ghost ship was intriguing. The action sequences of fighting, amongst the creaking strange noises of the Isabella, were really effectively portrayed for audio and I liked how the fear of the crew heightened the atmosphere of the story The musical score is by Howard Carter and was suitably eerie conjuring up the images of the sea and mysterious depths with an enjoyable cliff-hanger. I really did enjoy the whole mystery of the Flying Dutchmen and the ghostly apparitions.
Displaced by writer Katharine Armitage
Displaced is a little gem of a story, written by a newcomer to Big Finish, writer Katharine Armitage, that will resonant with me for a while. It is a deceptively simple premise as the Doctor, Hex and Ace arrive in an abandoned home, devoid of the occupants. I spoke about the feeling of freedom in the environment of the previous story but this story is the complete opposite as our team are locked in, by something or someone unable to leave. Its essentially a mystery box premise and the three of them have to explore, investigate to solve it to be able to leave.
The Doctor finds an abandoned cup of tea is still warm and the TV is playing which suggests the people were there moments ago but where are they? The quiet envelopes the house and it becomes eerie. What transpires should be a genial place called home is missing the objects that give its life. The mystery grows slowly as the home automation system Harry bursts the silence where it develops a three-word riddle and ghostly voices start to haunt the house. My only criticism here would be it was quite difficult to understand the ghostly voices all the way through the story.
I’m not sure whether there is an ongoing issue throughout Hex’s journey in the Tardis due to a clash of personalities with the Doctor but Hex doesn’t like feeling controlled. A developing theme from the Flying Dutchman Hex is suspicious, quick to accuse the Doctor, which Ace then also follows to do, that the enigmatic goings-on in the house is one of his now-infamous tests. I have sensed that Hex dreads each situation they end up in, partly due to the heady abandon to alien danger the Doctor and Ace have developed. Thematically though I love the idea running through both stories that the 7th Doctor understands what’s going on but won’t explain straightaway to his companions. It adds an additional mysterious coat to his personality.
I really wish we could have seen more of this aspect in the TV series and if it hadn’t been rested I’m sure we would of. Sometimes the 7th Doctor does know what’s happening and sometimes he doesn’t but it serves to emphasise how set apart, as a Timelord, from his human companions he really is. The idea of a secretive, manipulative side is captivating however especially as its something that we probably haven’t seen since Pat Troughton’s incarnation ( remember the Doctor and Jamie in Evil of the Daleks anyone ?). I also adore that the 7th Doctor is multi-layered as when he doesn’t always know the answer, he can be so affably curious for knowledge. This is mainly due to Sylvester McCoy who imbues the warm lilt in his voice to genuinely make the 7th Doctor endearing at times and also allows him to convey heartfelt sorrow in the tone of his voice.
What’s also fascinating is being confined together does create a few cracks in Team Tardis highlighting a strained dynamic at times between the trio. The atmosphere of the house affects both Hex and Ace in different ways. Hex’s comfort zone as a staff nurse means he displays an emotional link to people so he has a natural empathy. He finds all the everyday reminders of daily family life touching and moving in a way that Ace doesn’t really normally notice. She calls what he does “proper caring”, As a new companion to me I really enjoyed Hex’s heartfelt observations. Ace seems more naturally riled which happens so quickly she reacts by shouting and fighting. She is swept up with a thirst for freedom and adventure much like the Doctor.
The frustrations of being trapped within the house create both a fight and flight reaction within her. They highlight her relative immaturity compared to Hex. Ace bickers with Hex at times much like a bossy younger sister so these are two people you wouldn’t think would have much in common but there are some deep undercurrents of emotions that surface between Hex and Ace that really were surprising, hinting at possible romantic feelings between them? I’m so intrigued by this development and definitely want to know more now.
“Change One Curse ”
“Displaced” is set in an isolated spot, the natural area of the Fens and this marshy region which supports a rich ecology as well as the sea. It becomes important in understanding the history of the house as well as explaining what has occurred to the occupants. I really enjoyed the way the story was plotted as the landscape and the house with its long line of occupants all wove together symbiotically by the end. This is Doctor Who and so there is an alien in the story but also a human intervention in this story and I know which stunned me more.
There are dark twists that took my breath away. Everyone knows the classic line from Idris in “The Doctor Wife” (inhabited by the Tardis). She told the Doctor she always took the Doctor where he needed to go. Although the Doctor says the truth is important, and justice will be served the story cleverly uses all the emotional beats it creates to give the listener a conclusion that feels heart-breaking in its brutality that lingers in the memory.
7/10 Two very different feeling adventures that walk the plank of courage and sorrow for this popular trio.
What did you think of these stories? Post your thoughts on here or on Twitter. Let’s talk.
It’s been a while since we had a continuation of the Sixth Doctor and Peri’s story since Mindwarp with the Big Finish trilogy consisting of The Widow’s Assassin, Masters of Earth and The Rani Elite coming to an end in 2014. While we’ve had plenty of Six and Peri adventures since they’ve all been set before this new boxset. Now, with Volume One of The Sixth and Peri, we know what sort of things they got up too after defeating the Rani.
The set opens with The Headless Ones, from a writing duo; James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown. When the Doctor and Peri find themselves in the jungles of Africa in Victorian times, they stumble upon an expedition looking for a mythical tribe of men, men whose faces are in their stomachs and eat the flesh of their victims. Upon first reflection, this story shows how cruel the Victorian era can be when viewed in historical terms, something that Doctor Who has steered away from the past, the mission of expedition team is colonisation and its apparent that not everyone in the group as the same thoughts as the Doctor and Peri in terms of discovering this mythical tribe.
It was nice to hear Peri’s past in botany coming into play, its a character trait that was forgotten in the television series almost as quickly as Mel’s background in computer programming! What was also nice was that her new background as a queen is brought out to play too and this leads to some of the more important scenes in the whole play. Nicola Bryant is particularly strong amongst the cast here, clearly relishing getting the chance to play an older and stronger version of her character.
The Headless Ones is quite a mature Who story and in that respect, is very in keeping with the grittier storytelling of the Sixth Doctor’s television outings. And is a story with many themes in genocide and Victorian values that can bog the story down a little and unfortunately despite trying too, this is a story that failed to hold my interest, despite the writers really trying their best.
Things pick up in the second adventure, Like, penned by Jaqueline Rayner, when the Doctor and Peri find themselves on a world where your survival depends on how many likes you have on your social media account. It’s a wholly original concept and Rayner does a great job of showing us a world that reflects some people’s lives. We’ve all seen it, people so obsessed with getting likes on Instagram and Twitter that nothing else matters and Rayner really succeeds in giving us a whole world where this concept is taken to the extreme.
But she does balance it in an interesting way and poses some interesting questions. Would the world be better if everyone was obsessed with trying to please others, undoubtedly it would but can a society survive on that alone, definitely not and the Doctor and Peri are the catalysts for revolution here. Again it was great to see Peri being so front and centre and she becomes intrinsic to the problem being solved. Also excellent is Colin Baker as the Doctor and his indignity that nobody likes him is hilarious, though it takes a dark turn when it puts his life in jeopardy.
