Doctor Who, etc: Early Adventures, Dan Dare, Jago & Litefoot, Companion adventures–a Big Finish sampler

In the wake of the whole COVID-19 pandemic, Big Finish–most famous for their original licensed Doctor Who audios–began to release a variety of projects for free on a weekly basis.  Some of these are “proper” Doctor Who adventures, some are licensed from other sources, and others are completely original.  I have been taking advantage of these, as I’ve written about here and here and here. This time around we’re looking at a bit of a miscellaneous list of projects that got missed on my previous write-ups.

Big Finish has been pretty generous with all this free product, but each one also serves as a sampler to tempt me to buy other material.  Do they work?

Spoilers ahead!

The Age of Endurance – Episode One

Line:  Doctor Who – The Early Adventures
Length:  25 minutes
Buying Price:  I think you can still get this for free. If you want the full story then it costs AU$10.99

Comments:  For years, Big Finish has been employing different strategies for dealing with the question of how to present the Doctor Who characters who are played by actors who are no longer with us. This has led to storytelling formats which have involved omniscient narration, or one of the surviving actor playing several of the main characters, or even full recasting. With this story from the so-called Early Adventures line, all of those techniques are employed together.

The Age of Endurance is a story about the First Doctor and his original companions–Ian, Barbara and Susan. It is told in part like an audio book, with third person narration by William Russell and Carole Ann Ford. But it is also told like a full-cast audio play, with Russell and Ford reprising their original characters, Ian and Susan. On top of that, William Russell also does the voice for the Doctor himself (as original actor William Hartnell died many years ago). Meanwhile the fourth regular character, Barbara is voice by Jemma Powell, who played her original late actress Jacqueline Hill in the 2013 TV movie, An Adventure in Space and Time. (Powell and the rest of the cast who played the original cast of tv show have now all taken on those roles in other Big Finish productions). And then there are also other actors, playing additional characters.

The story is about the Doctor and his friends arriving on a derelict space ship and finding themselves in the midst of a conflict between a synthetic slave race and their masters. It’s gripping enough, but full disclosure, I completely forgot what the story was about in the wash of all the Big Finish sample audios I was listening to. It wasn’t until I went back to it again that I could recall. I also find it hard to connect strongly with the regular characters with the hybrid format the story is presented in. Barbara in particular is difficult, as she is being played by a “new” actress. Her dialogue is often isolated by all the narration, so it becomes tricky to get a feel for the performance.

Does it tempt me to get more?  A bit, but probably not enough to actually get it anytime soon.

Dan Dare: Voyage to Venus

Line:  Dan Dare – Volume 01 (1.1)
Length:  68 minutes
Buying Price:  Listed for free on the webiste, but $25.00 for the full set of three episodes.

Comments:  Beyond the name, I’m not familiar with Dan Dare. The character seems to be a sort of British “Buck Rogers” type–a stalwart, square-jawed military space hero from the 1950’s and 1960’s whose existence is probably a bit nostalgic for some. Unfortunately, that’s not me, so all I’ve go to go on is this audio by itself.

The story is about Dan Dare and his colleagues going on a mission to Venus, where the fun afoul of an alien civilization led by a tyrant who is trying to maintain his control against a faction of rebels. There are a few attempts to introduce some modern concepts (like vlogging) but overall the story is steeped in the science fiction sensibilities of the 1950’s and 1960’s, where you can have characters walking along the surface of Venus to get to huge alien cities, and you can have heroes like Dan Dare–unambiguously principled and moral, and so offended by any enemy of freedom that they will be unable to keep their tongue from telling their captor exactly where to get off, even if they are being threatened by a gun at the time.

For some of these reasons, I didn’t really enjoy Dan Dare. It’s got Big Finish’ typically high production values, but I found Dare’s particular brand of stoic determination to be little flat, and the attempts to introduce some modern style wrinkles to the plot (like his friend Digby having a hidden agenda) just weren’t enough to hold my interest. It doesn’t help that I’m not really a fan of science fiction from this era, which may seem strange since I so like both old Doctor Who and old Star Trek–but most of the time, I guess, those shows were trying to take themselves and their concepts more seriously than what this audio is imitating here.

Does it tempt me to get more?  Not really. If I got the rest of it for free, I’m sure I’d give it a listen, but I’m not interested in pursuing it deliberately.

Jago & Litefoot – Mind Games

Line:  Doctor Who: The Worlds of Doctor Who (Volume 1, Episode 1)
Length:  57 minutes
Buying Price:  Not available by itself normally, I think, but the four episode set is AU$24.99.

Comments:  Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot were guest characters on Doctor Who back in the 1970’s (in this story) who eventually received their own line of audios from Big Finish. This particular story, however, seems to not be part of that line (although it is the same continuity) but rather part of a special release of four episodes which each feature different characters, but which add up to an over-arching plot.

The adventure features the 19th century showman and doctor teaming up to investigate a series of grisly murders that are connected back to a hypnotist who is performing at Jago’s theatre. Of course, they get in over their heads, but facing down the cruel and wicked Mr. Rees, who has the ability to basically enter someone else’s mind and bend them to his will. It’s a grisly story but a gripping one, with some fun characters and good performances by stars Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter, as well as the rest of the cast. With the exception of one awkward bit where the characters are fighting next to a well, the action is well-done and clearly presented for an audio audience.

The story has a conclusion, but still seems to carry on in three other episodes, which take place in different time frames and feature different casts. In turn, the focus is on Counter-Measures, Mike Yates of UNIT, and the Time Lords of Gallifrey (including the Doctor), all dealing in some way with Mr. Rees, even though he seems to die in this adventure.

Does it tempt me to get more?  Definitely! It’s a well done adventure, and the whole story seems to serve as a good tour through some of Big Finish’s projects. I wouldn’t have thought the story needed a sequel, but knowing that there all these follow-on episodes does pique my interest.

The Veiled Leopard

Line:  Doctor Who – The Classic Series – Special Releases
Length:  57 minutes
Buying Price:  Apparently, this is only available to people who have a code from Doctor Who Magazine. Frankly, I don’t remember how I came to have it.

Comments:  The Veiled Leopard is one of those loopy sort of stories that we only get because Big Finish has such a large output. It’s a two-part story in which each part focuses on a different set of Doctor Who companions. Each set is made up of one character from TV and one original-to-audio companion. Both sets have been sent by their respective Doctors to a certain party in 1960’s Monte Carlo–one to steal a special diamond, and the other to prevent its theft! The mystery is, of course, what is going on?

Part one focuses on Peri (Nicola Bryant, from TV) and Erimem (original to audio), both companions of the 5th Doctor. Part two is about Ace (Sophie Aldred, from TV) and Hex (original to audio), who are both connected with the Seventh Doctor. Both episodes focus on the same set of events, but told from different perspectives. Though some of the characters briefly meet, they are never really aware of the other’s existence. The two Doctors are referred to but never appear in this story.

The whole story is quite silly, fitting into continuity but not really meant to be taken seriously, as the various characters ponce around the party, trying to fit in, suss out some thieves, and avoid being caught. It turns out that Peri’s group is there to prevent some bad guys from stealing a diamond which is really the key to saving an alien civilization. Meanwhile, Ace’s group is there to actually steal the diamond themselves so that it can be used for its original purpose. In the end, of course, both pairs succeed. Ultimately, it’s a diverting little outing–a good way to kill an hour as one drives–but not anything consequential.

Does it tempt me to get more?  Well, in this case it’s not necessary, as this was not a sample to prompt you to buy more, but a complete story.

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