Big Finish begin their audio celebration of Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary with Once and Future: Past Lives, a Tom Baker led tale that involves the Meddling Monk and modern-day UNIT.
With the Doctor struck by a degeneration weapon, he’s sent spinning through a cascade of old faces before settling on his Fourth incarnation. Believing the Monk was present for the attack, he heads off in pursuit of that tenacious time meddler.
Robert Valentine’s script for this series opener hits the ground running. Indeed, we only hear the aftermath of the incident which triggers the Doctor’s predicament. Interestingly, we don’t learn which incarnation was initially affected – but the glorious video trailer offers a strong clue.
With vocal cameos (from Messrs Davison, C Baker and McCoy, plus Noonan, M Troughton and Treloar) out the way, we crack on. Stabilised in the form of Fourth Doctor, he tracks down the Monk (Rufus Hound) and finds him mid-scheme.
Catching up with him on the island of Jura, there’s a hilarious reference to the self-styled art terrorists the KLF. The musicians, who also found fame as The Timelords, famously burnt a million pounds, but the Monk has a much better use for it. Before we know it, the meddlesome Time Lord has escaped the Doctor again, but has decided to round up one of his rival’s old friends. Moments after leaving the TARDIS in South Croydon Aberdeen, Sarah (Sadie Miller) finds herself kidnapped.
Meanwhile, the Doctor notices a cloaked spaceship floating over Glastonbury, leading him to an encounter with the modern principals of UNIT. Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) may be the guardians of the Black Archive under the Tower of London, but the Monk has designs on something contained within…
Despite a number of pleasing reunions, ‘Past Lives’ has a fairly light story behind it. However, it’s one which serves its purpose admirably and centres on the theme of nostalgia. The Hyreth, warrior dinosaur villains, are former vanquished foes of the Doctor’s, sent to sleep at the end of their original encounter with him. Possibly they could have done with a little more time in what is a packed story.
‘Past Lives’ also sets up the Doctor’s larger predicament, suggesting a larger threat to his existence. What happens if the Doctor’s degenerations take him back to his very beginnings? Sarah Jane even echoes the line from ‘The Brain of Morbius’, questioning how far back the Doctor goes.
It’s clever to have the Fourth Doctor’s personality with the experience of later lives and it makes the reunion with Sarah Jane all the more charming as he explains he’s “revisiting a past life.” We look forward to further new perspectives on old friendships as the series progresses.
A nostalgic romp
Tom Baker clearly sounds like he’s having a ball and it we enjoyed his interactions with the new UNIT team. Osgood’s sheer excitement at travelling in the TARDIS is a highlight. We loved Rufus Hound’s Monk too – he also sounds like he’s having far too much fun. Credit must also be given to the hard-working Ewan Bailey and Dan Starkey who voice the villains and other side-characters.
At the risk of damning it with faint praise, this is a nostalgic romp and it thoroughly entertains. As an opening chapter it naturally asks more questions than it answers, but it also comes stuffed full of pleasing references and rips along at a pleasing place. Once and Future is off to a promising start – roll on next month!
We listened to the Special Edition version of ‘Past Lives’. As well as alternate artwork, there’s 30 minutes of interviews from those involved both in front of and behind the mic. Plus, a music suite of Howard Carter’s impressive score which runs to eight and a half minutes.
Next month: ‘The Artist at the End of Time’
Part two of Doctor Who – Once and Future lands in June. ‘The Artist at the End of Time’ stars Peter Davison’s Doctor. He’ll encounter Jenny, the Doctor’s Daughter (Georgia Tennant) and The Curator (Colin Baker).
Doctor Who – Once and Future: Past Lives is out now on Collector’s Edition CD (+ download) and digital download from Big Finish. Physical copies of the Special Edition are sold out, but the download bundle is available.