The Churchill Years Volume Two

Posted in Audio by - March 09, 2018
The Churchill Years Volume Two

Released February 2018

Over two years after Ian McNeice gloriously brought his larger-than-life interpretation of Winston Churchill that was so instantly popular alongside Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor on screen into the audio medium, he now returns for four further adventures detailing more chance encounters of the famed prime minister at various points of his life with the enigmatic Time Lord in three of his many incarnations.

‘Young Winston’ by Paul Morris begins this second series with Churchill at age twenty-one as a brash and bold military man who encounters his first brush with death. Four years later in London when first contemplating an entry into the world of politics, he soon discovers that a seemingly innocuous memento from his fateful time abroad has become an object of intense focus, both by dangerous mercenaries from Cuba and by the mysterious Madame Vastra, the Great Detective of London who has taken on the case of a strangely familiar face from Churchill’s past. Both the setup and eventual search for and recovery of the stolen relic are quite straightforward in their execution, but they nonetheless dynamically weave the past and present together alongside the intertwining of two of the Doctor’s more intriguing pseudo companions with a brief appearance by the effervescent Eleventh Doctor himself before culminating in a harrowing realisation of naivety and loss and the personal growth that can result from each.

Rather than an intricate plot, ‘Young Winston’ instead focuses on its engaging lead characters to re-establish the world that Winston Churchill calls home and to firmly slot both Vastra and him into the same environment in which the likes of Big Finish’s own Sherlock Holmes and Jago & Litefoot also coexist. McNeice effortlessly steps back into the eponymous role with a commanding sense of forthrightness and fortitude as the narrator of his younger exploits, but the incorporation of Iain Batchelor as the young Churchill is equally enthralling as he perfectly captures the same cadence and tone as his open-minded character’s elder counterpart while allowing a second familiar perspective of events. And although this is not Neve McIntosh’s first appearance as a Silurian for Big Finish, that honour coming previously as Commander Kalana in UNIT: Assembled, this is the audio debut for her famed Vastra of the beloved Paternoster Gang, and the usual beguiling sense of intelligence and probing inquisitiveness transfers spectacularly as she and Winston form an immediate mutual understanding of and respect for each other even before their Gallifreyan colleague makes his presence known. The use of three narrators adds a tremendous sense of dynamism to the increasingly dangerous alien peril, and the emotional resolution tapping so deeply into the past creates a resounding conclusion that will undoubtedly remain a formative experience for young Winston to forever remember and take forward.

‘Human Conflict’ by Iain McLaughlin flashes forward to 1941 at the height of the Blitz as the German attacks begin focusing on cities outside of London as well. When shared Russian intelligence results in the possibility of obtaining superior weaponry capable of destroying even a mountain after a daring mission to discover Nazi weapons yields unexpected results, Churchill heads north to confront his past and try to broker a deal that could spell the end of the war once and for all. Bethan Walker gives a resonant performance as the initially unassuming Professor Bragnar who quickly is revealed to be an alien arms dealer hoping to escalate this great war into something altogether more devastating, and Bragnar’s lack of morality and multilayered dealmaking in which she hopes to attain twenty-five percent of Britain’s gold and jewels while fulfilling another contract in the process make for a fitting villain to anchor what ultimately becomes a grand morality tale.

The Ninth Doctor and his more brooding and angry approach to setting wrongs right are used magnificently in short bursts throughout ‘Human Conflict’ as he initially warns Churchill to ignore the desire to search for the supposed Nazi weapon and then admonishes him for disregarding him while reliving his own recent experiences in which he, too, chose to pursue and use the biggest weapon of them all. Fittingly, the very analytical Churchill tries to weigh up the cost of Bragnar’s deal up front against the potential cost of the war trudging on for years more, nicely complementing the eventual internal monologue about the bravery of those in war when a personal face is put to the enemy as the Nazis continue their pursuit of the weapon on British territory and adding a uniquely grounding mix of militaristic and personal ways of thinking for this well-rounded leader. With the Nazis surrounding the British at the site of the proposed weapons trade, the Doctor is able to inspire discussion instead of conflict, and Ken Bradshaw’s Colonel Fischer shares an immensely poignant series of scenes with McNeice’s Churchill as the two are at least temporarily able to put aside their differences for the common good, discussing the unfortunate need for war to defeat enemies and ensure one’s own protection while coming to realize that a continual escalation of weaponry is not necessarily the best approach.