In between each scene is a little advertisement slot which eventually also proves to be a part of the solution to the main plot, but they do get a little annoying, especially as they feel like they stop the flow of the drama. If the Doctor and Peri are in deadly danger, I don’t want to hear an advert for a perfume, no matter if it forms part of the plot, it stops the flow and disturbs the listening experience. However, that is a little quibble in what is otherwise another original story from Rayner.
Stuart Manning brings us the third story, The Vanity Trap, which sees the Doctor and Peri take a trip back to the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood. Its a timey-whimey story with the TARDIS gang experiencing a number of time-jumps throughout the runtime. There are a few good themes here, most notably not wanting to let go of the past and how people ignore others. Being ignored forms a large part of the story, though one wonders if it would have worked better in one of the Dark Shadow’s releases rather than Doctor Who.
For the most part, The Vanity Trap is a solid story, though it does begin to drag towards the end and could have easily been wrapped up about twenty-minutes towards the end. Another thing of note about this story was that it was the debut of Colin Baker’s daughter, Rosie, who plays Carolyn Sue, a character who joins the other guest actors in this set giving really strong performances.
Chaotic Theory from Nev Fountain rounds the set out in a really fun way. It sees the Doctor and Peri in therapy and forced to confront their feelings about each other. From fun nods to the Doctor’s strangling of Peri in The Twin Dilemma to Hartnell’s companion, Dodo, it is another fan-pleasing treat with many looks at past events.
Famously, Fountain is the real-life husband of Nicola Bryant and as such, many of his past Big Finish outings have focused on her character, here though, he takes a look at the Sixth Doctor and how in all his previous incarnations, he lives his life, going from danger to danger and how, all the way from the beginning with Susan, he’s chosen his companions. He states that perhaps the Doctor picks up ‘waifs and strays’ because they remind him of him when he was younger, someone who is bored and looking for an escape. He also plays with the idea that companions like Vikki and Dodo were picked up because they looked like Susan. It’s an interesting look at the Doctor’s character in a way that’s never been explored before and as a result, this comedic romp is all the stronger for it. In the end, Chaotic Theory ends up being the strongest story out of the set.
As we’ve come to expect over the years, Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are on top form here. Colin Baker has always been at home with Big Finish and he’s clearly loved the development his Doctor has gotten over the years working with them. Likewise, Bryant is clearly enjoying playing a stronger and older version of Peri and it was nice to hear her new characterisation as a queen of an alien world coming into play many times in this set. I don’t think she’ll stand for the Doctor’s nonsense as much any more and she won’t be afraid to call him out on it, it’s going to be interesting and fun to hear where their adventures go now and of course, when Bryant decides she wants to leave, we’ll get a brand new departure for an old companion, something that hasn’t happened yet. But hopefully, that won’t be for many, many years to come.
Scott Handcock once again directs these stories excellently, keeping them rattling along at an enjoyable pace. All the scripts are fun too, even if there are few issues here and there. I think the problem I’ve always had with some Big Finish boxsets is that the quality of the stories varies more noticeably than it does in the monthly schedule. I think that’s particularly apparent here and while it doesn’t stop the enjoyment of listening to these outings, it can be particularly jarring. If this is the way Big Finish is going to tell new stories moving forward, I think they need to look at the quality of all the stories. But once again, all four adventures here are great, but the uneven storytelling is sadly glaringly obvious. But for fans of the Sixth Doctor and Peri, this set is an absolute must.
Review story this episode: SJA – The Vault of Secrets
Luke’s gone and Androvax is back! Some great elements to this one: UFO group B.U.R.P.S.S, men in black, body invasion and plenty classic SJA running around. Are we fans of this one or has SJA hit a bump in the road?
Coming next week: The Sensorites
Hartnell, my boy, hmm, hmm! This six-parter from very early Who is up for review next week so get your dvds/Britbox fired up.
Thank you all for listening, and until then have a great week, take care of yourselves, stay healthy and remember – Allons-y!
These series of pitches have been a lot of fun to write, getting to put down what I would do and the sort of stories I would want to tell if I was the showrunner. Going into the Fifth series, we’d be running alongside Series 1 of A Charitable Earth and Series 5 of Doctor Who would be followed by the first series of UNIT. Also continuing in Series 5 of Doctor Who would be the second episode of the four-part crossover story, Conversion which sees the Cybermen from the Troughton story, The Invasion attempting to convert Modern-Day-London. It will also mark the first time that the Doctor’s companions, George and Nate, will meet the Cybermen.
Series 5 will also see a lot of changes as well as bringing back one of my favourite monsters in the show that I’ve always wanted to see return, the Mara, who will appear in the opening two-part tale as well as episode’s 6 and 7. The changes to the series will see all the Doctor’s companions being written out of the series. This includes the Master who, over the course of the previous series, gradually came to enjoy the Doctor’s lifestyle, going through another Missy redemption arc. All three-companions will leave in the four-part finale, which will see them all getting trapped in a Dark Mirror Universe.
Although shows like Star Trek have done Mirror Universe episodes and arcs, I’ve always been surprised that Doctor Who has never done something similar. It would also allow if they wished, a number of previous stars to return to the Doctor Who universe in a fun and fresh way. Below will be a brief history of the Mirror Universe, which will see characters like Romana and Susan returning as well as looking at the Daleks as a force for good, when Davros is seriously injured in an explosion set by an evil Doctor.
By the end of Series 5, we’ll see the Doctor going off on his travels alone, with all his companions having left in different and exciting ways.
The Main Players:
The Doctor: Over the course of the last four series, the Doctor has gone on quite a journey from finding brand new friends to rediscovering his friendship with his childhood buddy, the Master, this is the happiest we’ve ever seen the Doctor. Travelling with George, Nate and the Master seems to agree with him. It’s a shame then that all that is about to change. With the reintroduction of the Mara, the Doctor has to face the idea he’ll lose another friend like he lost Elisabeth at the end of Series 2 and in the four-part finale, he literally has to look himself in the face and see all the darker elements of his character brought out to play in an evil version of himself. It’s here that the bonds he’s forged with the Master are shattered and he has to say goodbye to George and Nate. The start of the series sees him happy and excited for his future travels. The end of the series leaves him cold, angry, upset and travelling alone. What will happen to him in Series 6?
George Atkins: George, like the Doctor, has never been happier. But that is forcing a wedge in his relationship with Nate and George does fear that their adventures together are going to end soon. When they arrive on the Paradise planet, Nirvana, George finds himself falling under the dark influence of the Mara. A creature that removes all the inhibitions George has. Since Deva Loka, the Mara has changed and adapted and the Doctor isn’t too sure what will be left of George’s mind when he performs a psychic exorcism to free his friend. There are a number of different adventures throughout this series which will ask George what he really wants. Going into the finale, George knows he wants a life of adventure, married to Nate and upon escaping the Mirror Universe, George bids a farewell to the Doctor.
