While the Troughton-era Early Adventure, ‘The ISOS Network’, may have been bumped to January, there was still plenty going on in the world of Doctor Who audio this month, including the release of the first ‘War Doctor’ Box Set ‘Only the Monstrous’ and the return of Torchwood One’s Yvonne Hartman in ‘One Rule’.
Very much a Seventh Doctor month, the main range saw an anthology release for Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, as well as two novel adaptations set in the new Adventures ear when they kept company with Professor Bernice Summerfield.
Main Range #207 “You Are The Doctor and Other Stories’
This release comprises four single episode tales starring the Seventh Doctor and Ace. The first plays with the format of a Doctor Who story in the most intriguing fashion, taking its cues from the Make Your Own Adventure-style gamebooks (which will have a resonance for fans of a certain age).
Whether you follow through playing the game, or just simply listen in linear fashion, there’s plenty to entertain here in John Dorney’s tale as the Doctor comes up against the inept Porcians.
The second tale ‘Come Die with Me’, from Jamie Anderson (son of Gerry), provides a neat twist on a murder mystery with the Time Lord having to solve a riddle to save his life.
Chris Cooper’s ‘The Grand Betelgeuse Hotel’ finds tense drama with Ace on trial for her life, believing the Doctor to be dead after they became involved in a hotel heist, while the final tale from Matthew Elliot “Dead to the World” finds the fate of humanity hanging in the balance as a crippled spaceship hangs above the planet and the survivors bicker.
Guest stars double-up and more across the stories, with the principal names being John Culshaw (Dead Ringers) and the brilliant Juliet Cowan, best known to CultBox as Maria’s Mum from The Sarah Jane Adventures.
With a broad range, these stories show that Sylvester and Sophie remain on fine form and that the main range can still surprise when it breaks away from the regular four-part format. There is also a cleverly seeded tease for future adventures for the eagle-eared listener.
Short Trips 5.11 ‘Black Dog’
The 2015 range of Short Trips comes to an end with Dale Smith’s Fourth Doctor story Black Dog.
Read by Louise Jameson, it is set on a rain-swept planet once part of the human empire, now being returned to the natives. The natives are not what they once were – their lives are spent avoiding the Black Dog, a supernatural being of great power. To dream of the Black Dog is to die in a few days, nobody ever survives.
With that the scene is set for the Doctor to confront superstition and belief as Leela dreams the dream and her days are numbered.
Where this story works well is through the dark prose, redolent of bleak, damp weather, and its concise set of characters supporting the central narrative as Leela’s misconceptions are unpeeled and the listener, while assuming Leela must survive, is never sure where the strength will be found to fight the supernatural foe.
Dale Smith’s writing of Tom Baker’s Doctor never dominates proceedings, Louise covers the bases with her reading and the scattering of effects brings this short tale to life well. The story provides a great moment in the journey from noble savage and is a worthy addition to the range.
Novel adaptation: ‘All Consuming Fire’ by Andy Lane
Originally published in 1994, the Andy Lane novel ‘All Consuming Fire’ has been released as a two-disc audio drama.
Ever since Big Finish began adapting novels, ‘All Consuming Fire’ has been much requested as it is a cross-over between Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, in this case Sylvester McCoy’s seventh Doctor and Big Finish Executive Producer (and voice of the Daleks) Nick Briggs as Sherlock. Big Finish already releases a range of adapted and original Sherlock Holmes stories with Nick in the title role.
Adapted by Guy Adams, the novel’s ‘book in a book’ structure has been dropped for a more linear story structure. The cast of main characters is large; not only do we have the Doctor and Sherlock, but also Ace (Sophie Aldred), John Watson (Richard Earl) and Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman).
The first disc is primarily a Sherlock Holmes story with Doctor Who characters dropping in. We get a vivid and dark Victorian London, oozing with criminal undercurrents and setting up a central mystery while introducing us to a mysterious cult. The action cuts to India and then for the second disc and an alien world, and indeed disc 2 is more of a science fiction story with Sherlock and Watson popping in.
As a whole the adventure is entertaining and dramatic, with some characters getting plenty to sink their teeth into. As is sometimes the way of the Doctor / Bernice / Ace stories, three such strong voices can crowd, meaning one of them (often the Doctor) takes a back stage position in the story.
In this case not only is the Doctor a passenger at times but so is Ace. Indeed (and no disrespect to Sophie’s performance) Ace is by no means essential to the telling. The same is not true of either Bernice or John Watson, and as a story it is really John Watson’s tale from start to finish with all the characters in orbit around his motion through the plot. In this regard Lisa Bowerman and Richard Earl are the stars of this story.
Nick’s Sherlock is dark, frequently angry and intense. In some ways Sherlock and the Doctor cancel each other out, allowing the companion characters the pick of the story.
Would fans enjoy another visit to this collection of characters? Absolutely! Is it entertaining, well-produced and good value? Yes it is. What more do you need?
Novel adaptation: ‘Theatre of War’ by Justin Richards
In similar fashion, and adapted by the author from his own New Adventures novel of the same vintage, ‘Theatre of War’ brings the Doctor, Ace and Bernice to the planet of Mexanus, the site of a rather muddy archaeological dig.
Initially caught inside what seems to be a production of Hamlet brought to life, murders and a mysterious object soon cause Bernice to be despatched to the mysterious Braxiatel Collection for an encounter with the owner – who seems to have a complex history with the Doctor.
For those familiar with the numerous series of books and audio adventures of Ms Summerfield, the most recent of which involved the return of Sutekh, this trip back to the beginning of her relationship with Braxiatel should prove entertaining. If coming to the character fresh, he is a wonderfully enigmatic figure, brought to life by the sublime Miles Richardson.
At the Collection, we discover some ultra-modern archaeological techniques which put us in mind of Star Trek’s holodeck, and also peel back a few layers of the mystery as Bernice begins to discover some troubling inconsistences in the information about the Mexanus ruins.
Again a little in the background, Ace gets to enjoy some space heroics and she and the Doctor find themselves caught up in a war on the planet Helatia, and in the excitement surrounding the discovery of a long lost play entitled “the Good Soldiers”, which was purportedly written by the Shakespeare of his day, Stanoff Osterling.
Justin Richards’ adaptation has tinkered a little with the beginning, to make the story stand alone and bring Bernice along in the TARDIS, but it stays true to the spirit of his original tale about archaeology and the theatre; enjoyably throwing the manipulative Seventh Doctor up against a problem he has not already anticipated, and keeping him on the back foot while the machinations of other parties unfold around him.
What was your favourite Doctor Who release from Big Finish this month? Let us know below…