At Alexandra Palace in 1942, strange television signals show a mistrustful Churchill urging on the resistance in German-occupied Britain in ‘I Was Churchill’s Double’ by Alan Barnes. When Churchill heads to Ditchley for governmental affairs, the same location that this alternate version has furtively fled to alongside the Ninth Doctor and prominent resistance member Louisa, a strange mirror that reveals certain peculiar differences in his reflection strangely results in his consciousness being transferred to his wanted fugitive counterpart. With the Doctor explaining that he is unable to find his TARDIS and had engineered a complicated plan to end up by Churchill’s side in what he knows to be an alternate reality where America stayed out of the war and Britain crumbled, he is impressed to learn that Churchill has a firm grasp on the notion of alternate timelines and is even more so as he learns that his own true Churchill has somehow made the journey to this world as well after using some friendly but less than flattering descriptors to describe him.

It’s clear from the start that the mirror is integral to the story, but revealing it to be a parasitic utopia mirror that shows an ideal world in the viewer’s mind that also served as the basis for the Sleeping Beauty magic mirror is a fantastic notion that is immediately familiar and unique at the same time. It’s also refreshing that the story doesn’t necessarily hide the fact that Louisa is working for the Nazis for any longer period than is necessary, and the basis for this alternate reality in which Imperial Germany is an ideal gives Churchill a personal connection even as his counterpart’s secret knowledge of atomic bomb plans is shown to be the ultimate reason for establishing this switch and getting that other version into the real world where the Nazis lose. Emily Woodward, Hywel Morgan, and Roberta Taylor give wonderful performances to flesh out the drama on both sides of the mirror, and though the pacing fluctuates and the characterisation of the Ninth Doctor is maybe a tinge too comedic at times, this is an intriguing, emotional, and dangerous look at two distinctly different versions of the same man who bring their respective ideals and knowledge to the new world around them for better or for worse.

Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky close out the second series with ‘Churchill Victorious’ on VE Day in 1945 with the war over. With the country beset by a celebratory fervour, Churchill goes incognito into the public to soak up the atmosphere and to look into a series of mysterious power cuts near Piccadilly. With his false whiskers and assumed identity and well-rehearsed backstory of bank manager William Churchyard intact, he fools absolutely nobody but himself. Indeed, there’s a great amount of comedy mined from the fact that Churchill clearly has no idea how to act inconspicuous as he brazenly spouts off overly-specific details about his bank manager’s past with just the slightest provocation, and McNeice plays these moments wonderfully straight to allow for maximum effect. Coming upon Sidney and Diane Wheeler who agree to help him in his search for the source of the power cuts in exchange for any help they hope the Prime Minister can give them with securing the release of their son who was wrongly accused of looting, the three make an intriguingly intrepid trio who soon come upon a mysterious backstreet tavern.

Given the nature of Doctor Who and its modern era in particular, it’s not surprising that an alien menace is the culprit at the heart of the story, but Khan and Salinsky bring to the forefront the fact that Churchill has more knowledge about extraterrestrial concepts than he should to allow some truly great banter between the bounty hunter Visguard and him in scenes in which both Nicholas Asbury and McNeice excel. The need for Visguard to derive more power for his dimension drive and the fact that he has a prisoner held captive in a neutron cage do not phase Churchill at all, and the forthrightness that he used to lead Britain through its darkest days shines through once more as he faces his greatest danger at the time of his greatest victory. With the Tenth Doctor at his most energetic and vivacious once released from his incarceration, Churchill and he lead a daring mission to stop Visguard in his tracks without enforcing the ultimate sanction Visguard warns will be needed to prevent the remorseless revenge that will one day ensue, a fitting testament to the morals of these two men who have been through so much turmoil independently and together both within and outside of war.

Big Finish and Ian McNeice do well to keep this version to William Churchill grounded and true enough to the sensibilities of the historical figure to maintain an air of verisimilitude to events no matter how preposterous they may become. With the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors along with Madame Vastra all making appearances at various points throughout Churchill’s life, it’s clear that this man is even more important to the history of Earth than the history books tell, and the door to many more intriguing stories gloriously remains wide open.

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