Released March 2005
March 2005 will forever be remembered as the month that the new Doctor Who series launched, and it’s fitting that the Big Finish audio adventure this month features the Seventh Doctor, he who gave viewers their last image of the Doctor as the classic programme ended its run in 1989. The Seventh Doctor hasn’t necessarily enjoyed the same level of success as the other three Doctors Big Finish employs, due at times to rather pedestrian scripts and at others when writers just don’t seem quite sure how to capture his persona and dynamic perfectly. Accordingly, the decision was made in Sylvester McCoy’s lone audio outing from 2004, ‘The Harvest,’ to add a new companion alongside Ace, a companion who came in the form of Thomas ‘Hex’ Schofield and who made a very strong first impression. Simon A Forward is tasked with furthering Hex’s character, doing so with a follow-up to ‘The Sandman.’
‘Dreamtime’ borrows heavily from Aboriginal mythology, the story itself taking place a sort of obscure and imprecise realm in which nothing can be taken at face value. The script does a superb job in creating a sense of mystery with an opening scene that offers little in the way of explanation. Soon after, the TARDIS crewmembers find themselves in a deserted city on an asteroid. The story wisely keeps the three together to help reinforce just where these characters are in their relationships now, and it’s quite satisfying to see Ace enjoying Hex’s transition period.
The desire to determine what happened eventually causes the Doctor to enter the Dreaming and undertake a rather spiritual adventure. While this is happening, Ace and Hex have to handle the Dream Commandos, beings confront those that arise from the Dreaming, and members of the Galyari species who are attempting to discover what technology keeps the asteroid’s atmosphere functional and viable. The inclusion of the Galyari helps to interconnect some of the Big Finish stories and universe, but ultimately their presence is rather superfluous despite Steffan Rhodri’s strong performance in the returning role of Commander Korshal.
While the Seventh’s Doctor’s perspective of his former incarnation’s role in the mythology of the Galyari is unfortunately ignored, the remainder of the proper plot- and especially its tone- is a definite highlight of this release. Not relying on conventional script contrivances and formulas, not even having a true villain, ‘Dreamtime’ will certainly not be to everyone’s liking. However, the extraterrestrial-like nature of the Aboriginal foundations and the continued sense of ambiguity certainly help to distinguish this release as something very unique in the increasingly large Big Finish catalogue.
The script caters to the regulars well, Sylvester McCoy particularly effective as he begs for compassion and realises what caused the devastation of the asteroid city. Ace doesn’t have as much to do in this story, a significant portion of the companions’ perspective rightly belonging to Hex as he integrates himself further into the team, but Sophie Aldred again does very well in portraying the slightly more mature version of her character from ‘The Harvest.’ Philip Olivier is again very strong as Hex, and the script does well to show how resourceful he can be as he tries to cope with such a fantastic experience where he is clearly in over his head.
The supporting cast is generally strong as well, special credit going to John Scholes’s Baiame, the All-Father who charmingly persuades people to come to Uluru. The entire presentation of the audio is superb, maintaining a dreamlike surrealism throughout. The turmoil in the background of the Dreaming is particularly remarkable. It’s an innovative take that veers wildly from the typical Doctor Who release, and Forward and Big Finish should be applauded for daring to take a risk with- while also staying true to- the characters and format.