Where did the time go? It seems amazing, even impossible, to contemplate but even excluding the Companion Chronicles, the four series of Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller adventures, the Dalek Empire and Gallifrey spin-offs, this is the 150th monthly release from Big Finish as part of their Doctor Who main range. It comprises four short half hour stories starring the team of Colin Baker (The Doctor) and Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown). As is almost inescapably the nature of these things, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, especially as this is a showcase for some new writing talent.
1. Recorded Time by Catherine Harvey
Paul Shearer (Henry VIII), Laura Molyneux (Anne Boleyn), Philip Bretherton (Scrivener), Rosanna Miles (Marjorie)
The TARDIS travellers find themselves at the court of Henry VIII, where the tragic Anne Boleyn will soon be discarded by her King in favour of the lovely Perpugilliam Brown. Or so it is written…
This story gets this celebratory release off to a rather low-key start with a mild historical with a fairly linear tale involving a scrivener who creates the future when he writes it down, a ‘magical’ talent that gets abused by a young and ambitious King Henry VIII, played with just the right mixture of panache and arrogance by Paul Shearer. Solid reality being created out of a fiction proves to be the main theme of the stories in this anthology and here it gets its most prosaic outing though there is much fun to be had with the Doctor being mistaken, thanks to his garish multicoloured attire, for the court jester (“Do you know any good bottom jokes?” asks the King …). With a little help from a fiery Anne Boleyn history is re-set on its proper course for a very traditional tale.
2. Paradoxicide by Richard Dinnick
Raquel Cassidy (Inquisa), Joan Walker (Centuria/Ship), James George (Barond), Laura Molyneux, Rosanna Miles (Volsci)
On the legendary lost planet of Sendos, the Doctor and Peri find themselves caught up in the hunt for the cache of galaxy-busting super-weapons stored inside its fabled Armoury.
Things perk up considerably in this time whimey story, with what must rate as one of the best Big Finish titles of the decade. It’s a thoroughly convoluted and highly entertaining bit of hard SF in which a message from Perri found through the Vortex leads her and the Doctor to a planet with a legendary secret sought after by a race of Amazonian female warriors. That the secret turns out to be a bit like the Pandorica on TV doesn’t hurt too much though as this story has plenty of pace and twists and in fact has trouble packing them all in to its restricted running time. Great fun though, with some woeful puns from the Doctor to boot … The least said about the story the better for the sake of enjoyment, though it is a smart entertainment that once again looks at how myths and legends are created and can take on their own lives, even when based on a false premise.
3. A Most Excellent Match by Matt Fitton
Rosanna Miles (Tilly), Philip Bretherton (Darcy/D’Urberville/Heathcliff), Paul Shearer (Cranton)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single girl in possession of a mind of her own must be in want of a husband. But which of Miss Peri Brown’s rival suitors will be the one to win her hand: handsome Mr Darcy, or the mysterious Doctor?
This pastiche of the Jane Austen / Thomas Hardy / Bronte sisters school of Regency / Victorian/ Edwardian heritage literature so beloved of BBC Sunday serials gets a nice makeover here as we find Perri and the Doctor lost in a land of fiction. There are echoes of the classic Troughton-era serial The Mind Robber but also of Life on Mars, Lost in Austen and especially Westworld (by way of Total Recall and Inception) as our heroes find a holiday resort for those (mainly women) who wish to live their own costume adventure – which goes wrong when the programming proves to have a bit of a bug in it. The sixth Doctor had a perhaps too similar adventure to this when accompanied by Charlie Pollard in The Doomwood Curse back in 2008 which is a bit of a shame, and the ending is also a bit weak too. So, nice premise, but definitely a bit overly familiar.
4, Question Marks by Philip Lawrence
Raquel Cassidy (Destiny Gray), James George (Greg Stone), Joe Jameson (Arnie McAllister)
Five survivors of an unknown catastrophe wake to find themselves caught in an inescapable trap. But can the oddly-dressed man in the question-marked collar work out what’s really going on before time runs out – for good?
This brings this release to its close with a claustrophobic and exciting story in which the remnants of a crew and Perri and the Doctor wake up inside a ship of some sort with no memory of how they got there. This plays in the fashion of a classic Twilight Zone episode as the situation quickly gets engulfed in jeopardy as the various survivors of some sort of disaster try to figure out what has happened and a method to get out of it. The resolution is a good one and one that makes particularly good use of the short story format.
I have enjoyed many of the Big Finish excursions into anthology, and would rank the second and fourth of these stories quite highly, while the other two perhaps are a bit too conventional and formulaic to be truly satisfying. And A Most Excellent Match unfortunately also has another one of those Big Finish monsters that growls into the mic to border on the edge of unintelligibility. Compared with the McCoy 45 release or the Peter Davison Demons of Red Lodge, I would say this one comes below both of these and is certainly not a patch on the excellent Circular Time.
As a celebratory release it is highly amusing but perhaps it might have been more opportune to swap it for the altogether superior The Four Doctors by Peter Anghelides which was released as a subscriber-only special last Christmas and which featured all four of the main actors in the audio range.