Big Finish has a first-class reputation as a purveyor of high-quality audio drama, recreating classic shows and in the case of Doctor Who finding new opportunities for actors to return to roles fans love. The need to match the feel and sound of the originals has meant very little recasting over the years, and only where it allows for more stories to be told with those who remain. Consider then The First Doctor Adventures Volume 1, a four-disc boxset whose premise is recreating the original crew of the TARDIS with a group of actors chosen originally for their visual resemblance to the cast in a documentary. It might not seem the most obvious of ideas, but this is Big Finish and it works superbly.
Of course, since coming up with this idea, the first Doctor has now been played by David Bradley on TV in the recent Christmas special, but the rest of the cast from An Adventure in Space and Time join him, with Claudia Grant playing Susan, Jamie Glover as Ian Chesterton and Jemma Powell as Barbara Wright (she has already reprised the role for Big Finish). The mission for the boxset is simple: go back to the show’s earliest form, tell great stories to fit and return once again to the original magic.
The first story is Matt Fitton’s The Destination Wars, and with its Forbidden Planet reminiscent sound track, Matt not only presents this crew with a utopia to explore, but also brings an original incarnation of The Master into play, with James Dreyfus taking the role. Of course, in the original TV show the Master didn’t appear for two incarnations, but this bold step really sets the intent for this set; unafraid to make bold statements and keen to entertain. The story has elements of time travel and also gives all the crew something to do whilst giving us a sense of the Master in his early days. It’s an evocative setting and a poignant tale.
The second story is Guy Adams’s pure historical The Great White Hurricane. While it does use the familiar detail of Barbara the historian happening to know what’s going on, this is really a great tale about gang warfare in nineteenth century New York, and the weather acts to separate characters enough to give them all strong story lines. It’s hard to pick a favourite thread, with all the crew on top form in this tightly-scripted story.
The recasting of the TARDIS crew does take some time to get used to, and while the extras make is clear they are (certainly in the case of Jamie Glover’s Ian Chesterton) informed by the original interpretations of the 1963 cast, they are not shackled by this, and if Susan seems younger than we remember, none of them are just on the TARDIS for the ride and we can only wait impatiently for the next release in July.