The Big Finish sampler works! For only the second time, I think, I have gone ahead and bought something that I’d previously heard a portion of as part of Big Finish’s habit of releasing free samples of their work. In this case, the release is a collection of related one part stories that have been released as Shadow of the Daleks.
(Daily Doctor Who #150)
Each of these episodes stars Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, and features the Doctor, traveling alone, landing in a different setting where mysterious things are afoot. In each locale, the Doctor meets a group of the three or four people, all played by the same group of actors, who are clearly meant to be the same actual people, but “cast” in different roles. The Doctor has no idea why this is and spends the stories trying to unravel the puzzle (which might relate to the Time War), following a mysterious signal from one story to the next. Frequently, time seems to be out of joint, and there is a general sense that the Daleks are looming nearby–though in general they do not feature prominently.
When they do appear they are played as usual by the ever-reliable Big Finish and Dalek stalwart Nichoas Briggs. The rest of the supporting cast around Peter Davison is consistently solid as well. I am not particularly familiar with Jamie Parker and Glen McCready, but their two female co-stars are well known to Doctor Who fans. Dervia Kirwan was Miss Hartigan, the main villain in the Tenth Doctor special The Next Doctor. And Anjli Mohindra was both Rani Chandra on The Sarah-Jane Adventures and a crazy spider-scorpion queen thing on a recent episode of Doctor Who with Jodie Whittaker.
The first episode of the set is called Aimed at the Body by James Kettle, and features the Doctor meeting notorious cricketing legend Douglas Jardine while he is holidaying in Australia after an infamous match. This is the episode which was released as a free sample, and you can read my initial thoughts about it here. It’s a good set-up to the overall set–the Doctor does not know yet that he is going to be meeting these characters repeatedly, but the shifting topography and time frames makes it clear that something abnormal is going on, and there is a moment where Douglas begins to speak in Dalek-like tones which is genuinely unsettling.
The second story is Lightspeed by Jonathan Morris, which is the most conventional of the set–it features the most complete story, complete with a monster, and the most satisfying resolution. In this one, the Doctor finds himself on a passenger spaceship which ends up racing out of control, while also being threatened both by flying metal-eating space-piranhas and a rogue computer in the thrall of a gangster out for revenge against the Doctor for something he hasn’t done yet. That’s quite a lot for one part adventure really, and it manages to take us through that whole story quite satisfactorily.
After that is The Bookshop at the End of the World by Simon Guerrier, where the Doctor winds up in a quaint used bookstore / pub, where customers attempt to find ways to relax in the face of an unspecified war which rages outside. In this one, the Doctor arrives with amnesia, and so spends the story trying to remember who he is, as well as to understand why everyone is so scared. The script has an odd habit of breaking into internal narration by the various guest characters, where each talks about the war-related traumas that they are attempting to escape–this gives the story a surreal and disturbing quality which belies its apparently homey setting. The episode’s connections to the overall narrative are mostly thematic, but the atmosphere and character-work are enough to make it something worth listening to.
The last story is the oddest–Interlude by Dan Starkey (the actor who plays Strax on the TV show, amongst other things) has the Doctor landing in Florence and getting wrapped up in a troop of actors who are performing before an enigmatic Duke–who has just led an army which has laid waste to Rome. The Doctor struggles to understand what is happening as the universe itself seems to be shrinking, and the Duke is served by a particularly extermination-happy executioner. Eventually, the Duke’s identity is disclosed in one of the weirdest reveals I’ve ever heard from the series, which only gets stranger as the episode rapidly explains what is really going on.
But just what is going on in this particular story, not in the series overall–one has to get Shadow of the Daleks 2 for that (at least, I presume that one will answer what is going on). But the lack of full resolution here is not too annoying, as the explanation for what is happening in Interlude in particular is so zany that it sort of makes up for it. And cliffhangers have always been part of the deal with Doctor Who anyway.