The Five Doctors
Episode / March 24, 2017

Aired 23 November 1983 ‘The Five Doctors’ represents the culmination of twenty years of Doctor Who, a feature-length special that does its best to bring the five distinct eras of the franchise together with a cavalcade of guest appearances by friends and foes alike. From the outset, it’s clear that writer Terrance Dicks is not striving to offer a meaningful story that explores the depth of the Doctor as a character or that fundamentally changes the core nature of Doctor Who, but ‘The Five Doctors’ is an unequivocal success when taken simply as a nostalgic celebration that focuses more on spectacle than on story. It’s interesting to note just how much attention is drawn to the questions regarding continuity that allow this adventure to take place, especially as continuity seemed to be pervading the programme more and more at the time. Part of this, naturally, is down to Tom Baker choosing not to reprise his role for the special after so recently departing. While the inclusion of scenes from the unfinished ‘Shada’ do at least allow a cameo of sorts for both Baker and Lalla Ward, it means that some of the resulting pairings of Doctors and companions are a…

The Secret History
Audio / December 31, 2016

Released June 2015 The Doctor, Steven, and Vicki land in the Italian city of Ravenna in the year 540 as the Byzantine General Belisarius continues to lead his army’s march. With Steven quickly ending up on a boat bound for Constantinople, the Doctor must mount a rescue operation while finally discovering who is sabotaging his personal timeline and putting both his life and the history of Earth at risk as the Fifth Doctor is sent into his First incarnation’s time. As opposed to the previous two stories in this Locum Doctor trilogy, the Fifth Doctor is quite easily able to convince Steven and Vicki that he is a younger version of their Doctor, his amiability and honesty in response to his former companions’ intellectual and sensible questions serving him well. Astoundingly, Peter Purves and Maureen O’Brien still sound exactly as they did during the Hartnell years, lending an incredible air of realism to the core concept behind this story, and the script marvellously captures Vicki’s mischievous nature as the ideals from her time come crashing down in a past full of such uncertainty as well as Steven’s adventurous and physical prowess as he comes to terms with the potential of…

The Sontarans
Audio / December 21, 2016

Released December 2016 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW The Sontarans are, of course, one of the most well-known enemies in the Doctor Who universe, a clone race focused on the glory and honour of warfare and caught in an ages-old battle with the shape-shifting Rutan host. Even allowing for the Second Doctor’s wiped memories following his interactions with the Sixth Doctor in ‘The Two Doctors,’ the Third Doctor seems keenly aware of the Sontarans when he first comes upon them on television in ‘The Time Warrior,’ intimating that they have crossed paths at an earlier time. With the advent of The Early Adventures, writer Simon Guerrier has crafted a stupendous first encounter between the First Doctor and the early sons of Sontar, one in which the futuristic companions of Steven Taylor and Sara Kingdom are one step ahead of the Doctor with their knowledge of the tales of and deeds of their foes. ‘The Sontarans’ manages to achieve an incredible amount in its four episodes as the Doctor comes to understand these new enemies and their unique mindset, strengths, and glaring weakness. What starts off quite simply as a tale of a battle between human Space Security Service soldiers and a group…

The Ravelli Conspiracy
Audio / November 22, 2016

Released November 2016 While the televised Doctor Who has long since shied away from the true historical genre, opting to include otherworldly beings or technological anachronisms in its jaunts to the past, Big Finish has generously kept the genre alive and well, proving time and time again that solid drama in any medium has the potential to be just as engaging as the flashiest of special effects. The Early Adventures gives Big Finish the opportunity to more thoroughly explore Earth’s past with the original TARIDS teams that most frequently did so, and ‘The Ravelli Conspiracy’ bravely follows the First Doctor, Vicki, and Steven into the ever-increasing conspiracies of 1514 Florence with astounding results. Dennis Spooner left his role of script editor in early 1965 and is responsible for fully introducing Steven in ‘The Time Meddler,’ his final solo script. However, despite the chronological placement of ‘The Ravelli Conspiracy,’ writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky have managed to channel the distinctive voice of Spooner in this comedic drama that quickly sees Steven and Vicki captured and Niccolo Machiavelli trying to re-establish himself in the House of Medici, the script emphasizing Machiavelli’s lofty reputation while not discounting the fact that his theories…

The Three Doctors
Episode / November 8, 2016

Aired 30 December 1972 – 20 January 1973 The first serial of Doctor Who’s tenth series does something the franchise has never attempted before, namely bringing together all three televised versions of the titular Time Lord for one adventure. Also the story which sees the Third Doctor’s exile on Earth end, ‘The Three Doctors’ is an incredibly important part of Doctor Who mythology that both redefines the character of the Doctor and once more reinvigorates the sense of freedom for his travels and adventures that was so important in the first two Doctors’ eras. Strangely, or perhaps purposefully, ‘The Three Doctors’ does nothing to act like a tenth anniversary special. The serial still airs in four weekly installments and little pomp is given to the arrival of the First and Second Doctors, the story only momentarily pausing to explain their identities and reasons for their presence. Even if the story does somewhat feel like the anniversary elements were inserted into a more standard episode at a later time, there’s no denying the joy that arises from seeing both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton reprise their roles. The entire concept of regeneration and what it actually means to the Doctor was…

The Fifth Traveller
Audio / October 16, 2016

Released October 2016 The Early Adventures continues with Philip Lawrence’s ‘The Fifth Traveller,’ revisiting the era of the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara Vicki, and Jospa. Jospa, of course, is the orphan from the slums of Earth’s future that pickpocketed the Doctor and then joined the TARDIS team, forming a powerful sibling-like camaraderie with Vicki along the way. Only, the audience knows that none of that happened, and the mystery of how this man came to insert himself into established continuity forms the driving force of this intriguing release. The early years of Doctor Who is famous for occasionally allowing ambition to trump what could realistically be achieved on a minimal budget, and ‘The Fifth Traveller’ certainly channels that sense of ambition with its scope. After Jospa discovers an organic jellyfish-like creature that should allow the Doctor to finally control the TARDIS with much greater precision upon the planet of Vavidic, the story proper takes place in the jungles of Arunde. This vegetative world and its golden primates’ culture and structured society are both fleshed out and described wonderfully, the incidental music and sound design helping with the former and telepathic communications of the latter adding incredible depth to these creations.…

The Age of Endurance
Audio / September 20, 2016

Released September 2016 The Early Adventures has been a revelation for Big Finish, affording the eras of the First and Second Doctors a chance to flourish, crafting new full-cast adventures while staying true to the tone and very essence of those times. ‘The Age of Endurance’ marks the beginning of the third series and sees the original TARDIS crew of the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara land aboard a seemingly empty spaceship that soon leads them to the very heart of an impossibly old war. Without question, one of the biggest talking points of ‘The Age of Endurance’ will be the recasting of Barbara Wright. While there is a natural trepidation whenever a beloved character must be recast due to the unfortunate passing of the original actor or actress, Big Finish has certainly proven adept at doing so while paying homage and due respect to the original performances with the previous decisions to cast Tim Treloar as the Third Doctor and Elliot Chapman as Ben Jackson. Following her wonderful turn as Jacqueline Hill in the fiftieth anniversary special An Adventure in Time and Space, Jemma Powell is a perfect decision to take on the role of Barbara in The Early…

The Smugglers
Episode / September 19, 2016

Aired 10 September – 1 October 1966 ‘The Smugglers’ opens the fourth series of Doctor Who with the final historical story of William Hartnell’s tenure as the Doctor. To this point, the historical tales have fallen into two distinct camps, those such as ‘The Aztecs’ and ‘The Massacre’ that are quite staunch and serious and those such as ‘The Romans’ and ‘The Myth Makers’ that veered distinctly into comedic territory. However, ‘The Smugglers’ merges these two subsets to incorporate a sense of capricious whimsy into its otherwise solemn and quite brutal storyline, a rather successful approach for the Doctor’s first televised adventure with pirates. Whereas the preceding serial ‘The War Machines’ perhaps highlighted some of Hartnell’s increasing health-related frailties, here he is unequivocally at his best and central to the action throughout. Even as he constantly receives more threats to his life, he always carries himself with dignity, unafraid to use to his mind to find an escape. Though his escape from The Black Albatross and some of his other strategies are perhaps not the most inventive and often prey upon the ego and shortcomings of his foes, they nonetheless showcase a confident Doctor has begun to develop more manipulative…

The War Machines
Episode / September 17, 2016

Aired 25 June – 16 July 1966 For the first time since ‘An Unearthly Child’ three years earlier, the Doctor finally returns to present-day Earth, closing out the third season with ‘The War Machines’ which sees yet another companion departure and experiments with a new story style that would become a hallmark of later eras. Instead of enjoying the familiar backdrop, however, the Doctor and Dodo quickly become entwined in a global threat as they uncover the dark secret behind WOTAN within the Post Office Tower. WOTAN, the Will Operating Thought Analogue, is the most advanced computer of the time, able to think for itself and even verbalize its opinions and judgments. Going beyond its programming, though, WOTAN has somehow gained sentience and hypnotic powers, determining that humans are inferior and must become obedient to machine will. At the original time of broadcast when computers were much less commonplace, this was a tremendously and disturbingly topical and novel storyline that played upon the public fear of increasing human dependence on machines very well as WOTAN created an army of human and machine slaves alike. ‘The War Machines’ does unfortunately highlight the decreasing health and capabilities of William Hartnell in the…

The Savages
Episode / September 15, 2016

Aired 28 May – 18 June 1966 ‘The Savages’ is possibly the most unknown and unheralded of Doctor Who’s third season, yet another story that only exists in audio format. With a strong display of morality interlaced with rather satisfying action and drama, though, as well as the departure of another TARDIS stalwart, ‘The Savages’ certainly presents a rewarding experiences for those seeking out what remains of it. As the Doctor and Steven continue their sort of tussle for dominance that mirrors their first story together nicely, the story presents a very novel and refreshing concept by having the Doctor be expected where he lands. The Elders of this unnamed planet, an extremely advanced race that the Doctor knew existed somewhere in this area of space, recognize the Doctor as the greatest expert on time and space. However, the Elders are not quite the benign people that they seem, sucking the very souls or life force out of individuals to achieve their means. While Jano tries to explain that they get the best aspect of those that they choose to represent their society, the Doctor sees through this charade and even stops Captain Edal from abusing one of the planet’s…