The latest four-disc boxset for the recast Big Finish first Doctor team provides two stories for our enjoyment: one a pure historical, the other a rather different beast altogether.
The first story is Marc Platt’s The Phoenicians, a sumptuous tale of royalty, history, legend and desperate measures. David Bradley’s Doctor has all the style, charm and eccentricity of the Hartnell portrayal but in different measure, equally compelling but now finding its own rhythm. Jamie Glover’s Ian Chesterton is very much an action hero, with compassion and determination and gains the admiration of Princess Elissa of Tyre (Ajjaz Awad) much to Barbara’s chagrin. The unspoken love between Ian and Barbara (Jemma Powell) is very much to the fore in this story as the TARDIS team seeks to avoid the machinations of King Pygmalion (Jo Ben Ayed) and survive in an environment where there are no real allies, and assassins seem to lurk at every turn.
Away from romance, Barbara’s traditional role of historian is usurped by Susan (Claudia Grant) who pops into the TARDIS to brush up on classical Earth history and while useful it’s almost a device too far – why wouldn’t every historical be treated this way? Fortunately historical sources have their own lack of clarity and if the story verges towards too much of a history lesson, the superb cast, Ken Bentley’s direction plus the sound and music of Joe Meiners adds to the vibrancy of the whole. Add to this the quirky Aiyaruc played by Orion Ben and you come away wishing all historical tales were this well told.
The second adventure is Tick-Tock World by Guy Adams. The TARDIS has yet another accident and deposits the crew on a planet just beyond space and time. They encounter stragglers in the ruins and ghosts, plus a mysterious woman who has her own agenda. The woman is played by original Susan actor Carole Ann Ford, adding a extra sense of mystery as they try to make sense of the planet, understand the characters they meet and avoid certain death.
The story meanders slightly and the extra characters appear somewhat nugatory at times as the heart of this story is the relationship between Susan, her grandfather and the mysterious woman. Even Ian and Barbara are less impactful than normal. There’s a level on everything else is window dressing and close examination draws the conclusion the entire set is about moving this version of Susan from child to adult, something it does very well.
If the middle of Tick-Tock World wanders, the ending is powerful, and the final part is entirely wonderful.
Overall it’s a good pair to stories and bodes well for the quality of future releases.