Nate Wallis: Nate has always been a reluctant traveller in the TARDIS. While he did enjoy himself in Series 2, following Elisabeth’s death, he was forced to wonder what would happen if George died. Would he ever know? So he stuck around. But now he’s growing tired of this life and wants to belong to a specific time and space. And he wants to marry George and have a normal life. Going into the finale, he has to face the idea that he’ll never get home but proposes anyway. No one is more surprised than him when George says yes. Now he has to make sure that they all get back to the normal universe so that they can have the life they deserve.
The Master: No one is more surprised than the Master at the journey he’s gone on over the last series. When he was trapped in the Land of Fiction, he integrated himself into the Doctor’s fictional world he created to save his companions from death. Infiltrating the Doctor’s Angels, the Doctor also managed to save the Master from the collapse of that universe. Since then, the Master had to trust the Doctor to get him somewhere safe but along the way, that trust led to friendship once again. It’s clear how much the Doctor likes having his old friend around again. He’s not even tried to kill George and Nate.
The Master really came into his own at the end of Series 4 with the Sutekh storyline where the fate of all creation rests in his hands. But when they all arrive in the Mirror Universe, the bonds the Doctor and Master have forged are quickly beginning to break down. In the end, the Doctor can’t reach his old friend in time and the Master is trapped in the Mirror Universe, separating them from each other. This will leave the next showrunner with the option to bring the Master back, this time with a new hatred of the Doctor, believing himself to have been betrayed by a man he came to call his friend again.
Susie Atkins: Seen in episodes 4, 8, 13 and the Christmas Special, Susie finds herself propelled into the chaos of the Doctor’s world. Watching her son in a live ghost hunt in episode 4, she fears for his safety as things start to kick off but its when the Cybermen begin their invasion of Earth in the crossover story, Conversion that she really sees the danger the whole world is in. She finds herself not only reunited with her son and his friends but also meets the charity A Charitable Earth, UNIT and Torchwood as they all try to get their families to safety. It’s in this episode that Nate asks for her blessing to marry her son and she’s there to greet her son and fiancé when they leave in the finale. She will also play a large part in the Christmas special. But her character has gone through an arc through the last four series, hating the Doctor for taking her son away but gradually coming to love him for giving George a new look and love for life.
The Mara: One of my favourite villains from the original series, The Mara is a creature that I’m surprised has never returned. Here though, it’ll be even more powerful thanks to the Time Lord’s meddling with it during the Time War. In Kinda, it was a creature with patience, slowly taking over Tegan’s mind until it had full control, now its driven insane by hunger and the need to consume minds. The Time Lords tried to harness its powers and knowledge from the old universe it inhabited for their own gain to drive the Daleks insane. Unfortunately, their experiments didn’t succeed and all they achieved was in creating an even deadlier creature. For the first time, the Doctor feels truly hopeless facing one of his old adversaries.
The Trickster: Last seen in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, the Trickster has spent centuries recuperating and gathering his strength planning an attack that will bend the universe to his will. And now he has done it. Throughout the two-part adventure he has, we see the Trickster offer the worst and most evil figures in history a chance to live forever. In doing so, he changes history across the entire universe. This leads to a Dark Reign where all those people rule our galaxy with iron fists. The Trickster has finally won, defeating Sarah Jane before she is even born. But he doesn’t count on the Doctor and his other friends. When the Doctor defeats him this time, he is believed to be dispersed into atoms, scattered across the galaxy. We’ll see him again in A Charitable Earth, in the finale for that show’s second series, The Confrontation of Dorothy McShane.
A Brief History of the Doctor Who Mirror Universe:
For many years the Mirror Universe developed like the Prime-Universe. However, there was one major difference on Earth with the Nazi’s winning the Second World War. In retaliation, the surviving members of the allies banded together to launch a nuclear attack. However, the Nazi’s got there first and destroyed much of America. As a result, things took a very dark path. Much like we saw in Inferno, heavy emphasis is placed on science and military might.
There was a lot of exploration into space travel and after having gotten to the Moon, the Earth empire placed a base there, to look into the idea of controlling the weather. At the same time, the first explorers made landfall on Mars. When the crew of Bowie Base were killed by the Flood, another group was sent to find out what happened. When they arrived at the ruined base to find the Ice Warriors. What ensues becomes the first Earth-Mar’s War.
On Gallifrey, a Time Lord by the name of the Doctor has made an alliance with a planet Skaro, to help end the great Vampire War. Once Gallifrey and Skaro win the war, the Doctor, now president, has become infected with the Vampire taint. He, his wife Romana, daughter Susan and his mistress, River Song plan to destroy the Kaleds before they can become a threat to the universe too. The Doctor sees an explosion in a laboratory seemingly kill Davros and then using the device, The Hand of Omega, they turn the sun of Skaro supernova, obliterating the planet.
This action sees the Doctor removed from office by the rest of Gallifrey and imprisoned in Shada. Romana, River Song and Susan flee.
By a small miracle, Earth has won in its war against Mars and has now formed an alliance with the powerful Ice Warriors and they head out into the universe to conquer many other worlds and galaxies. Any that don’t surrender are destroyed. But word quickly gets back to their command that the Doctor has escaped and heading to find the legendary Doomsday Weapon. Instead of going to war with other worlds, Earth, Mars and many other planets are forced into an uneasy alliance to stop him.
Davros didn’t die in the explosion and in memory of his dead race, creates the Daleks, the ultimate justice-machine. He programmes them with one directive: destroy the Doctor and anyone associated with him. But thanks to the Doctor’s tampering, cracks in the wall of reality are beginning to form and things from different universes are falling through, including a blue police box…
1. A Nest of Vipers – Part 1
Arriving on the planet Nirvana for a little rest and relaxation, the Doctor’s holiday is quickly interrupted by George who is starting to act strangely. The Master discovers that the people of Nirvana, while happy with intergalactic tourists worship a great snake god in the jungles of the planet and Nate finds his relationship tested in the extreme with everyone. George has succumbed to the god of Nirvana which takes the form of a giant snake. When the people of Nirvana kidnap him, believing him to be the living embodiment of their deity, the Doctor realises he now has to face the Mara once again…
2. Snakes in the Garden – Part 2
With the Mara having found form in George it sets about infesting the minds of the inhabitants of the planet Nirvana. With most of the planet succumbing, the Doctor and Nate plan to perform a psychic exorcism to rid the Mara from George and the planet. The Master plans to look after their bodies while they are in the Mara’s landscape but he has his work cut out for him when the inhabitants of Nirvana come looking to kill the strangers. Trapped in the mind of Mara, The Doctor and Nate face a race against time to free George and defeat the Mara before it can establish a homeworld for itself.
