The End of the Beginning

Posted in Audio by - March 16, 2021
The End of the Beginning

Released March 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

And so, after more than twenty years of stories that have breathed new life and given exemplary exploration to the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctor eras, the once-titled Big Finish main range of adventures that more recently assumed the moniker of The Monthly Adventures draws to a close with ‘The End of the Beginning’ by Robert Valentine.

Fittingly and perhaps expectedly, ‘The End of the Beginning’ pays homage to the format of the very first Big Finish Doctor Who audio, ‘The Sirens of Time,’ by featuring one incarnation exclusively in each of the story’s first three parts before bringing them altogether for a momentous finale. Of course, that stylistic choice means that the first three stories all serve the same expository role via the collection of pieces of an ancient crystal to bring each of the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth incarnations to their respective meeting point, and the lack of answers in those parts as the mysteries begin completely afresh because of missing memories is notable even if understandable. Still, the writing and sound design do well to bring to life the Mesopotamian sands in ‘Death and Desert,’ the alien mining world in ‘Flight of the Blackstar,’ and the darker side of London in ‘Night Gallery’ to give a genuine sense of scope and scale to each of the loosely-linked instalments that culminate with a series of exciting climaxes and cliffhangers for the finale to resolve.

Telling a complete story in one half-hour allotment is a tricky proposition in any situation, but Valentine manages to feature most of the main and supporting characters fairly well. The unfortunate exception is Mark Strickson’s Turlough, but Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, Miranda Raison’s Constance, and India Fisher’s Charley are given plenty of material that expertly captures the characters’ essences as well as the specific Doctor-companion relationships to reward any longtime listener of this range that has continued to evolve and excel for so long. The inclusion of Calypso Jonze and her interactions with Constance in particular are just another nod to the depth this range has achieved over the decades without feeling forced or overbearing, and though not every side character works quite as well while unique facets of fairly traditional villainous archetypes become commonplace, the dialogue, performances, and interactions make each setup story wholly enjoyable in its own right.

In the end, it’s up to ‘The Lost Moon’ to tie together the events of the three preceding stories and to end this range on a resounding high, and Valentine certainly gives his all to attempt to do so. Indeed, as ties of the myths and fables of Gallifrey as well as to the Doctor’s personal past at the Academy become better-developed, there is little time for the typical interactions that pervade multiple incarnations of the Doctor meeting. The Doctors and companions alike take this rare occurrence fairly in stride even if what can be remembered and what is forgotten is inconsistent for the different Doctors, allowing more time for the actual problem to be addressed with very topical discussions about the best way to build a better future and how to do so upon the foundations of an imperfect past. Unfortunately, while the ties to the Doctor’s past are intriguing, the threat that puts so much of history at stake is simply a variation of one that has been done countless times before, and Gostak becomes a typical raving madman the likes of which the Doctor defeats on what seems to be a weekly basis. The Doctor and Turlough say as much which does put this into further context while driving home the Doctor’s own disappointment, but an auspicious finale such as this deserves something more than a stereotype dressed up with a Gallifreyan past that is resolved so hurriedly. Fortunately, Vakrass proves to be a far more intriguing entity who spectacularly subverts expectations as his own motivations and history become known, and hopefully he is a character who will continue to cross paths with the Doctor in whatever form the Time Lord’s adventures take in the future.

No celebration of this range would be complete without Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, but his inclusion here is sadly limited to the role of deus ex machina in a climactic reveal. To be fair, this development is hinted at well before he appears with an integral component, but while some will say it is fitting to have this particular incarnation stay in the background for so long before revealing the extent of his furtive actions and planning, this story certainly shortchanges the Seventh Doctor era while its others flourish so naturally. As such, it’s another example of too many characters for too little storytime, and the inherent shortcomings of this ‘The Sirens of Time’ multi-Doctor format featuring three disparate but repetitive setup tales and one final act to bring everyone together and ensure resolution are still problematic all these years later. However, ‘The End of the Beginning’ is a story full of heart that brilliantly serves as a reminder of the incredible journey Doctor Who, Big Finish, and the fans have enjoyed for such a long time and as a fitting farewell to this iteration of these Doctors’ tales.

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