Big Finish’s series of audio plays featuring the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth Doctor Whos have been a roaring success. Unfortunately they cannot do the same for the first four Doctors, with the actors who played 1-3 having shuffled off this mortal coil and #4, the glorious Tom Baker, being famously unwilling to reprise the role. So what they have done is to get four actors who played companions of the first four doctors tell the story of a “missing adventure”, with one guest star in each case providing the voice of the chief villain. It’s a grand idea, and I liked all of these, though each had small problems which one can overlook.
Frostfire is the best of the four. Marc Platt is the author: he lands the Doctor, Vicki and Steven in the frozen London of 1814, where they team up with Jane Austen – Jane Austen – to defeat a nefarious force that threatens to suck the energy out from the whole of London, and maybe the world. Platt and through him Maureen O’Brien (playing Vicki for the first time in over forty years!) between them catch the First Doctor’s voice perfectly, though poor Steven doesn’t get much to do. It’s nice to have a framing narrative of Vicki – now Cressida – reminiscing about the events of years before, for her subjective time line, or three thousand years in the future, by Earth time, and it turns out to have more relevance to events than anticipated. There is a typical Marc Platt paradox by way of plot resolution, and you have to swallow the concept of Jane Austen as woman of action, but it is tremendously enjoyable.
Fear of the Daleks has Wendy Padbury reprising her role as Zoe, telling her therapist about these weird dreams of Daleks and the Doctor she has been having. There is a real poignancy in Zoe having had her mind wiped by the Time Lords at the end of The War Games, and so forgetting all of her adventures with the Doctor; and the framing narrative takes that and uses it rather well. Unfortunately I think Peter Anghelides already did it better, and the narrative which is actually framed is a confused one of half-fish-shaped scientists and Daleks, with Nicholas Briggs as ever giving it his all, but it didn’t quite hang together for me. Good for Wendy Padbury who does a fantastic performance with less than fantastic material, and there is a real poignancy in her line about being young again.
The Blue Tooth: I started off loving this purely on the grounds of Cambridge nostalgia, as Liz Shaw returns to her alma mater to sort out certain strange goings on (promising, in the framing narrative, to explain why she left UNIT). Certainly the portrayal of the University Dental Service on Trumpington Street as a place of horror, pain and fear was still perfectly accurate from my time there, twenty years after Liz Shaw. I also liked the continuity of the Cybermen being a legacy of the failed Invasion. But I went off it in the end: Liz, one of the really brainy Doctor Who companions, ends up being all fainting and unconscious and having to be rescued, and Caroline John does not really succeed in doing the voices of the Third Doctor and the Brigadier especially well. This was in the end my least favourite of the four, though perhaps a non-Cantabrian listener will have fewer dashed expectations than I did.
The Beautiful People is set mainly in a health club, which will definitely appeal to those like me who often listen to Doctor Who while on the exercise machines in the gym. It’s a rather slight plot, not awfully dissimilar from The Leisure Hive (of the same era). Lalla Ward does a great job of it, though. My biggest gripe has nothing to do with either writing or acting: it is that the four episodes are very uneven in length – 25 minutes, then 18, then 12 and 12 again, with a couple more moments that sounded like they might have been potential episode endings in the middle. That’s just poor pacing, and leaves the listener (or at least this listener) thrown off balance.
But anyway, in all cases the fun outweighs the annoyances, and they are all worth adding to your library.