3. The Dark Samurai
With George still recovering from the evil of the Mara, the Doctor and Master decide it would be best if they all headed somewhere uncomplicated. The pair plan to head to the real Castrovalva this time but instead the TARDIS brings them to Japan in the early 1800s. It doesn’t take them long to learn that this is Feudal Japan when all strangers weren’t allowed. But the Master pledges to protect a small town from the mysterious Dark Samurai, who will have his bride at any cost. Even the blood of a Time Lord has to spill to get what he wants.
Malachi Mansion is a very haunted house. So haunted that a new ghost-hunting show has decided to investigate there. With ghostly nuns with bloody hands, a strange dark figure and poltergeist that is proving dangerous for anyone who enters the property, it promises to be a very interesting live programme on primetime television. Susie tunes in to see George, Nate, the Doctor and the Master joining the investigation as various experts in the paranormal field. But an old god is trying to break free and using anyone who is watching the programme as part of a massive séance to break into our dimension. Can the Doctor stop the programme before the world as we know it ends?
5. The Angel of Death – Part 1
Nero, Caligula, Genghis Khan, Henry VIII, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler. Some of the cruellest, evilest people to have walked the Earth have been given a second chance. Just before their deaths, a dark-angel came to visit them and offered them the chance to live again. There is just one condition, they have to work towards a common goal, the destruction of Earth and then the universe.
They are all now allies of the Trickster, an alien evil thwarted many times by Sarah Jane Smith. Now he has set his sights on a way he can really win this time. The Trickster Brigade will win this time and conquer or destroy the universe.
6. Victory of the Trickster – Part 2
With history in tatters and the universe under the domination of the Trickster Brigade, The Doctor, Master, George and Nate have just one hope, they have to destroy the Trickster Brigade from the inside. Pitting the villains against each other, the Trickster’s rule will be over and history set right once again.
There is just one little snag, they have to get past Nazi’s, Roman Legions and the Mongolian Army first. Will they succeed or will they all lose their heads for their troubles? Has the Trickster finally won this time?
7. Grand Theft TARDIS
When George and Nate were captured and tortured in the previous adventure, The Mara broke through into our universe once again and used George’s mind to do so. Now the Mara has control of the TARDIS and can go anywhere. Using George, it ejected the Doctor, Master and Nate from the time machine and is running rampant across the time stream.
The Doctor, Nate and the Master must all use a damaged Vortex Manipulator to follow the TARDIS’s energy signature. But they can catch up before the Mara completely destroys George’s mind and has him under its power forevermore?
8. Conversion – Part 2
Part One of this story will take place in A Charitable Earth – Series 1.
When Ace uses the TARDIS recall device to bring the Doctor to help in the battle against the Cybermen leftover from The Invasion, George and Nate find themselves facing the metal meanies for the first time. A Charitable Earth, UNIT and Torchwood are also struggling to get a hold of people’s families and the idea of the Master being reformed. The Doctor though is a little distracted and enjoying meeting many of his old companions and friends, but unbeknown to everyone involved, the Cybermen have created mass Conversion-Chambers and have begun their conversion of the population of London.
Their Cyber-Planner is trying to contact the Cyber-Race and the Cyber-Controller has seen evidence of the Doctor and his friends being involved. He sets a plan in motion to capture some of the Doctor’s friends to hold as a bargaining chip. Their lives for the people of London and the future of the Cyber-Race…
Conversion will continue with Episode 3 in UNIT: Series 1
9. Into the Dark Labyrinth
Following the Cybermen’s failed invasion attempt, the Doctor takes his friends on a relaxing trip to Ancient Greece. He plans to let his friends spend a week laying in the sun and getting a tan, while he performs some repair work on the TARDIS. But the Master isn’t one for lying around all day, instead, he convinces George and Nate in joining his exploration of the Dark Labyrinth, something he had heard about from his days in Atlantis.
What the Master, George and Nate don’t know is that the Dark Labyrinth is a trap, a device to torment those unfortunate enough to stumble across it with their darkest thoughts and feelings. The deeper in you go the worse it gets and George and Nate find themselves having to face off against The Master’s darkest demons.
10. The Gateway to Eternity – Part 1
Arriving onboard an old space-station that is about to fall apart at any moment, the TARDIS gang find themselves in an old Time Lord base, this time exploring the Multiverse. The Doctor and the Master know all about the dangers of parallel universes and when they all find themselves trapped in a Dark Universe, George and Nate soon discover that the universe has a lot of possibilities.
This is a universe where the Doctor is a criminal, recently escaped from a prison called Shada and wanted for crimes against the universe. He was aided by his wives, Romana and River Song, also wanted from crimes against the universe. But when the authorities capture the wrong Doctor, George, Nate and The Master must form alliances with old friends and enemies to rescue their friend.
11. Through the Looking Glass – Part 2
Having freed the Doctor; George, Nate and The Master, find themselves on the trail of the Mirror-Doctor, who is travelling to the planet Uxarieus, where the inhabitants have created a Doomsday Weapon, a weapon that can destroy entire universes. The Mirror-Doctor plans to destroy the Milky-Way and rid the universe of Earth & Mars, which hold the rebellion, an army of thousands of species opposed to the Doctor’s plans.
Heading to Earth the Doctor-Prime from our universe has to aid the rebellion in stopping the Doctor. George meets his mother, a bitter and twisted version of her and Nate meets a different version of George. A George who has lost everything. A George who grew up in a world where anything outside of ‘normal’ was beaten out of people. And this George is very cold and dangerous.
12. The Good Daleks – Part 3
There was a time when the Doctor and Davros worked together for the greater good of the universe. But then the Doctor went rogue and left Davros broken and scarred in an explosion. But Davros didn’t die. Instead, he built himself a life support unit and created the Mark-3 Travel Machines, soon to be known as Daleks, an anagram of Kaled, as a way of remembering his species following Skaro being destroyed because of a supernova.
But Davros knows what the Doctor did and he’s given the Daleks a mission. Exterminate the Doctor for the greater good of the whole galaxy. The Mirror Doctor is on Uxarieus and the Daleks aren’t far behind, but who will get to the Doomsday Weapon first?
13. The Death of the Universe – Part 4
With everyone on Uxarieus, the two Doctors go to war, while George, Nate and Master must stop the Daleks and the Mirror-Doctor’s allies and the Earth-Mars Alliance has to fight the Daleks, intent on exterminating both Doctors. The Doomsday Weapon is up for grabs and only one side can win.
There are betrayals, surprising alliances and Nate chooses the moment to propose. But happiness doesn’t last too long as the Doctor finds a way home but this time, not everyone is going to get back…
Christmas Special: The White Wedding
With George and Nate having left the Doctor, a year has passed for them. They’ve been busy, making a new life for themselves, buying a house, a car, paying a mortgage and planning a wedding. They’ve invited everyone but their wedding will have some unwanted guests.
The Doctor is in attendance too and something from in the vortex has followed the TARDIS, something that traps the venue in the vortex, removing everything else around it. Can the Doctor save everyone and will George and Nate finally manage to tie the knot, before they all vanish forever?
