Released November 2008
‘Forty-Five’ celebrates Doctor Who‘s forty-fifth anniversary with the Seventh Doctor alongside Ace and Hex, following the anthology format of ‘100’ and ‘Circular Time’ with four individual one-part stories linked only by the number forty-five.
Mark Morris’s ‘False Gods’ begins the collection, finding the TARDIS team meet up with archaeologist Howard Carter while searching for the lost tomb of Userhat and attempting to undo the damage done by a student. Unfortunately, because of the short nature of the story, none of the characters get fully developed; Benedict Cumberbatch is suitably strong as Carter but nothing proves to be incredibly vital to the plot and Lucy Adams does her best in the limited time to earn sympathy as the unsympathetic Jane Templeton who is not all that she seems. While Sylvester McCoy offers a fascinating and rather more volatile and vulnerable take on his Doctor than usual, Philip Olivier and Sophie Aldred are unfortunately put more in the background for proceedings. ‘False Gods’ ma not be the strongest story, but the twist in the middle keeps its momentum going and the conclusion wraps everything up nicely.
Nick Scovell’s ‘Order of Simplicity’ forms the second part, another story which features an interesting concept of which the short running time simply doesn’t allow full exploration. Using the Doctor’s inability to step away from the prospect of an unsolved puzzle as the bait in a trap for him is exceedingly clever, but the villain’s motivations are never concisely explained even with the entirety of the universe at stake. McCoy again gets to play a bit against his norm, bringing out an absent-minded persona which works quite well, and Ace and Hex are thankfully much more present in this story, the trio sharing some wonderful scenes together. Their performances keep events somewhat grounded against Jon Glover’s Dr Verryman and Lucy Adams’s Mrs Crisp who both threaten at times to veer into pantomime territory; still, both guest characters somehow remain engaging throughout, and the overall tension and claustrophobia of the story works very well.
Mark Michalowski brings back the Forge and its mission to study alien technology on Earth in ‘Casualties of War.’ This is an intriguing enough premise, but the discovery that the technology in question has been stolen by a gangster who lives with Ace’s grandmother’s neighbour who is babysitting Ace’s three-year-old mother adds a superb extra layer to events. This story ends up having the most straightforward plot of the bunch, but the engaging interactions between the characters, all of whom are on absolutely top form, adds an incredible amount of extra depth. Ace’s conflicted feelings towards her mother once again surface, and the Doctor again tries shelter Hex from the fact that his mother died because of the Forge. Beth Chalmers gives a riveting performance as the calculating Forge agent Miss Merchant, and both Paul Reynolds and Linda Marlowe round out the guest cast suitably well. This is a character-driven piece well worth the investment despite the rather mixed response the Forge has garnered among listeners.
Steven Hall’s ‘The Word Lord’ finishes up this set, and it is easily the strongest entry, introducing a new and genuinely intriguing villain in the titular Word Lord, Nobody No-one. Set in an Antarctic base during a peace treaty, the story unsurprisingly sees the Doctor and his companions come under suspicion when one of the delegates is murdered. Fortunately Claire Spencer, the base’s commander, knows of the Doctor and enlists his help to solve the mystery at hand before the peace negotiations fail. Linda Marlowe is instantly engaging as the commander, and her vital role in the story’s resolution is earned and surprisingly rewarding. At the same time, Paul Reynolds is fantastic as thought-provoking, self-assured villain, certainly earning himself a return appearance in the future. Given the programme’s longevity, it’s rare that a new villain can be so intrinsically different from everything else that has come before it, but the Word Lord and all that he entails is a mesmerizing creation that opens up an entirely new realm of stories going forward.
Anniversary releases are always difficult due to the hype and expectations surrounding them; given the rather negative response to overbearing ‘Zagreus’ for the fortieth, taking an anthology approach is a much more subdued and tempered approach. There is, of course, a variance in tones between the four stories which is to be expected given the different authors employed, but this goes to show how much variability and life still remain in the franchise even after forty-five years.