Back in December 2001, Big Finish Productions released The One Doctor, their first ever “Christmas episode”. This isn’t a trend they continued for very long, but it’s interesting to note that this precedes Doctor Who‘s first modern “Christmas episode” by a good four years. In any case, this story features Colin Baker as the 6th Doctor, and Bonnie Langford as his companion Melanie Bush. But it also features Christopher Biggins as the Doctor, and Clare Buckfield as his companion, Sally-Anne Stubbins.
Well, actually that second Doctor is a con-man named Banto Zame who has been pulling a con with his girlfriend, where they trick planets into believing they are in danger, and using some special effects they make it appear that the legendary Doctor has come to rescue them, only reluctantly accepting the reward money that’s offered as a result. But he hasn’t gotten everything right–his uses a psychic screwdriver and flies around in a time machine called the “STARDIS”, which happens to resemble a port-a-loo and makes a flushing sound as part of its traveling.
It all goes wrong when the real Doctor shows up during one of Zame’s cons, immediately followed by a real galactic threat–a terrifyingly powerful flying cylinder. This fearsome menace threatens to destroy a whole planetary system unless it is given a tribute of the three great treasures of Generios, a mission that both Doctors and both companions end up undertaking.
In the process of things, the Doctor and Banto Zame swap companions and endure adventures fraught with many dangers. The treasures they are after include a set of pan-dimensional shelves built by belligerent robots at a sort of space-Ikea, a super-computer that has spent thousands of years playing a TV quiz show (long after the audience has died off) because it never gets a question wrong, and a gigantic diamond which is being guarded by an ancient gelatinous creature, but who is afraid to leave for even ten minutes in case he misses the delivery of the entertainment system that he has been waiting for for several million years.
As I imagine is clear, the tone of the story is more overtly comical than we normally get for Doctor Who, which is a lot of fun and in many ways anticipates the Christmas episodes that the new show would give us. But at the same time, the plot is solid (even if it’s silly) and the performances strong, especially the four leads. Both of our main characters must deal with the unwanted romantic attentions of their companion’s doppelgangers, which adds another amusing wrinkle to the interactions. Each of the “guardians” that they must contend with to retrieve the treasures (the angry robots, the game show host and the gelatinous creature) are also really well done, with lots of frankly hilarious sequences. The script by Gareth Roberts (who wrote The Lodger, as well as other episodes of the Doctor Who TV show) and Clayton Hickman is full of great dialogue and funny turns of phrase. On the whole, in spite of its light-hearted quality, The One Doctor is one of the best Big Finish stories of the few that I have listened to.
Melanie, incidentally, is a very strong character here. She was never very welcome back on TV, but just like the oft-maligned 6th Doctor, she gets new life in these audio dramas. There is a particularly inspired moment where Bonnie Langford really delivers the good, when she shares a rousing speech about how Mel learned never to give up when her family had to brave a blizzard to reach some pensioners to perform a Christmas show…only to discover that none of the pensioners had actually made it, there being a blizzard and all.