And there you have it, my pitch for Series 5 of DoctorWho if I were showrunner. As described above, it’ll see some major changes, including the departure of all the companions. The Master is trapped in a parallel universe, while George and Nate leave to get married and have their own life. I would like the series to end much like the heart-breaking departure in The Green Death, with the Doctor walking off into the sunset on his own.
Don’t worry, George and Nate will have a great life and in Series 6, we will catch up with them but when the series returns for my final proper Doctor Who series, the Doctor will have a new companion in tow, as well being called back to Earth to meet up with an old friend. George and Nate will return, though much older, which will mean the actors needed to wear aged makeup.
George will go on to become a novelist, novelising many of the adventures he had with the Doctor and Nate goes on to follow his dreams, he becomes a successful lawyer and sees that justice is handed out nicely. The Doctor would be very proud of the pair. They’ll adopt two children as babies and call them, Elisabeth and Zak and move to a big house in the country, where they’ll enjoy their retirement. Thanks to the Doctor, they have discovered a love for travel and see every country on the planet. But we’ll find out what happened in their life over the course of the next series.
The Mara plays a big part in this series for a specific reason as it’ll be the reason for a few things to happen in the next series. But it appears in a few episodes this episode to really show the hold it has over George. Series 6 is where my run on Doctor Who will end, though I’ll carry on with the spin-off ideas, there are some great things coming. But for the Doctor, George and Nate, things are going to come to an end…
Continuing our look back at the many Big Finish audios on offer, Big Finish take their first step in the territory of The Virgin New Adventures with Paul Cornell’s The Shadow of the Scourge and Robert Shearman makes his audio debut with The Holy Terror which sees The Sixth Doctor joined by the Doctor Who Magazine companion, Frobisher, the shape-changing penguin.
The Shadow of the Scourge
Written By: Paul Cornell
As you’ll know, I’ve undertaken the task of reading all of the Virgin Books for Doctor Who in order. Apart from these audios, its an era of the show that many people shy away from. However, there have been times that Big Finish has braved this era of the show, The Shadow of the Scourge is the first side-step into that universe.
It seems right then that the first author for this New Adventures era audio is Paul Cornell, especially as it also includes the first ‘onscreen’ appearance of Bernice Summerfield opposite the Doctor, played by Lisa Bowerman. Bowerman had already made a name for herself in the role through a couple of series of Bernice Summerfield audios by this time but something about pairing her opposite the Seventh Doctor and Ace makes her character all that more special. Bowerman is perfect here, which would be expected as Paul Cornell originally created the character and he makes sure that he gives her plenty to do.
Likewise is his treatment of Ace, who luckily is nowhere near as grumpy and moody as she was in the New Adventures book. This is how Ace should have been written in those novels all along, the same woman we met in the television series just in a slightly darker setting. She works perfectly alongside Bernice and thank god that Cornell decided to set this story when the pair were getting along. Let us not forget that they both hated each other when they met in the books, they were dark days indeed!
Cornell gives us a threat that feels entirely original to that era he is trying to emulate with the Scourge, an ancient evil which can bring out humanities woes and despairs and despite this being only a two-hour audio adventure, manages to give them more character than some writers could ever do in a 300 paged novel. The Scourge does feel like quite a threat and it is hard to imagine any other Doctor other than the Seventh tackling them. Perhaps this is because they are just as manipulative as he was. There are some really quite gory scenes here too and a nice homage to The Shining with an elevator of blood.
While the plot sticks to some of the more tried and true methods of Doctor Who storytelling, it still manages to keep things entertaining. Cornell has a great handle on characters and what makes them work best. The Seventh Doctor here is still in his master-manipulator phase but its fun to hear his manipulations come back to bite him on the backside when the Scourge prove to be more powerful than he had planned for, McCoy rises to the challenge nicely and he works brilliantly alongside Bowerman and Sophie Aldred.
If The Shadow of the Scourge does one thing absolutely right, it’s recapturing that feeling of nostalgia for the Virgin line of books. It also gives us the first ‘onscreen’ appearance of The Seventh Doctor, Bernice and Ace which Cornell’s writing breathes new life into and the threat feels wholly new and original while totally in tune with the era the play is emulating. And it makes one wonder if Cornell could give us one of the best Virgin New Adventures in a two-hour audio drama, why did so many other authors fail with a 300-page count?
The Holy Terror
Written By: Robert Shearman
I’ll be honest, I’ve always struggled with this story. It’s one of the early ‘classics’ no doubt but there is something about it I’ve always struggled with. Perhaps its because it’s not too my taste, or perhaps I’m just a little strange! Especially as looking at the story, there is virtually nothing wrong with it!
Robert Jezek makes his debut as Frobisher, the only companion who could have suited this story. Frobisher is quite a strange creation, originally created for the Doctor Who Magazine, he’s had a few appearances in audio and novelised adventures, but a shape-shifting, private investigator from New York, stuck in the form of a Penguin is certainly a strange image. Luckily, Jezek elevates Frobisher from a strange image to a real character and I did really like how he interacts with the various characters here and the role he had to play in the story. Shearman obviously likes the character too, making sure he gets plenty to do and some great lines.
Colin Baker is also on top form here. It’s all fun and games in the beginning moments until Shearman makes sure things take a turn for the macabre and Baker really sells the horror of the situation. I think it’s safe to say this is one of the more unique settings a Doctor Who story has been told in and Baker rises to the occasion perfectly. Indeed, the final episode is my favourite of the story here when the threat is revealed and it did genuinely took me by surprise both times I heard it. This is certainly Baker’s best performance from the early years of Big Finish.
Shearman also does some brilliant world-building looking at what life would be like if a monarchy were held as gods and while some of the dialogue and descriptions are pretty hilarious, things don’t take long before they take a darker turn. There is also a brilliant mix of horror and humour on offer here, something that hasn’t really been achieved since Robert Holmes’ The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
If you are a fan of really dark stories done right, The Holy Terror, is one that I’d recommend and Shearman doesn’t shy away from giving us some really gory scenes. The sound design steps up to the plate too, if you ever wondered what someone exploding would sound like, look no further than this outing. It’s a typical dark Sixth Doctor story, though perhaps a little too dark for a Doctor Who. Perhaps this is the reason why this story has never sat right with me, its a little too dark and disturbing to listen too. But there can be no denying this is a classic in the range. Even if it isn’t my particular cup of tea.
Where Palindrome and Dreadshade looked at the (temporary) aftermath of the Time War, hostilities are resumed with the final story in the set – Matt Fitton’s Restoration of the Daleks. Davros and the Daleks are back in the “prime” universe and are seemingly unstoppable. Whilst the Doctor and Bliss go to the aid of a helpless planet caught in the Daleks’ path, the Timelords scramble to see off their immortal enemies once and for all.
Landing amongst a civilisation operating a mixture of primitive and advanced technology, the Doctor and Bliss really shouldn’t be too surprised to find Davros pulling the strings at the heart of it. Left behind by his creations once again, he’s seeking a way to win them back and end the war on his terms. Also looking to end the war is the Dalek Time Controller, who continues to scan the multiverse for ways to bring things to a satisfactory conclusion. Fitton makes a virtue of the idea of multiple different Daleks and, without spoiling the plane, firmly bonds Dalek mythology from the classic series with the Time War mythology from the new.
