It has been another bumper month on audio for Doctor Who fans, with two main range releases and the return of the Early Adventures, now featuring the Second Doctor.
Tony Jones and Ian McArdell review this month’s new Doctor Who plays from Big Finish…
Main Range #203: ‘Terror of the Sontarans’
Rounding out their Season 24 trilogy, the Seventh Doctor and Mel come up against another old enemy as, responding to a distress call, the TARDIS arrives on a former mining outpost which has been adopted as a Sontaran research base.
While the upper levels are all but deserted, the time travellers discover a set of colourful prisoners in the holding cells including Stettimer, a giant poetry quoting lobster, Anvil Jackson, a blustery space adventurer, Ketch, an cruise ship entertainer and Tethneka, a mysterious telepath.
Splitting Mel and the Doctor up in classic style gives both plenty to do. He looks into the mystery of what happened to the original crew who appear to have suffered mental deterioration due to something in the environment. Meanwhile, Mel has to handle both the threat of the Sontaran reinforcements as well as the freed prisoners.
Scripted by regular Sontaran actor Dan Starkey, best known as Strax, it was enjoyable to hear lots of interaction between differing ranks and functions of the clone troops. As well as co-authors Starkey and John Dorney, Big Finish regular John Banks and John Edgley Bond lend their voices to the diminutive warriors… including one whose vocal stylings appeared to be modelled on Windsor Davies!
Entertaining and absorbing, with a smart mystery at its core, the story takes a good look at the Sontaran war machine in action and how it copes when a little pressure is applied.
Main Range #204: ‘Criss Cross’
As Big Finish moves on into its third century of releases, the immediate focus is on providing jumping on points to new listeners. With release #204, ‘Criss-Cross’, it’s the turn of the Sixth Doctor to step forward, and this time it’s with new companion Constance Clarke, played by Miranda Raison (although some listeners may have already met her in The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure).
Matt Fitton took to the keyboard to write this story of a Wren at Bletchley Park dealing with the eccentric Doctor John Smith in a tale of espionage, code breaking and an alien menace thrown in for good measure.
Bletchley Park is a perfect setting for Doctor Who; as it happened it was only de-classified in the mid-1970s and it wasn’t until 1989’s ‘Curse of Fenric’ when some of the sense of Bletchley first appeared, and that a long way from the reality of early computing machines and Enigma devices.
As to ‘Criss-Cross’, Matt Fitton tells a war-time story with the smallest hint of science-fiction. The bulk of the characters are spies, double agents, Nazis and military types. Anyone who has seen The Imitation Game or the recent BBC documentaries knows what to expect, and Matt avoids the cheap trick of having the Doctor bump into Turing and win the war. Instead the characters are Constance, a wide-boy turned spy named Flint (Paul Thornley), and various military men from both sides. The story avoids some of the more obvious stereotypes as the plot unfolds into a rich (and slightly complex) tale of betrayal and self-interest.
The science elements are a little on the pseudo-science side – the TARDIS is conveniently waylaid by a mysterious radio force – but once that is accepted the story feels very authentic to an much earlier period of British science fiction, Quatermass in particular.
Colin is on great form and his chemistry with Miranda Raison is immediate. Miranda’s character is interesting and very of her time; the admiration she has for the TARDIS when she first enters is brilliant, and sends the Sixth Doctor into a tirade where he explains he is alien not British. The whole sequence adds a nice angle to proceedings and the whole piece is very well constructed.
On the evidence of this her back-story is one we shall enjoy discovering as she takes her place at the Doctor’s side.
Subscriber Bonus Short Trip: ‘The Warren Legacy’
This month’s main range releases come with a subscriber’s bonus; Stephen Critchlow reads a clever and satisfying Short Trip tale for the Doctor and Romana, as they rescue members of a family who have been threatened by temporal assassins across the centuries.
The Early Adventures 2.1: ‘The Yes Men’
After last year’s terrific run of First Doctor adventures, it is the turn of the Troughton era with this tale from Simon Guerrier featuring the early line-up of Ben, Polly and Jamie.
The story returns the TARDIS to somewhere the Doctor has been before, albeit not in this body. On the previous occasion, in the company of Dodo, he saved the Earth colony of New Houston from an alien invasion.
Hoping to meet an old acquaintance, the Doctor discovers he has arrived some years after his previous visit and that his friend, who had risen to become the colony’s leader, has died. It is only when he seeks to find out how, that the questions begin.
It is an interesting angle to bring the Doctor back to the site of a previous adventure, and this story tackles our modern day fears around artificial intelligence, data security and the power of the state, albeit with an authentic 1960’s feel.
The recasting of Doctor Who actors can be a contentious issue with fandom, but Elliot Chapman’s recreation of Michael Craze’s chirpy cockney Ben Jackson convinces, with the CD extras revealing he has truly done his homework. The true test of course, is the ringing endorsement given by Craze’s co- stars who have warmly welcomed the move. We also particularly enjoyed Guerrier’s use of Patrick Troughton’s character names from other work to populate New Houston.
Among a busy cast, Frazer Hines once again effortlessly evokes the spirit of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, in addition to Jamie, while Anneke Wills plays Polly and is also on narration duties. Of the guests, Stephen Critchlow is particular impressive as the titular Yes Men, who chafe at their role as robotic servants, while Jane Slavin and Lizzie McInnerny give voice to the residents of the city.
With Ben Jackson returned to active duty, we look forward to plenty more adventures with this crew.
Short Trips 5.09: ‘Etheria’
With the latest release in the monthly Short Trips range, Big Finish takes us back to the First Doctor with the Nick Wallace story ‘Etheria’. Narrated by Peter Purves it is a strange story that bears a repeat listen to fully draw the listener in.
The story centres on the Doctor and Vicki, stranded on a very strange world and at the mercy of a guide with the ability to lead them through a world over-shadowed by strange rocks and islands in the sky. To make things worse they have just escaped pirates and the planet Etheria is subject to strange clouds (the Ether) with the ability to wipe memory and alter perception.
The story focusses on the tension building up between characters in a very uncomfortable situation and the narrative jumps around slightly to reflect the effects of the Ether clouds.
The choice of Peter Purves as narrator has mixed results: he is well accomplished in his re-creation of the Doctor but with a story mostly seen from Vicki’s point of view it is a curious choice and adds to the unsettling nature of a story that won’t be everybody’s cup of tea.
What was your favourite Doctor Who release from Big Finish this month? Let us know below…