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 elsewhere. It’s been a while but I’ve come back to it lately–this time around we’re looking at just one project–the first story in their The Churchill Years Volume 1 boxset.
Big Finish has been pretty generous with all this free product, but the question is how successful each sampler is at tempting me to buy the full release.
(Daily Doctor Who #59)
The Ongoing Storm
Line: The Churchill Years volume 1
Length: 60 minutes
Buying Price: The full set of our stories is $29.99.
Comments: Winston Churchill is of course the famous Prime Minister and stateman. He showed up on Doctor Who in three episodes during Seasons Five & Six (full appearances in Victory of the Daleks and The Wedding of River Song, and a cameos in The Beast Below and The Pandorica Opens), all played by Ian McNeice (best known to me otherwise as Bert Large from Doc Martin).
Written by Phil Mulryne, The Oncoming Storm story takes place in 1939, before Churchill is the Prime Minister. It focuses on a piece of Time Lord technology which lands on earth during this time period–this Augur Stone rapidly and dangerously advances the intelligence of all who touch it. It is being sought by simplistic but dangerous alien artificial intelligences who can impersonate local people, sound like they are speaking over the phone, and have the habit of elucidating their comments by supplying handy synonyms for the key words of their sentences.
It is also being pursued by the Ninth Doctor. Winston Churchill is well familiar with the Doctor at this point, although this is a new incarnation for him. Of course, Christopher Eccleston does not actually appear in the story (he had not yet joined Big Finish’s stable of actors at this point), and this series is written as a bit of a mixture of a full cast drama and an audio book. The narration in this instance is provided by Ian McNeice as if reciting Winston Churchill’s journals. It is an obvious solution to allow the Doctor to be involved without his actor (and one that Big Finish has provided before) but it does take away from my enjoyment of the story. Winston Churchill obviously a highly interesting real-life historical figure (I only recently watched and enjoyed Darkest Hour, for example) but that doesn’t make him the most compelling lead character for a Doctor Who story.
The real potential interest here would be seeing (or hearing) Churchill and the Doctor interact with each other, but that’s not what we get with this story. The Doctor’s dialogue is minimized, and for what there is, McNeice’s reading makes no attempt to mimic Eccleston’s vocal style, so one never really gets the sense that they are listening to the Doctor speak. As a result, the story never fully came alive for me. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it–the ideas, the plotting and all the performances are all fine, but it all feels routine and inconsequential, like tuning into a special feature that I’m not all that interested in.
Does it tempt me to get more? Sadly, not really. The concept just doesn’t hold enough interest to draw me back.