The 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who just around the corner and Big Finish, a company that have been producing original Doctor Who audio dramas for years, has celebrated by releasing their “50th Anniversary” story a month early, on October 23. I saw an add, I believed the hype, I spent a bit of money I recently received from my mother, and I bought the digital download (received, I kid you not, because it wasn’t my birthday).
It’s the first time I’ve really sampled some of Big Finish’s wares, so I don’t really know how it compares. It’s probably not the last time I buy from them, so that should give you an idea whether I enjoyed it or not.
The story features all the Doctor’s who are operating under the Big Finish banner – everyone up until the series revival in 2005. Of course, it’s the living Doctors who star – Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, and the recently-entered-into-the-fold Tom Baker. It also includes the first three Doctors being played in limited parts by Richard Hurndall-quality sound-a-likes: William Russell (Ian Chesterton) as the First Doctor, Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon) as the Second Doctor, and Tim Treloar (er…Giles Moreau from the audio story Destination: Nerva) as the Third Doctor. It also features Geoffrey Beevers as the Master (reprising the role he played in Keeper of Traken and a bunch of other audios) and features appearances by various companions: Leela, Nyssa, Peri, Ace, and Charley (a native to the audios), plus short cameos by a bunch of others. Thankfully, the list of “classic” elements stops there, allowing the audio an opportunity to focus on telling a story.
The plot features the Master engaged in a plan only slightly more complex than normal, where he blackmailed some dopey Time Lords into getting him access to a weapon with which he plans to kill the Doctor – a bomb which he places in his some poor dudes brain so that when he walks into the Tardis and exclaims that it’s impossible (because it’s bigger on the inside–well, you know), it causes the Tardis to begin to collapse in time, and thus eventually eliminate itself out of existence. At the same time, the various Doctors find themselves drawn to a pocket dimension where the Master is lurking around with some security robots who normally work with some heartless arms dealers.
I’d put this presentation ahead of The Five Doctors at marrying together the celebratory aspects of the story with actually creating an engaging plot. There is the mystery that we’ve come to expect from Doctor Who well in play at the beginning, with script only gradually unfolding what is going on. And then what is going on is quite imaginative, even wacky, and has the requisite dire consequences if the Doctors cannot put it to rights. Like much Doctor Who, I don’t really understand what is happening at the end, but it’s clear that the tensions are high and the Doctor’s victory is decisive and satisfying. The story keeps the cast limited with basically just 1 villain and 2 guest stars sharing the spotlight with the 5 Doctors and 5 Companions – and the companions get bumped out of the story pretty quickly.
The highlight of the story is certainly the performances of the five leading actors, and while Tom Baker is especially fun to hear again, they all do an excellent job. They all deliver their lines with the energy and intensity that we’re looking for, and it’s easy to imagine them each as the same vibrant characters we saw on TV 35, 30, 28, 25, and 17 years ago. The beginning of the story puts the spotlight on Paul McGann and Tom Baker, and the two have a good rapport with each other. But never fear, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy are all significantly involved before the halfway point. None of them disappoint, although perhaps the 7th Doctor is given the least to do. The 4th and the 8th have the major confrontations with the Master, the 5th gets to interact with the show’s major guest star and come up with the narrative masterstroke that ensures the victory, and the 6th gets to indignantly tell off another Time Lord character for being so short-sighted and stupid, and then to bring all the Doctors together.
There are some fun little doses of humor as well, although the script could have stood to have had more. One of the bright gems comes from Peri, of all people. She is with the 6th Doctor when they spot the 7th with Ace. The 6th Doctor announces, “That’s a future version of me,” to which Peri adds, about Ace, “And I guess that’s a future version of me!”
Normally, an anniversary special with returning Doctors is a spectacle largely because the actors playing the older Doctors are “returning” to the role. In this instance, that’s not exactly the case – all of the lead actors in this story are regularly appearing in their own audio adventures. So I wonder how this story will come across to regular listeners – if it really has the spectacle within it befitting a “50th Anniversary”. For me though, as I’ve mentioned, it’s been a long time since I experienced any of these five actors in new Doctor Who material. So the whole thing promises grand fun, and overall lives up to the expectation.
So it doesn’t take the place at all of my desire to see something new on TV like The Day of the Doctor, but serves as a worthy companion piece.
Have a listen to the trailer below: