Big Finish released Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures Volume 04 in March 2020. Like previous volumes (such as volume 03) it’s two stories over four discs, mimicking the original four short episode stories we often had in the 1960s and 1970s. This range brings us a reimagined and entirely recast TARDIS team. The Doctor and Susan (David Bradley and Claudia Grant) take centre stage (and prime listing on the cover) with Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton (Jemma Powell and Jamie Glover) also onboard. These First Doctor Adventures may be a new look at a familiar era, but this set starts in very familiar territory.
Andrew Smith guides us through “Return to Skaro”. The Doctor attempts a return to Earth but takes the TARDIS to Skaro, some years after they were last there. Now heroes of legend, their arrival sparks celebration and intrigue. The Thals thrive, the Daleks are no more but just what secrets science are the Thals using?
Andrew’s story is a pattern that would become familiar in future years but at this time is new. We have a scientist with too much freedom, exploration of the Dalek city and, as we expect, Daleks themselves.
The Doctor and Susan are very much at the centre but it’s good to have Barbara and Ian there to give their comparisons to the original Daleks story.
A dark day in Ekaterinburg
Jonathan Barnes takes on a difficult subject in “Last of the Romanovs”. Hemmed in by history, all the TARDIS team can do is watch as last hours of the last Tsar of Russia approach. There’s some good realisation of a very volatile time in Russian history and no glossing over tragedy. The story is, however, over-contrived to give the Doctor time to bemoan his inability to interfere in events and question his approach. All interesting for the future, but we are left with a story where the heroes (apart from perhaps Susan) have little agency. Jonathan writes well but the overall concept doesn’t quite work. The plot is very grim and the story will leave listeners in need of cheer.
At this point we don’t quite know where this team is heading. It’s a different cast, a new take, yet this set is a mix of traditional and the grim. The Doctor is very reflective (and talkative); Barbara and Ian more in the background; and Susan at times much more than the granddaughter there to be told what to do. Susan’s character in particular is inconsistent and we expect all to be clearer in the next pair of stories, due for release in April 2021. It’s not a bad set, just not as immediate as others.
The stories come with the usual backstage interviews. The First Doctor Adventures Volume 04 is available now from Big Finish.