Doctor Who: The First Doctor Boxset [Big Finish – The Lost Stories]

A while ago, I wrote a little article about William Russell, who co-starred in the first couple of years of Doctor Who as Ian Chesterton, part of the original TARDIS crew.  Someone left a comment mentioning their favorite examples of Russell’s work with Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio dramas, including The First Doctor Boxset as one of the prime examples.

Doctor Who - The Lost Stories - First Doctor Box Set - Farewell, Great Macedon

So what is it?

Well, Big Finish is a company that has been producing original, licensed Doctor Who audio dramas for over 20 years now.

The Lost Stories  are a line of those dramas which are based on scripts or story ideas which for one reason or another never made it to becoming fully produced episodes.

In this case, there are two stories, told over seven episodes.  Both were written by Moris Farhi, and adapted by Nigel Robinson.

The first, Farewell, Great Macedon is a purely historical adventure (no science fiction elements aside from the Doctor, his companions and the TARDIS), something that showed up a fair bit in the early days of the series.  But it as dramatic as any alien invasion or monster story.  The story features the Doctor and his companions landing in Babylon and meeting Alexander the Great, and become witness to a political plot to assassinate the king and his closest generals. The story has quite a positive view of Alexander and dream of conquering the world in order to unite it, though it does not shy away from the truth that this would have involved a lot of bloodshed.  All of the main characters, and especially Barbara, become very close to Alexander, and become witness to the last days of his hopes of an empire built on science and brotherhood.  The slow unraveling of this dream becomes quite heartbreaking to see (or rather, listen to).

The story is performed by just three actors.  William Russell and Carole Ann Ford narrate the story and voice most of the characters, including reprising their television roles as Ian and Susan.  The other actor is John Dorney, who just plays Alexander.  It’s an odd format but I found I quickly got used to it.  All three actors delivered very strong performances, and though the story is long–six episodes in total–it never loses interest.  John Dorney’s Alexander is very engaging, and Carole Ann Ford and especially William Russell do an outstanding job bringing a wide range of characterizations and vocal tones to the table.  It makes it easy for me to forget that I’m not actually listening to Jacqueline Hill as Barbara,  while simultaneously making me sad we cannot ever watch her perform the scenes that her character is featuring in.

Dramatically, the only disappointment is the fact that ultimately, the Doctor and his companions have very little impact upon the actual events of the story.  This could have easily been adjusted, but perhaps it wasn’t out of concern for historical accuracy.  This seems to have been a priority for the script.

There are some other oddities with the story that can been seen as a result of it being written so early in the show’s history.  When the TARDIS first arrives and hears the music of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Susan seems legitimately fearful that they have inexplicably died and found themselves in heaven.  Later, the show makes a big deal about the futility of changing history–Barbara seems to feel this is impossible, while the Doctor seems a bit more uncertain.  This sort of fits with what we saw on TV in The Azteks, but not really.  Finally, the Doctor at one points says he studied medicine for two years before switching to science, and that he took the Hippocratic Oath!

After Farewell, Great Macedon, we get a small one-part story called The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance.  This is quite the surreal little tale which is full of some very interesting ideas, and is disappointing only in its brevity.

Doctor Who - The Lost Stories - First Doctor Box Set - The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance

This time, the plot is about the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan spending time on the planet Fragrance and making friends with the locals.  One of them is a young man named Rhythm, and he’s fallen in love with Barbara.  Barbara reluctantly knows she cannot stay, but things are complicated by the fact that Rhythm’s species only fall in love once, and if their love is cut short for any reason, they are compelled to sail off to sea and eventually merge with the sun!  Rhythm’s parents are understandably not happy about that happening, and conspire to try to keep the TARDIS from leaving.

It’s the kind of drama-infused situation which would be perfect for extended story development, but it sadly wraps up all too quickly.  The intention with most of the Lost Stories is to keep the adventures as close to what was almost produced as possible, and Moris Farhi’s script was just a little one-part story, written back in the days before that was clearly not the norm.  Still, it’s a fascinating moral dilemma that is pretty rare for the series, and pretty much unheard of in its early days.  Still, it’s an engaging set up, once again well performed by William Russell and Carole Ann Ford.  John Dorney is present again, as Rhythm, as well as Helen Goldwyn as Rhythm’s sisters (Melody and Harmony!)

On the whole, the episodes in The First Doctor Boxset tell some engaging dramas showcasing a slightly alternative take on the Doctor’s early adventures.  The format is  unusual but one that can be easily adjusted to, and they are well worth it for the  performances on offer.

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