Big Finish’s Doctor Who 60th anniversary mini-series concludes with Once and Future: The Union.
October’s second dose of Once and Future brings the Doctor Who 60th anniversary audio extravaganza to a close. Still afflicted by his bout of is degeneration, the ailing Doctor is rattling around his personal timeline more than ever.
In The Union, by series script editor Matt Fitton, the action is primarily led by Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, with some time also spent as Tom Baker’s Fourth. Meanwhile, the companions are drawn from almost polar extremes of the televised show; Carole Ann Ford reprises her role as Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, while Alex Kingston returns as Professor River Song, the Doctor’s wife.
The Diamond Array
While the Doctor has been piecing together the mystery of his degenerations, more by luck than judgement, it takes a plea for help from his granddaughter to kick off this finale.
On the mysterious Diamond Array, he finds both Susan and the villainous The Union in wait. Plus, River Song – but who’s side is she on?
The first thing to say about The Union is that is benefits from a boosted runtime of 74 minutes, putting us in mind of certain New Series finales where RTD or Steven Moffat would negotiate an extra-long broadcast slot. Frankly, its needed here given the number of characters who want to get a word in. With the Doctor more unstable than ever, despite a short-lived attempt to build a stabilisation device, it would be quicker to list the incarnations who don’t play a part!
Other than the cover star Doctors, Jacob Dudman is on hand to voice both the Eleventh and the Twelfth. His take on the former is the stronger impersonation of the two, but it’s great to hear both represented. For us, the real standout is Jonathon Carley’s uncanny young version of the War Doctor who plays a pivotal role towards the end of the tale.
We’ve heard Susan paired with the Eighth Doctor before, as she appeared in his regular adventures during the Lucie Miller days. Carole Ann Ford and Paul McGann have a pleasing rapport, so it’s a fun reunion. Writer Matt Fitton plays Susan off against the other new series Doctors too – we loved the Eleventh inability to know how to relate to his grandchild.
There’s also a mini adventure for the Fourth Doctor with Susan, as the flee the array to the planet below. While it’s no surprise that the Earth is imperilled, the pair get to meet some cavemen at a distance, which is nice nod to Doctor Who’s first adventure onscreen.
In terms of the plot itself, The Union’s plan feels like a scaled up amalgam of the schemes of Tzim-Sha in ‘The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos’ and Queen Xanxia of ‘The Pirate Planet’; this villain compacts whole star systems to source the energy required to maintain her equilibrium. Maureen O’Brien throws herself wholeheartedly into the role and convinces as a multi-Doctor worthy threat with an entertaining degree of unhinged obsession.
In truth, we’d guessed the character’s identity a while back it when was revealed that The Union was an individual. The casting was a great way to have another star of the show’s early years involved.
The Union provides a satisfying conclusion to this celebratory saga. Like many of the stories in the series, its strength lies in the interactions between the mis-matched characters rather than the plot itself. However, events do tie neatly back to the opener ‘Past Lives’ with a flashback and a cameo from Rufus Hound’s Monk.
Indeed, matters are so well resolved here that we’re quite baffled as to what November 2024’s ‘Coda: The Final Act’ can contribute. There there don’t appear to be any loose plot threads. However, since writer Tim Foley is a favourite, we’re sure it will be worth seeking out.
We listened to the Special Edition version of ‘The Union’ which comes with nearly 45 minutes of extras. These feature interviews with the cast who reminisce about working on the television series as well as this audio drama.
Plus, there’s a discussion between writer Matt Fitton, composer Howard Carter, director Ken Bentley and producer David Richardson on the complex job of piecing this episode and the wider series together.
Additionally, there’s the usual music suite from composer Howard Carter too.
Next: Coda – The Final Act
With the main storyline concluded, there’s a whole year to wait until ‘Coda – The Final Act’. So, plenty of time for a re-listen to the whole series then!
You can check out the CultBox reviews of previous Once and Future instalments here.