Continuing our look at Big Finish’s audio adaptation of a variety of Doctor Who stageplays, we come to the second story in the series, The Seven Keys to Doomsday, which was originally produced on stage for four weeks starting in mid December, 1974.
The audio drama and the original play alike starred Trevor Martin as an original version of the Doctor, ostensibly regenerating from Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, who had only recently finished playing the role on TV. The play debuted shortly before the Fourth Doctor had his first full story on TV.
The adventure begins, weirdly enough, with the TARDIS materializing in the middle of a stage play, with the dying Doctor falling out from it. He regenerates into Trevor Martin and is helped by two audience members, Jenny & Jimmy, who become his new companions for the adventure. This is apparently how the play itself began, with the companion actors actually emerging from the real audience–there’s no explanation for play they seem to have been there to see! In the bonus features, writer Terrance Dicks says this idea was given to him by the play’s producer, and that he always thought it was silly, but kept it in the audio adaptation in an attempt to be faithful to the original production.
In any case, the Doctor and his new friends quickly return to the adventure that forced him to regenerate, which involves running around the inhospitable planet Karn to track down the seven shards that make up the “Crystal of All Power”. To do this they have to face giant spider creatures, malevolent computers, suspicious rebels, ancient aliens, and ultimately, the big draw for the audience, the Daleks.
Just like the previous story in this series, The Ultimate Adventure, felt like it belonged in its native 1980’s, this play has a strong early 70’s vibe going for it–as if it were cut from the cloth of the Third Doctor’s adventures. Martin’s Doctor is serious, paternalistic and a bit irritable, kind of like a younger William Hartnell with a bit of Jon Perwee thrown in. The plot has that hard sci-fi procedural feel that was common to Pertwee’s era, and suffers in the same way to a bit of overlength. There’s a lot of running around, and plenty of presumed set pieces, but as an audio it’s just not all that interesting. Without the novelty of seeing it all unfold before you on stage, the by-the-numbers plot becomes a bit of a chore to get through, with no real ideas of interest to freshen things up.
The performances are fine, for what they are. In addition to Trevor Martin, the audio features Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks, Joe Thompson as Jimmy and Charlie Hayes as Jenny, taking over the part from her mother, Wendy Padbury (who played companion Zoe on TV). Everyone does a good job, but the characters are sadly drab with little to distinguish them. The slightly antagonistic relationship between the Doctor and Jimmy is believable given the circumstances of their meeting, but it gets tiresome by the story’s end.
The Seven Keys to Doomsday avoids the utter daftness of The Ultimate Adventure, but it doesn’t offer anything to replace it, and so in the end serves mainly to satisfy fannish curiosity (eg. “What was that 1970’s Dalek stageplay all about?”), but not much more.