First introduced into the Doctor Who mythos in Original Sin an Virgin New Adventures novel from 1995, Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester travelled with the Doctor until the end of the range of novels, Roz was killed off in So Vile A Sin in 1997 and Chris left to become an agent of the Time Lords in Lungbarrow also published in 1997. For many fans of these novels and Doctor Who, these two companions are an interesting part of the Wilderness Years, where Doctor Who was experimented with like never before. Following their audio debut in Damaged Goods, an adaptation of a Virgin novel in 2015 and sporadic appearances here-and-there since, The Seventh Doctor, Chris and Roz are now back as part of the anniversary celebrations for Big Finish in a new and exciting boxset: The Seventh Doctor New Adventures, Volume 1.
THE TRIAL OF A TIME MACHINE
The set kicks off with The Trial of a Time Machine by Andy Lane, the man who created Chris and Roz back in 1995. It is an interesting little story which sees the Doctor having to defend the TARDIS on a planet where unauthorised use of a time machine is against the law.
From its opening moments, it is clear that this is a story which could have quite easily have been a Virgin Novel, minus all the really “adult bits” that some fans didn’t like from that range. In many ways, it made sense for the creator of these two companions to start the set-off but rightly so, the story doesn’t put all its focus on Chris and Roz, though they do get the most interesting things to do in this story. Actually, The Trial of a Time Machine has some interesting things to say on the justice system. The crime and punishment in the society of Thrantas are based on the notion that some crimes can actually benefit society. It is an interesting notion and concept and while the Doctor, Chris and Roz go their separate ways early on in this tale, it is a notion that follows both storyline threads.
Lane does something really interesting with the TARDIS too. He makes the Doctor wonder if the TARDIS actually wants to travel with him. Of course, we know, thanks to The Doctor’s Wife, that the TARDIS loves travelling with him but it does instil a little doubt in the Doctor’s mind as to whether he is better than those he fights. Sylvester McCoy plays this scene wonderfully and it is a real thought-provoking moment.
With the Doctor defending his TARDIS in some interesting courtroom drama, Chris and Roz team up with local law enforcement officers Maratuk and Sydyck and travel thousands of years into the past to see the damage they did try to land the TARDIS on the planet in present day. While their storyline does little but serves as a way of adding a little mystery and then an enjoyable runaround, actors Travis Oliver and Yasmin Bannerman do a fantastic job in their roles, making them a really enjoyable duo.
Overall The Trial of a Time Machine is a really enjoyable way of kicking this set off. We’ve got some fantastic performances, tight direction from Scott Handcock and a thought-provoking script from Andy Lane. Throw in some nice continuity references for good measure and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a fantastic Doctor Who story!
The second story, Vanguard takes the TARDIS trio back to the more familiar territory after a thought-provoking series opener. The Doctor lands on a world which is at war with an opposing faction and the trio get split up, all taking different sides on the matter.
Steve Jordan has a story here with some really interesting ideas, an army of robots, a small band of survivors and some intelligent bacteria all proving problematic. While we’ve heard many of these stories before, they always make for a nice palet cleanser with the audience in some more familiar territory. Jordan’s script is good fun though, keeping you really interested throughout. There was even one moment when I had to cringe in horror concerning Chris and his broken arm. I’m not normally squeamish but this little bit was the exception to that rule!
With Jordan’s tight script, the cast really brings out the best of the script. We’ve got Sara Powell as the deliciously evil Contessa who has some wonderful moments and lines littered throughout the play. Olivia Morris and Connor Calland make a great brother and sister team who get some interesting moments to shine as the war puts them almost in opposing positions for most of its runtime. It also serves as a great example of what happens to families during wartime. And Jacob Dudman does a tremendous job Cannon and the voices of the robots.
What I really liked though was that Steve Jordan puts the Seventh Doctor in a brand new vulnerable situation where it will take all his diplomatic skills to survive. This isn’t the environment to be a chess player and sacrifice some pawns to save the day. McCoy is on fire in this set and he once again delivers a fantastic performance here, devouring the strong script and lines. Overall this another enjoyable story.
THE JABARI COUNTDOWN
With the opening two stories set on other planets, it does make sense to have the closing stories set on Earth in different periods of time. Alan Flanagan kicks off the third story with the Doctor, Chris and Roz finding themselves on a boat in the 1940s heading to a mysterious island with a load of mathematicians who need to solve an alien puzzle.
Flanagan’s script is a rather nice little whodunnit story, where you aren’t sure who you are supposed to trust. And it is another script full of cool concepts and ideas, some of which I didn’t see coming as I was trying to keep up with the many plot threads the story threw at us.
