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 never being rescued.
‘The Secret History’ follows a trusted format of the Hartnell historicals, educating about the time period and quickly separating Steven from the Doctor and Vicki to further flesh out the world and add dramatic tension even as the truly fascinating science fiction elements slowly become more and more prevalent. Accordingly, the Astardi are a suitably engaging creation, powerful beings exiled to Earth and sealed in stone that may be influencing the most powerful person in the world at the head of the Empire, and they help to bring out a more cunning side of the Fifth Doctor than usually shown. That said, it’s hard to call the identity of the true villain surprising or even a spoiler since the cover of the audio release intimates quite heavily who it may be and since the voice of Graeme Garden is so distinctive as he reprises his role from Big Finish’s The Eighth Doctor Adventures range. Nonetheless, the revelation that the Meddling Monk is behind the displacements in time in this trilogy and the strange events of this particular story works to great effect, and Garden again brings the conniving Time Lord to life with aplomb as he puts his more grandiose scheme to literally take over the Doctor’s timeline for himself into action. Although it’s clear that the Monk is in the wrong, his genuine belief that he can build a better universe even with his judgment being clouded by the loss of a loved one adds a personal sense of empathy that many villains lack.
Those unfamiliar with The Eighth Doctor Adventures may be a bit confused without the requisite backstory explaining the Monk and Tamsin to understand the foe’s motivations, but the script also wisely veers from delving too much into the Doctor’s personal future to risk alienating those unfamiliar with that range. It’s a nice nod to continuity, but it’s odd that it should be the focal point for such a monumental release in the Main Range, as is the fact that the Monk proclaims that the preceding two adventures were simply practice runs for his scheme and therefore ultimately inconsequential. Despite those two niggles, though, ‘The Secret History’ is by far the most confident and poised story of this trilogy, a fitting end that also spectacularly draws upon the terrifying menace of the ever-watchful Time Lords as presented in ‘The War Games.’ It’s fitting that the Monk should return with Steven and Vicki present given their history together, and ‘The Secret History’ features spectacular performances from all involved while simultaneously evoking the tone of the First Doctor era and bringing in the more overt science fiction elements of the Fifth. It’s a shame that ‘The Defectors’ and ‘Last of the Cybermen’ do not tie into these events more explicitly, but as a standalone release ‘The Secret History’ is unquestionably an excellent celebration of everything that Big Finish has achieved with Doctor Who over the years.