Doctor Who: The Early Adventures, Season 1

Getting back to the Big Finish plays I have bought but not written up, here are four First Doctor stories featuring the surviving original companion actors, released back in 2014. All but one of these is directed by Ken Bentley.

Domain of the Voord, by Andrew Smith

I think the only previous attempt to bring back the Voord (from The Keys of Marinus) was a story in the 1966 Doctor Who Annual. (Apparently they have returned again since 2014, in both comics and audio; and there are references to them being pitted against Irish Wildthyme in the Death Zone on Gallifrey.) Here Andrew Smith has provided them with a rather good and interesting background and origin story, which goes some way to explaining their need to invade. There’s a great soundscape depicting the unlucky planet that is the subject of their intentions, and William Russell and Carole Ann Ford give Ian and Susan the full welly (and also sub for Hartnell and Hill). However I found the plot in the end a bit creaky – in particular, the absence and then the return of the Doctor and Barbara was a bit handwavy. Fan opinion seems sharply divided on this one: I thought it was decent but not excellent.

The Doctor's Tale, by Marc Platt

Now it’s William Russell and Maureen O’Brien, in a pure historical story of the Crusaders type, visiting the little-known interregnum between the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV in 1400. Alice Haig is very endearing as Richard’s very young queen, Isabella, and Gareth Armstrong gets to be Chaucer. But I felt the script came down too heavy on the religion and politics of the day, basically endorsing the Lollards as the good guys and the Church (embodied by John Banks as Bishop Arundel) as the baddies. In my home town, kids still get beaten up for being perceived to be on the wrong side of that argument.

The Bounty of Ceres, by Ian Potter (directed by Lisa Bowerman)

Apparently the first time Peter Purves and Maureen O’Sullivan have worked together since they were on TV! I rather liked this base-under-siege story, with what appears to be a clumsy removal of the Doctor from the story actually turning out to work rather well in plot terms. There’s some fun continuity in that the story is set in our future but in the past for both Steven and Vicki. Julia Hills puts in a good commander, Richard Hope is an intriguingly demented Scottish scientist, and the soundscape again is well done.

An Ordinary Life, by Matt Fitton

This was my favourite of the four. Peter Purves and Jean Marsh reprise Steven and Sara, maroon in London in the 1950s (distant past for both) where they are taken in by a family of recently arrived Jamaican immigrants (played by Ram John Holder, Sara Powell and Damian Lynch). But they are not the only recent arrivals to worry about, and the bleak and constrained docklands become the place of conflict among humans and between humans and something else. Holder’s total confidence is particularly engaging.

So, in general thumbs up, with reservations about the politics of the second of these.