Perhaps the most impressive part of The Jabari Countdown and the story thread that I most enjoyed was the handling of the character of Eleanor and transgender-discrimination. This certainly seems like a strange topic to include in a story set in the 1940s but Flanagan handles the topic with grace and dignity as it is a topic that some writers might handle heavy-handedly. As someone who knows transgender-person from way back in college, I did see some discrimination and this story only serves as an important reminder that while a lot of attitudes have changed over the many decades, we still have a long way to go yet before we are truely inclusive.
I’ve been very impressed with Flanagan’s work, not only with Doctor Who but also his stories in The Omega Factor range. I hope he continues to contribute stories like these in the future.
THE DREAD OF NIGHT
The final story, The Dread of Night by Tim Foley sees the Doctor, Chris and Roz in a story that goes full-on horror mode. Foley manages to deliver a story that is not only scary but also has some surprising twists, the major one I certainly didn’t see coming.
Foley’s script should be one that is better suited for the visual format but they make it work, thanks to the great script but the sound direction too. There are some tremendous moments when quiet scenes give way to some great jump scares, beware headphone users!
As a horror fanatic, I also noticed there were some things that Foley borrowed from other stand-out movies, there are elements of The Others and The Conjuring, while one of the characters, Annabelle undoubtedly takes her name from the creepy doll in The Conjuring franchise. But for me, that made this episode even more enjoyable, picking out moments from other movies of this type.
I’ve also written a couple of horror novels and I know that even the strongest horror stories can’t just rely on scary moments alone, it needs to have a central mystery. Foley delivers this in spades. He carefully keeps us from the truth the whole way, running along the knife’s edge of giving us just enough info and not enough to keep us listening to the end. Even a fanatic like myself won’t see the final twist coming.
The Dread of Night is certainly my favourite story of this set, amongst some strong competition and the whole hour passes by quickly as you are drawn into the dark and macabre world Foley has created. Director Scott Handcock and the guest cast also manage to avoid the many horror cliches and the final product is something that feels new and exciting.
With Big Finish having produced Seventh Doctor audio adventures for the last twenty years, the era of the Virgin New Adventures is a period of his history that they have barely touched. There were a couple of audio adventures early in their run, The Shadow of the Scourge and The Dark Flame that stepped into virgin territory but apart from that, we’ve only had the novel adaptations to enjoy.
As a result, The Seventh Doctor Adventures: Volume 1 feels like something exciting and brand new. The four scripts have managed to give a new lease of life to the Seventh Doctor and his companions, Chris and Roz have an endless potential for future stories.
Scott Handcock delivers some strong direction, creating some stellar guest casts and once again proving why he is one of the best contributors Big Finish currently has working for them. If you haven’t heard Blind Terror: Gods of Frost, then I urge you to go and listen to it, it is superb.
Sylvester McCoy, Yasmin Bannerman and Travis Oliver are also having a blast here, their characters coming to life effortlessly. Hopefully, though this won’t be the one and only set of stories for this team because like the Virgin novels that spawned these concepts and characters, Big Finish feels like it is stepping into brand new territory once more and I can’t wait to see and hear what comes next.
1. The Trial of a Time Machine by Andy Lane
After colliding with another time-ship in the vortex, the TARDIS materialises on Thrantas where it is arrested and forced to face trial. While Chris and Roz investigate the crime scene, the Doctor must defend his most loyal companion against a society where guilt has no meaning.
2. Vanguard by Steve Jordan
The planet Vanguard was once ravaged by a war between its peoples: the Dauntless and the Intrepid. Now, robotic titans stalk the desolation, searching for survivors. Their mission: to end the war for one side or the other. But which side will the Doctor take?
3. The Jabari Countdown by Alan Flanagan
Arriving on a mysterious island, stranded with a group of mathematicians, the Doctor and his companions find themselves on the fringes of the Second World War. Trapped with only each other and an unknown threat, the group must work together to solve a puzzle greater than just one world’s war.
4. The Dread of Night by Tim Foley
When a grieving household offers the TARDIS travellers shelter from the weather, the Doctor, Chris and Roz find themselves exposed to even less hospitable conditions. A sinister presence stalks the house, plaguing its inhabitants… and only the truth can free them.
Written By: Andy Lane, Steve Jordan, Alan Flanagan, Tim Foley
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Yasmin Bannerman (Roz Forrester), Travis Oliver (Chris Cwej), Liz Sutherland-Lim (Maratuk), Vikash Bhai (Sydyck), John Heffernan (Honos), Mina Anwar (Forsetti), Janine Duvitski (Alpha Wheeler), Leonie Schliesing (Zsa Zsa Straus), Franchi Webb (Eleanor Blake), Rupert Young (Binkum Fray), Silas Carson (Arbuckle), Sara Powell (Contessa), Olivia Morris (Green), Connor Calland (Blue), Jacob Dudman (Cannon), Melanie Kilburn (Hooley), Rhian Blundell (Isabel), Elaine Fellows (Annabel), Ellie Darvill (Willis). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer: Scott Handcock
Script Editor: Scott Handcock
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs