Released July 2016
‘The Pursuit of History’ is a rather important release for Big Finish, not only as the opener of two-part finale to fifth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures but also as chance to tie up a storyline that had been lingering for some three years. With the unfortunate passing of Mary Tamm, it would have been easy and understandable for Big Finish to put aside the exploits of the malicious Cuthbert and his flunky Mr Dorrick. Instead, taking advantage of the unique opportunity that the character of Romana and her regeneration into Lalla Ward’s form allows, Big Finish catches up with the duo and the Conglomerate for the first time since 2013’s two-part ‘The Dalek Contract’ and ‘The Final Phase.’
David Warner and Toby Hadoke return to the roles of Cuthbert and Dorrick, respectively, adding an instant air of both familiarity and gravitas to proceedings. Cuthbert seems to be a bit less restrained than in his previous outings, not quite reaching the Master’s levels of scheming and machinations but showing a clear combination of charm, sarcasm, contempt, and danger as he brokers deals and strives to ensure the survival of his Conglomerate. Likewise, Dorrick is allowed more space to breathe as the script affords him the opportunity to step out of Cuthbert’s domineering shadow and to take charge of his own project. This openness allows the character to become much more fully fleshed out, showcasing a certain callousness and cruelty that had only really been hinted at previously.
Also featuring the reintroduction of the time-sensitive Laan and the introduction of two entirely new species, the Oortag and the Ecidien Cerebus Bird, and David Troughton’s Mr Edge, ‘The Pursuit of History’ is unquestionably an ambitious affair. With the Conglomerate enslaving the Laan as a power source for their quantum gateways, Romana is kidnapped and taken aboard the Conglomerate station, trying to piece the complicated puzzle together to figure out what is really happening. At the same time, the Doctor and K-9 are mysterious goings-on in 1850s Yorkshire while searching for Romana, coming upon Cuthbert in the process. Yet while it’s somewhat satisfying to finally see this cunning businessman in action, the release gets altogether more interesting at the end when assumptions about characters and their very being are tossed out the window, reaching back into continuity to offer something altogether more exciting. There may not have been an incredible amount of buildup to the ending cliffhanger, but it nonetheless puts events into a new focus and heightens anticipation for the concluding ‘Casualties of Time.’
However, for all of the ambition and terror, ‘The Pursuit of History’ still feels like it’s missing something to make it complete. Perhaps it’s the conscious choice of separating the Doctor and Romana that takes away the potential for the characters’ affection and banter and creates a bit of a hole, or perhaps it’s simply that the setup work being done throughout is somewhat undermined by the sudden twist at the end. Still, it is a testament to writer Nicholas Briggs that he manages to keep the story fairly straightforward and accessible despite the number of references to the past and returning characters, and a clear path has clearly been laid for the conclusion. ‘The Pursuit of History’ has a lot going for it, but hopefully ‘Casualties of Time’ is able to create an even more rewarding experience with its resolutions.