February’s Fifth Doctor release from Big Finish, the second in the current trilogy after Kingdom of Lies, brings his Season 18 line-up of Adric, Tegan and Nyssa into a complex temporal puzzle of a story which has some very modern sensibilities.
In a lengthy and highly amusing pre-credits setup, we are introduced to one of the main guest characters, Fenella Woolgar’s Leanne; the host of a ghost tour who is bugged by a spirit called the Doctor who is very keen to talk to her. The story’s comic notes are on display up front, from her rivalry with a fellow tour guide who poaches her customers to the catacombs, which may have just been a beer cellar until they were put to “sinister purpose”.
Post-titles, we are back in the 1700s as the TARDIS arrives and encounters something nasty in the cellar which devours life forces, including the TARDIS herself. With the Doctor able to do little else, he manages to temporally shift his companions to safety so Adric and Nyssa find themselves flung into the future, separated and both facing unusual challenges.
While Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) falls foul of the law and finds himself sentenced to hang for stealing, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) lands on her feet and into a flirtation with a vicar who saves her from being burnt as a witch by suspicious locals. Sacha Dhawan is terrific as her rescuer Matthew, who’s clearly charmed and he makes a proposal to her, while Carolyn Seymour, with a glorious accent, is his two-faced busybody of a housekeeper.
The other principal guest star is Stephen Greif, who is perhaps best known to genre fans for his role as the original Travis in Blake’s 7. Here, he voices the chilling Sabaoth who, when paired with Daniel Burnett’s sound design and Benji Clifford’s score, evokes a classic horror movie vibe; with ominous chanting male voices and terrifying distorted noises, there are also era appropriate Paddy Kingsland-esque twiddles in the mix too.
Despite featuring 1982’s cast of Doctor Who, James Goss’ story feels incredibly like the new series in the way it deals with time and the Doctor’s relation to it, leaning on the sort of logic that would not feel out of place in a Steven Moffat script. Unlike some audio stories, this is not one which we are invited to imagine might have been made in the 1980s, instead, it offers us a taste of what it would be like to have these classic characters onscreen today, but as they were then. This, of course, is the temporal wizardry of Big Finish.
James Goss always writes strong comedy and we particularly loved some of Adric’s moments here – the standouts were his snark about Heathrow and the decision to pass on transportation to Australia, based on what he knew of it from Tegan. Goss also constructs an impressive double-pronged cliffhanger for episode two, with both Adric and Nyssa in life-threatening trouble.
It is only recently that the main range went spooky with the terrifying Static, but this is a different line-up and a executed with a lighter touch. It is also satisfyingly complex and, as the director Barnaby Edwards suggests in the CD Extras, is a tale which will benefit from multiple airings at appreciate how the temporal nature of the story fits together.