There’s a lot going on in Restoration, with multiple nefarious plots, the temptation of the Doctor and multiple skirmishes. This means that the listening experience can often feel quite gruelling. On-screen, massive battles between Dalek saucers and Battle TARDISes would look amazing. On audio, however, it translates into an absolute racket. This is by no means the first Time War story to suffer from this and maybe it just comes down to personal preference, but I feel dialling down the battle sequences puts more of a focus on both plotting and character. This is the strength of audio drama, there’s an intimacy to having these characters inside your head. Paul McGann, Terry Molloy and Nicholas Briggs have some really great moments above the din of Dalek gunfire. It’s the scenes where the Dalek Time Controller and the Doctor try to agree on how to end the war, or where Davros converses with the Timelords that this story really sings. It’s surely deliberate but these weighty moral discussions and the mixture of old and new technology on the planet Koska recalls Genesis of the Daleks – which started off this whole brutal conflict in the first place.
Overall, these scenes where characters sit down and talk are the strongest elements of Time War 4. They afford us new insight into Davros and bring depth to the character of the Dalek Time Controller. And yet, for Davros at least, couldn’t this have been achieved outside of the Time War mythology? Indeed, Palindrome wouldn’t be out of place in those earlier, more creative and inquisitive years of Big Finish. Although, in the age where spin-offs, prequels and extended universes are a key part of any profitable intellectual property this is par for the course. Once you’ve sold an audience on “The Time War”, you can throw in more experimental and interesting character pieces alongside all the space battles.
Whilst this is the end of the scheduled Time War boxed sets for the Eighth Doctor, the war is set to continue for a good while yet both in-universe and for Big Finish. The Fifth Doctor is set to pop into the conflict later in the year and the Eighth will butt heads with Derek Jacobi’s War Master very soon. The ending of Restoration of the Daleks, meanwhile, heavily hints at future adventures in and around the conflict for the Eighth Doctor and Bliss whilst the impact of that cliffhanger will likely be felt in another ongoing series from the Time War range.
Fifteen years and multiple boxed sets later, the Time War as a period in Doctor Who mythology feels, paradoxically, both done to death and barely even beginning. On the one hand, there is a sense that we’ve got a pretty strong idea now of what happens to the hopefulness and curiosity of Doctor Who when it’s put on a war footing. On the other hand, it feels like the Divergent Universe era where, for whatever reasons, many of the writers never got a handle on the creative potential of the concepts involved. More often than not – and it’s certainly the case for the majority of Restoration of the Daleks – Time War stories boil down to yet another battle between the Doctor and the Daleks and they fail to add a fresh spin or enhance our understanding of either.
Maybe things will change now that Christopher Eccleston has joined the fold? As thin as the gaps between the Ninth Doctor’s adventures are, it does feel like a great leap forward for Big Finish – the ability to properly play around in the new series universe and tell brand new stories about that battle-scarred incarnation, learning how to be the Doctor all over again. This is the Doctor that walked away from the last great Time War and I hope that, in time, Big Finish will begin to do the same.
Where Palindrome was a story about how the Daleks deal with being erased from creation by the Valeyard, Lisa McMullin’s Dreadshade is about the confusing universe that’s been created by their abrupt absence. Nature abhors a vacuum, and an old enemy of the Doctor takes advantage of the confusion to push their own deadly agenda.
How do you rebuild a society after a war? How do you come to terms with all the horrors you’ve witnessed, the horrors you’ve committed? How do you honour the sacrifice of those who’ve fallen in battle? How do you do all that when you can’t even remember being at war, or who you were fighting? This is the core idea at the heart of Dreadshade, a story that is very much about the fear and anger that follows conflict and asks how we can possibly move on from it.
It opens with the Doctor and Bliss arriving on post-war Gallifrey where no one can remember the events of the Time War. Worse still, the Doctor and Bliss can’t remember what it is they should be warning everyone about.
Long-term, multi-platform Eighth Doctor fans could be forgiven for feeling a bit daunted by yet another amnesia plot – incidentally, how many have there been since the TV Movie? Three? Four? I forget – but at least he still remembers that he’s the Doctor.
Memories and information are eked out as the Doctor teams up with the General (Ken Bones reprising – or should that be reprising? – his role from The Day of the Doctor and Hell Bent) to investigate a breach in the Omega arsenal. Meanwhile, Bliss is partnered with the brusque Rasmus to liberate a prison camp and begins to unlock her own memories of the cruelty of the Timelords. As fun as it is to hear about all the ludicrous weapons in the arsenal – Terror Ants anyone? – the highlight of the story is Bliss and Rasmus’ chilly partnership. She’s not shy about tearing strips off the great and powerful Timelords for the lives they’ve sacrificed and for their reprehensible, class-based military hierarchy. Rakhee Thakrar never overplays her hand, preferring an icily incisive delivery of her criticisms rather than grandstanding moral indignation.
It’s in these scenes, and in the dialogue between the Doctor and the General, that McMullin paints a vivid picture of a self-obsessed Gallifreyan society that hasn’t been chastened by conflict. A throwaway line about the Master and the Rani, for example, suggests that there is a rather self-aggrandising and naïve belief that, in a universe without Daleks, the only worthy threat to the Timelords are themselves. Disappointingly, this does leave us with a familiar central story about an opportunistic scheme by the Twelve at the heart of the Gallifreyan citadel. It’s how we first met their previous self, the Eleven and for a relatively new Big Finish character it’s disappointing to have them already retreading old ground. Still, retreading old ground never stopped the Master. The Twelve’s plot feels like it comes out of a need to tell a Doctor Who story with a proper threat and a villain when really this is more of a thematic piece. It’s got less of a thematic and emotional resonance than Palindrome but it makes a good fist of addressing some of the issues involved in telling stories about the Time War.
One of the main stumbling blocks of each of the Time War ranges has been how most of the stories (with some notable exceptions) have dealt with the conflict as a linear series of events. And yet, by providing an ending, of sorts, for the Time War Dreadshadegives us an idea of what a confusing and horrible mess is left by the aftermath. We’re used to things being wiped out of existence post-Moffat, but I don’t think we’ve ever felt the abruptness and the ensuing absence as keenly as we do in the stronger moments of this story.
In the closing moments of Time War 3, the Valeyard wiped the Daleks from existence and ended the Time War. Which was a bit awkward. We know that’s not how the Time War ends, a darker version of the Doctor does indeed push a big button and commit genocide but not him, not yet, or at all, now that I think of it. So, it’s a good job that Big Finish has commissioned one final entry in the Eighth Doctor’s Time War adventures to put history (or what’s left of it) back on track.
