Once and Future: Past Lives

Posted in Audio by - May 04, 2023
Once and Future: Past Lives

Released May 2023


To mark a monumental sixty years of Doctor Who, Big Finish has chosen to embark on an epic eight-episode journey throughout the history of the franchise to celebrate its biggest names, characters, and moments. To kick off the Once and Future saga, Robert Valentine’s ‘Past Lives’ sees an injured Doctor taken to a Time Lord field hospital during the Time War. As his body begins to glow with the familiar energy of an impending regeneration, however, his appearance instead begins to dart chaotically between his prior incarnations. Eventually settling on his Fourth incarnation, the Doctor sets out to find the Monk whom he vaguely recalls has something to do with this apparent degeneration, a quest that will bring him face to face with some familiar figures from this incarnation’s past and future.

As a framing device, the search for who attacked the Doctor and why is a brilliant one, but it remains to be seen if it will have enough thrust to meaningfully carry eight episodes. As it stands here, it simply serves as an impetus for this fairly standalone adventure that culminates with the Monk telling the Doctor to search out his daughter in hopes of calming the effects of the unknown weapon. Accordingly, ‘Past Lives’ isn’t necessarily focused on telling a deep and engrossing narrative as much as simply setting events in motion while celebrating and treading in nostalgia as is befitting any anniversary tale.

Following a series of cameos from the First through Seventh Doctors (and hopefully the First, Second, and Third Doctors will have meaningful roles in this saga since they have each become much more directly involved in Big Finish adventures since the fiftieth anniversary special was released), Tom Baker instantly asserts his dynamic power and wit as his Doctor pursues the Monk who is up to his usual mischief. Rufus Hound and he bounce off each other wonderfully with an immense energy and charisma fueling each of their performances, and this blending of eras becomes all the more pronounced when the Monk picks up Sarah Jane immediately after the Doctor has left her on Earth to return to Gallifrey to help him in his search for an alien energy device that she knows all too well from an unseen adventure. With this device currently in possession of UNIT in the Black Archive, the inclusion of Kate Stewart and Petronella Osgood is a natural progression that allows for plenty of reminiscing about the Doctor’s previous time with UNIT and the Brigadier. Of course, Sadie Miller, Jemma Redgrave, and Ingrid Oliver all expertly reprise their famed roles, but aside from a brilliant diversion to Osgood’s home replete with plenty of nods to the Doctor’s many lives as they all search for a device the Doctor made while with UNIT that will again allow him to track the Monk, the script doesn’t really know what to do with these characters in a meaningful capacity. Sarah Jane, in particular, falls into the background far too often with her time with the Doctor quite reminiscent of ‘School Reunion’ and, indeed, retroactively calling into question some of her reactions in that Tenth Doctor episode given what she learns here about just how small of a portion of the Doctor’s many lives she had been part of before her unexpected departure from the TARDIS.

Nonetheless, despite a somewhat underdeveloped plot about the Monk’s self-preserving motivations as well as the somewhat bland sword-wielding, crocodilian Hyreth that seem to have presented a far greater threat in the unseen story than the one told here, the infectious energy of the everyone involved more than sustains ‘Past Lives’ while celebrating the roguish nature of the Monk just as much as the heroism and humour of the Fourth Doctor. As a self-contained story, ‘Past Lives’ is somewhat disjointed and fairly generic, lacking a strong and well-developed villain with known motivations and intentions and doing little to showcase the power and drive of UNIT or its leaders when the world is threatened; as the start of a monumental celebration, however, it capably traverses decades of Doctor Who to provide a fun, nostalgic, and ultimately safe experience offering a twist on the Fourth Doctor and UNIT tales that will hopefully blossom into something altogether more profound and developed as the series continues.

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