Set in the latter period of the Virgin New Adventures novels, Doctor Who’s prose home in the wilderness years of the early 1990s, the latest boxset of Seventh Doctor Adventures stars companions Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej – futuristic former law enforcement officers who made their audio debut in the adaptations of their prose adventures Damaged Goods, Original Sin and Cold Fusion.
Originally created by Andy Lane, the pair bring a new dynamic to the Doctor’s travels; while he is mysterious and manipulative, they are a professional investigative team and nobody’s fools. The pair are brought to life by Yasmin Bannerman (Jabe from The End Of The World and latterly Big Finish’s Dayna in Blake’s 7) and Travis Oliver (Milo from Gridlock).
The Trial Of A Time Machine
Andy Lane pens the first story which serves as a smart reintroduction to these companions when the TARDIS, deemed a sentient being, is accused of causing a temporal accident by attempting to materialise in the same place as another time machine. With the Doctor forced to defend his ship in court, Chris and Roz are dragged into the inquiry as witnesses and their working relationship is nicely contrasted with the investigating officers.
The story plays with a fascinating concept as Thrantas is a society whose legal system holds no notions of guilt or innocence: punishment is meted out after considering the overall detriment to society, thanks to foresight offered by their temporal technology. There is a twist though as, despite their time technology, Thrantas is far from advanced in terms of space travel – meaning lengthy journeys in stasis are followed by time hops on the spot. It is clever, if complex, idea to wrap your head around and fortunately one which befuddles the companions too.
Among a strong guest cast, Mina Anwar impresses as Forsetti, a court reporter who befriends the Doctor and John Heffernan plays Honos, who brings the case for the prosecution.
With seemingly more straightforward concepts at play, writer Steve Jordan brings us to Vanguard – a planet where giant robotic Keepers continue to battle long after the civilisation that created them have been all but wiped out.
While the Doctor is infected by deadly bacteria and battles for survival, Chris and Roz are separated and find themselves on opposing sides of the conflict; Roz offering her expertise to the Keepers on one side while Chris finds himself in the care of The Contessa who wields the power of life and death, but is mainly interested in escaping the planet.
The Jabari Countdown
The third tale, from writer Alan Flanagan, brings the TARDIS down to Earth and into an intriguing puzzle box of a tale.
With a group of mathematical experts summoned to a remote location during wartime, there is a murder mystery to be solved when they discover a dead fisherman’s body on arrival. And what do all the numbers mean?
With another strong guest cast at work, and in addition to the entertaining mystery at hand, the story brings us the story of a transgender character and looks at changing attitudes then and now – a worthwhile subject to address and handled with sensitivity.
The Dread Of Night
Finally, writer Tim Foley (who has several excellent Torchwood audio dramas to his name) provides a second Earth based adventure as the TARDIS arrives in Northumberland at the turn of the 19th Century for a haunted house story.
With strange noises in the house and something in the air, the trio find a troubled, sick girl in the care of her pushy nurse, while her older sister Isabel has been forced to become the lady of the house following the death of their Mother.
While Chris and Roz tackle the mystery straight on, the Doctor takes another approach and we are treated to some brilliantly terrifying moments, with Joe Meiners’ sound design providing all the requisite jumps and scares.
Naturally, there is a strong northern presence in the guest cast with Melanie Kilburn impressing as the forthright Nurse Hooley, plus Rhian Blundell and Elaine Fellows as daughters of the house, Isabel and Annabel.
It is great to have another era for Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, but there is no need for any familiarity with Chris and Roz, the characters have jumped off the page and both Travis Oliver and Yasmin Bannerman seem utterly at home in their roles.
While the audios have made ample use of Ace over the years, and more recently Mel, these stories seem a little more mature with this capable duo of companions pushing the Seventh Doctor in a slightly different direction. Producer/Director Scott Handcock clearly has a handle on what he wants this iteration of Doctor Who to be, and there seems to be an effort to bring in fresh writers and new voices, which is to be applauded.
This is an era we hope Big Finish can return to as there is clearly plenty of potential for more. We must also highlight the orchestral version of the Doctor Who theme used here, it is epic!