Of course, time can be rewritten, as Steven Moffat was always reminding us. This is especially true if you’re the Dalek Time Strategist who has an audacious plan to bring the Daleks back from their temporary erasure. This scheme leads him, closely followed by the Doctor and Bliss to an alternative Skaro where the Kaleds and Thals live in peaceful harmony and Davros is a respected scientist who has lived, laughed and loved and for whom hatred and xenophobia are alien emotions.
John Dorney’s Palindrome is a narratively tricksy, high concept and emotional two-part opener that finds a fascinating way with which to bring Davros into the Time War. It would be the easiest thing in the world for the creator of the Daleks to be brought out of mothballs in some cave or other to give his children a leg-up (that’s inappropriate, sorry) in their never-ending war with the Time Lords. What Dorney does instead is to tie various threads from spin-off media, the show itself and Terry Nation’s original draft of what became The Daleks to create a sort of ultimate Davros. More interesting still, his script gives Terry Molloy something weightier to tackle than the same old megalomaniacal ranting and raving that he’s usually called upon to do.
It’s the perfect follow up to his previous story The War Valeyard, presenting us with the reverse idea – a light side of Davros that retains that scientific curiosity but who has a capacity for good and positive change. He’s happily married to a Thal(!) and lives a peaceful life, bantering with his wife over the breakfast table and is horrified by the increasing violence against Thals that has begun to affect Skaro. These two sides of Davros are the emotional core of Palindrome and they anchor what could be a confusing plot involving multiverses and reverse chronologies. It’s a real testament to the writing of John Dorney and to Terry Molloy as a performer that the story is both emotionally affecting and easy to follow.
Meanwhile, Paul McGann and Rakhee Thakrar flit in and out of Davros’ life as the Doctor and Bliss trying to put a stop to the Time Controller’s plan. McGann gets some great moments, (“I’m no Cary Grant”) and his delight in finding a positive iteration of Davros is sweetly played. Bliss is getting increasingly trigger happy, much to the Doctor’s frustration and if this truly is the final boxed set for the Eighth Doctor and his companion then this may foreshadow their parting of the ways.
Fundamentally though, the Time War is mere background noise to this story of a benevolent Kaled scientist who is desperate to outrun his ultimate, tragic fate. It’s the sort of high concept character piece that we used to get in Big Finish’s early days, calling to mind Joseph Lidster’s terrific Master or Lance Parkin’s Davros. These are stories which interrogate our established knowledge of this main event Doctor Who baddies and breathe new life into them as a result. Palindrome does that in spades, it dares you to feel sympathy for Davros, not just the “nice” one, our Davros too. My only concern is that many potential listeners will be put off by the fact it’s tied into the ever-expanding Time War mythology. It’s unavoidable given the boxed set format, I suppose, but I’d implore you to give it a go. This is an accessible and engaging Davros story that’s up there with Genesis of the Daleks and The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar for nuanced and affecting portrayals of the creator of the Daleks. That being said, I expect he’ll go back to empty shouting and rasping when he comes back at the boxed set’s end.
Following on from the last Fifth Doctor trilogy which introduced the new Fifth Doctor companion Marc, and cruelly saw him suffer almost a worse fate than Adric, and got turned into a Cyberman. Warzone/Conversion saw the Fifth Doctor ‘abandon’ his three friends, Nyssa, Tegan and Marc on a paradise planet because they all came to the conclusion that needed some time away from each other.
This leads into this audio which sees the Fifth Doctor travelling solo for four half-hour adventures. And it was nice that the set opens with a dedication to the late author of the third episode, Tommy Donbavand.
Steve Lyons opens the set with Ghost Station. Lyons has quickly become one of my favourite Doctor Who writers over the years and has penned many of my favourite spinoff media Doctor Who stories. One wonders why he’s never written for the series properly, especially as his stories usually have some timey-wimey essence to them.
Ghost Station is no different as the Fifth Doctor finds himself in Berlin, underneath the Wall which divided the country for so many years. This is definitely my favourite story of the set, with its time-travel elements, titular ghost and its creepy vibe. But what really sets this story apart from the rest is how effective it is as a two-hander. It’s just the Fifth Doctor and a scared-solider trying to work out what’s happening.
Anyone familiar with the Sapphire and Steel story which was also set at a train station might get similar vibes from Ghost Station but Lyons taps into the idea that people can become ghosts before they die. One does wonder if the Doctor could be viewed as an angel as he watches the soldier cross over. Its a sad ending but all the clues are there from the beginning. Once you know the ending, you’ll certainly want to go back to the beginning to piece those clues together.
Jacqueline Rayner continues the set with The Bridge Master. The title might suggest a returning villain but instead, Rayner focuses on a real-life medieval legend where anyone crossing a bridge could become cursed. This element of the story is explored in detail as the Doctor finds his life being drained away from him, but much like Ghost Station, Raynor makes sure this story has a wholly human focus, in this case, a mother’s love for her son.
It’s another strong entry in this set which doesn’t pose any easy answers about which actions are easily forgivable and those actions which aren’t. Those events which aren’t forgivable are especially explored towards the end of the story and The Bridge Master is another good story exploring what it means to be human.
The late Tommy Donbavand pens the third story, What Lurks Down Under, a title which I didn’t realise until writing this review actually has two meanings. When the Doctor finds himself on a convict-ship travelling to Australia or Down Under and finds the crew and prisoners have fallen victim to something from down under the surface of the ocean.
And like the previous two stories, Donbavand gives the story another human angle, this time exploring people’s fear about change. While on-board, the Doctor meets the little-known historical figure, Mary Wade, who is, alongside the ship’s doctor, the only other person who hasn’t been affected by whatever illness is taking people over.
Its thanks to Mary that the human element comes into the story as she clearly fears what life will be like in a country she doesn’t know but she isn’t letting it stop her from anticipating the good times ahead. As she says, some of them will become mothers, wives, teachers, nurses, doctors and life will be better for most of them. It’s a good angle for Donbavand to put the story in as he could have just as easily had a lot of doom and gloom instead.
It all comes to an end with The Dancing Plague from Kate Thorman. This was a real-life event which nobody knows where it came from, people in Strasbourg in 1518 suddenly started dancing and couldn’t stop. Perhaps the weakest of the set of stories, Thorman does throw some twists and turns into proceedings to keep things interesting. At times though, it does feel like a run-around, the ending is particularly original, especially for a DoctorWho story whereby now, most things have been done.
As a finished result, TimeApart is a strong Fifth Doctor anthology, perhaps not as strong as others but there is nothing here that will offend the ears. Its clear how much fun Peter Davison and the rest of the cast are having with this scripts. My favourite was definitely Ghost Station but I think we’ve been so spoiled with Fifth Doctor stories in recent years, I was missing Nyssa and Tegan. But Time Apart does stand apart from the rest of the Fifth Doctor output putting the spotlight solely on the Doctor this time around and it’s all the stronger for it.
We’re back with the Big Finish Vault, this time looking at two rather brilliant audio adventures, The Apocalypse Element and The Fires of Vulcan. The Apocalypse Element feels like one of the initial skirmishes in the Time War while The Fires of Vulcan sees the Seventh Doctor and Mel take a fateful trip to Pompeii, on the day that Vesuvius erupted. Both stories are full of peril and both pose the question, how will they get out of that one!
The Apocalypse Element
Written By: Stephen Cole
Nowadays, the Time War is a well-used trope in Doctor Who storytelling. However, in both the classic series and the wilderness years, neither the Daleks nor the Time Lords had too much to do with one another, despite being bitter enemies even then. That all changed with Stephen Cole’s The Apocalypse Element, which finally saw the Daleks invading Gallifrey.
While The Apocalypse Element serves two main functions, it sets up the Big Finish Gallifrey range, which was presumably in the planning stages at the time as well as continuing on the Dalek Empire series, due out a little while after this story. It’s a cracking good listen anyway, not only giving the Sixth Doctor another brilliant Dalek story, nearly twenty years after Revelation of the Daleks, it also sees Evelyn getting to meet the Doctor’s most dreaded foe as well as bringing back Romana, years after she’d left in Warriors’ Gate.
Actually, as the story tells us, Romana came back to our universe twenty years previous to the time this story is set in but had been held prisoner by the Daleks all that time so they could gain access to Gallifrey. If twenty years had passed for Romana, it didn’t feel like longer had passed for actress Lalla Ward who effortlessly reprised her role for the first time here on audio. She sounds exactly the same while simultaneously making herself sound more regal now that she is the President of Gallifrey, that is an element that would be continued in the Gallifrey range, but its a little plot element that is on offer here and used to brilliant effect and it was a nice touch that Romana became President of Gallifrey!
Also on top form here is Colin Baker who is obviously relishing the story. Not only is he facing off against the Daleks once again, but he’s also got Maggie Stables’ Evelyn in tow and getting to meet Romana once again. I know people will bemoan the fact that it doesn’t feel like the Doctor/Romana pairing of old when talking about this release, but they seem to forget that some considerable time has passed for both characters, they’ve experienced different things and this isn’t Tom Baker and Lalla Ward! For me the pair is excellent. Maggie Stables is also brilliant as Evelyn, easily one of my favourite companions from the spin-off medium. It’s nice to hear her getting to face off against the Daleks for the first time and this is a story that puts the friction between her and the Doctor to good use. The Doctor almost becomes a different person here, something Evelyn isn’t afraid to pull him upon. It’s a strong character moment not just for Evelyn but for the Doctor also, who sees the man he becomes when facing off against the evil pepper-pots.
Its all handled nicely by Stephen Cole who has a great handle on all the characters here and this couldn’t have been an easy script to write. Without having to tie into two upcoming spinoff series, writing for the Daleks and Time Lords much be something to dread slightly! Luckily he pulls it off brilliantly, tying it into the end of the previous Big Finish Dalek story, The Genocide Machine, with the Daleks armed with the knowledge they picked up in the Library they faced off against the Seventh Doctor and Ace in. Even better is that Cole seems to make it look like the Daleks really might succeed this time around and much of the enjoyment of this story comes from hearing the dread and fear in the character’s voices as they begin to realise this too.
As usual, though, Cole makes sure that the Daleks are their own worst enemy and the power of the titular Apocalypse Element destroys them before the Time Lords and the Doctor can do it. But this was the closest they came to finally achieve the universal domination they eternally seek. Sure the continuous explosion bombardment can sometimes overshadow the bombardiers but that might be an issue with the sound design, rather than the script, but Cole has still managed to sculpt a near-perfect Dalek story.
Perhaps the story’s one downfall is that it is action all the way through and doesn’t allow any of the characters and the listeners as a result, to really think about what is going on. We move from one dramatic set-piece to another scene after scene and the story rarely lets up. Its a shame too because Cole has a lot of different elements running throughout the story and one wonders if this would have made a brilliant small boxset for Big Finish rather than a two-hour adventure. However one can’t deny that this is one of Big Finish’s early success stories even if a few of those other successes do stop this one from reaching the top tier.
The Fires of Vulcan
Written By: Steve Lyons
We all know that it was the Doctor and Donna who stopped the Pyrovile’s from destroying the world by blowing up Vesuvius. But what about all the lives of those around them. We know what happened to one family but what about the thousands of others who lost their lives, what were they doing?
Steve Lyons is one of my favourite Doctor Who writers and wrote my favourite Big Finish outing, Son of the Dragon. The Fires of Vulcan is another classic from him, which obviously came out long before The Fires of Pompeii. Rather than the Pyrovile’s, Lyons’ script focuses around UNIT discovering a fossilised TARDIS in the ruins of Pompeii in modern-day. We then head back to Roman times to find out what happened to the Doctor, Mel and the TARDIS. What follows is a timey-wimey story where the duo tries to avoid destiny and predestination, where they try to navigate Roman politics and make everyone see that the gods aren’t angry, the volcano is about to explode and rain hellfire and brimstone down on everyone.
What I really liked off the bat was that Lyons gives us a Seventh Doctor who is much more sombre and downbeat than he was when paired with Mel. On one hand, it makes the listener wonder which version of the Seventh Doctor this is, but on the other, Lyons manages to make the situation much more dire this way, the clownish Seventh Doctor is gone as he broods over the idea that he really might die this time. McCoy does a brilliant performance and I’ve always liked his pairing with Bonnie Langford’s Mel. It seems Lyons really likes the pairing too as he really makes the most of both their characters.
Bonnie Langford gets plenty to do here and one wonders if Pompeii writer, James Moran took a few notes from Lyon’s story when it comes to how emotionally involved Donna gets with the people of the town. Mel gets rather attached to a few people here and Langford is instantly likeable. It makes the inevitable all the sadder when it does happen because through Mel we get to know these characters, some of whom are evil, some misunderstood and some kind and loving. None of them deserves what happens to them.
Despite being on audio, Lyons’ script is so strong that one can vividly picture the horror of the eruption. The scene that sticks with me is when Mel and her friend are fleeing the town as the ash and smoke begin to blot out the fields around them. Mel comments with horror at the sight of all the other villagers running in their direction and how many of them fall and get trampled. It makes one wonder what killed more people, the eruption or there trying to getaway. It’s a tough question to ponder and Lyons doesn’t soften the blow either by offering us an answer.
Some of the supporting cast is a little well less rounded but in a two-hour audio, that might be expected. This might have been because there were a few too many characters and one wonders what this story would have been like as a novelisation. But the characterisation of one or two supporting characters is a minor quibble when the story is as good as this.
I’ve seen some fans wonder how two Doctors could seemingly visit the same location at the same time and how it shouldn’t work for the sake of continuity. For me, though it isn’t that hard to see, the Doctor and Donna are dealing with the main threat while the Doctor and Mel, in another part of Pompeii deal with their problems. Both stories are heartbreaking but for me and the images it gives the viewer, The Fires of Vulcan is the stronger Pompeii story.
Next Time: The Shadow of the Scourge and The Holy Terror