Shadow of the Sun will probably garner a reputation as being one of Big Finish’s most mythic releases to date. Originally due for release in an upcoming boxset, plans were delayed and ruined by the current Coronavirus pandemic and it seemed that this story was going to be pushed right back to 2024.
Luckily though, the masters at Big Finish had a plan. Using a story that the script was already ready for, the cast had been chosen and almost everything was in place, could they produce the same kind of quality over Zoom, with the actors performing from their own homes? Shadow of the Sun is a great answer to that question!
Normally, a Big Finish audio adventure will be recorded over a couple of days at a professional recording studio. Due to the lockdown restrictions though, this wasn’t possible so with the actors performing from makeshift audio-studios at their own homes with walls covered in duvets, sofa-cushions and the like, or in little cupboards under the stairs, or in bathrooms, I was really impressed that the audio quality was just as great as it would have been had it been performed in a professional recording studio. Huge congratulations to sound-designer Toby Hrycek-Robinson for making the audio quality sound seamless!
Author, Robert Valentine, takes the Fourth Doctor, Leela and K-9 on a trip to the sun, with plenty of twists and turns to keep us interested. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the story is the sudden shift in tone from the first to the second episode. And like any good Big Finish audio, it explores some interesting themes, most notably in this one the idea of how ridiculous blind-faith is when it ignores the actual facts.
Valentine kicks off the story right from the beginning at a breakneck-speed and very rarely lets up for the rest of the runtime. We get a little moment to breathe when we humorously hear Leela learning to ‘mingle’ at a party, but for the most part, things keep rattling along nicely. Of course, this breakneck-speed might not appeal to everyone whose a fan of the Fourth Doctor Adventures at Big Finish but I think it really suited the story, especially as there is a time-frame for the Doctor to try and stop and the ship from its collision course.
The cast is on fire here too. We’ve come to expect nothing less from all the Big Finish stars over the years but they all seemed to be on particularly fine form this time around. From the CD extras, we know that they didn’t have all the actors recording at the same time but its the sort of story you’d love to be a fly-on-the-wall for. Tom Baker seems particularly chirpy as the Doctor and still manages to prove why he’s one of the best incarnations of the Time Lord we’ve ever had.
Louise Jameson effortlessly recreates her original role as Leela and her chemistry with Baker and John Leeson as K-9 is still as alive now as it was back in the 1970s. One wonders how they do the voice for K-9. I know that Leeson can do the voice but I expect there is some voice modulation somewhere along the line. But I’ve always loved K-9 so its so nice to have more stories with him in!
With the first half of the story almost played for laughs, despite a number of slightly darker moments, its the second episode where things get really dark. The idea of people burning to death as a ship enters the gravity of the sun is horrible and I’m surprised that they did it here. But Valentine’s story is all about blind-faith and how without the proper facts, people can manipulate others into doing things.
You kind of expect the Doctor to get them out and Valentine makes the right decision in sending Leela, to get anyone who wants to leave. The Doctor would have probably sacrificed himself getting everyone away safely. Leela respects people’s decisions to stay, even if she knows their wrong but doesn’t mince her words to the people who stay behind. It’s quite a dark subject for Doctor Who to tackle but the story works all the better for having included it.
Shadow of the Sun is another fantastic stand-alone story and its fascinating to listen too knowing how it was made. But it also stands to make the point that all the best Doctor Who stories are made under pressure and with this pandemic and lockdown set to continue for the foreseeable future, its great to see that Big Finish is going to continuing working their magic. Shadow of the Sun is an absolute triumph in every way!