Shocks and betrayals are afoot in the latest release for the Seventh Doctor. Going all the way back to Mel returning to the TARDIS in A Life of Crime, the past has caught up with the TARDIS team. Mel has to face her past, the Doctor and Ace meet a pre-Gallifrey Narvin and an old enemy waits in the wings…
Concluding the ongoing storyline from A Life of Crime, which was released way back in 2016, The Quantum Possibility Engine has a lot of continuity it has to pick up, especially as events kick off where the previous outing, The Dispossessed left off. But author Guy Adams makes sure that these links to the past and future are only the tip of the iceberg as he decides to include Narvin from the Big Finish spinoff, Gallifrey and he brings back the villain from The Maltese Penguin, Josiah W. Dogbolter, a character who has also appeared in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine. If you haven’t got it yet, there is a hell of a lot of continuity in play here!
But Adams doesn’t just rely on that. He manages to craft a surprisingly enjoyable story, even if it does suit a three-episode format and not the four-episodes that we’ve got here. One doesn’t need to have heard A Life of Crime to fully understand what is happening here, even if it does help.
Looking past the continuity references there is a lot here for the casual listener to enjoy. You’ve got an interesting villain in the toad-like form of Dogbolter, a universe on the brink of war, alternate universes and a machine that can literally change the future by affecting the past. The standout character here is Dogbolter who, even if haven’t heard him in any previous audios or comics, like myself, comes across as gloriously ruthless thanks to Adam’s strong dialogue. He takes the character in the same direction as a certain American president currently in power and it suits the story perfectly. Here’s a story about the Doctor trying to stop someone in power when the general public doesn’t want him to be toppled. It’s an interesting idea and one that Adams explores nicely.
And for a story that concerns the possible death sentence of one of the Doctor’s best friends, it is a surprisingly light and humorous story, I did laugh-out-loud at a couple of moments. Adams gives us glimpses of the TARDIS gang living different lives and that is surprisingly enjoyable to hear playing out.
The character of Mel has always been well treated by Big Finish, from her first appearance in The Fires of Vulcan to now, she hasn’t been the shrill-screamer she was on television. Actress Bonnie Langford has embraced that and run with it fantastically. She is on top form here, effortlessly delivering the material handed to her and we see what her life with Glitz at the end of Dragonfire, threw at her. She spends a lot of the story either with Dogbolter or his robotic companion, Hob and the dialogue here, is just electric, you really feel the contempt she has for the both of them and her current predicament, so a big thumbs up should be given to Langford and Adams for the great handling of the material.
Sylvester McCoy is on excellent form here too. From the off, he devours the script and he shares a fantastic chemistry with Sean Carlsen as Narvin. From their opening scenes, the pair bounces off each other brilliantly and some moments are extremely funny. Like Mel, the Seventh Doctor has been treated brilliantly by Big Finish and McCoy has risen to the challenges they have thrown at him perfectly. He is one of my favourite Doctors, mainly thanks to the treatment he has gotten on audio and so long as they continue the Seventh Doctor in the same manner, I’ll always come back.
Rounding off the main cast is Sophie Aldred who also puts in a perfect performance. Like McCoy and Carlsen, Aldred gets to double her roles and she does a fantastic job in those scenes. She shares many of them with Wayne Forester and the pair are the subject of one of the saddest moments to ever come from Big Finish at the end. Sophie Aldred is always a fantastic presence in any Big Finish audio and that doesn’t change here!
Kicking off the guest cast is Sean Carlsen as Narvin. Carlsen is just an astonishingly good actor and that trend continues here. What is really interesting is that Adams has decided to set this story for him before Gallifrey. When Gallifrey kicked off, Narvin was a Time Lord threw and threw. He looked out for himself and no one else. Then gradually, he evolved, becoming friendlier and gaining a stronger sense of morality.
But it is evident that this isn’t that Narvin. He puts himself and his duty first, even if it means the Doctor, Mel and Ace have to suffer for it. As I stated above, that antagonist relationship with the Doctor leads to some great banter which McCoy and Carlsen run with brilliantly. It is also interesting to hear Ace and Narvin meeting for the first time. They got on quite well when they met in Gallifrey and it is nice that there is some foreshadowing of Ace’s fate in that series.
Toby Longworth is glorious as Dogbolter, a ruthless businessman who has shades of Donald Trump in his character. One wonders whether those elements were there when he first appeared in Doctor Who Magazine but if they weren’t, they created a character who would mirror a powerful presence in today’s world and it is hard to believe that Adams didn’t have that in mind when he wrote the character. Wayne Forester pulls a triple duty in this story, playing Soldier Robots, Alex and Hob. I’ve already spoken about him as Alex so I’ll talk about his performance as Hob. Hob is a robot who shares much of the play with Bonnie Langford. While at first, he threatens to put his performance a little over-the-top, you get used to it and it is actually quite enjoyable. I also liked Hob reading the behind-the-scenes credits at the end! Rounding the cast out is Jules de Jongh as the Captain Regent of the Krasi. While she doesn’t get too much to do, she does a tremendous job in the role anyway, effortlessly showing how ruthless her character is. Overall, this is one strong guest cast.
Overall, The Quantum Possibility Engine is a tremendous outing for the Seventh Doctor. With continuity references aplenty, Guy Adams doesn’t let it bog the story down and the nice direction from Jamie Anderson, allows the story to be accessible to the casual listener as well as the die-hard fans out there. It is an epic finale for a story that has been two years in the making and almost feels like something Douglas Adams would have had his fingers in. And that isn’t a bad thing as overall, this a strong ending to the latest trilogy of Seventh Doctor adventures.
The Doctor and Ace are locked up. The TARDIS is gone. Things just couldn’t get worse, could they?
Of course they could. Things can always get worse — the new President of the Solar System, Josiah W Dogbolter, didn’t get where he is in life without learning that. That’s why he has a Quantum Possibility Engine. It’s a wonderful machine, creating a wonderful Solar System. And with this wonderful device, he can bring happiness and peace to all. Possibly.
Either that or tear the universe to shreds, it’s hard to be sure which.
Written By: Guy Adams
Directed By: Jamie Anderson
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Bonnie Langford (Mel) Sean Carlsen (Narvin), Toby Longworth (Dogbolter), Wayne Forester (Hob / Soldier Robots / Alex), Jules de Jongh (Captain Regent of the Krasi). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer: Nicholas Briggs
Script Editor: Nicholas Briggs
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs