The Box of Terrors

Posted in Audio by - December 02, 2023
The Box of Terrors

Released November 2023


The celebrations surrounding the sixtieth anniversary of Doctor Who have come in many forms, but the premise of the Doctor’s beloved Third and Fourth incarnations crossing paths- each joined by his own version of Sarah Jane Smith- is certainly one of the most unique and exciting. As the latest in Big Finish’s The Audio Novels range, Jon Culshaw provides the voices and narration for Lizzie Hopley’s ‘The Box of Terrors’ as the Third Doctor follows a strange comet to Earth after being framed for the destruction of an entire civilization and as the Fourth Doctor investigates the failing beacons of the mysterious Sand Box that could unleash untold horrors upon the universe.

Spanning six momentous parts, ‘The Box of Terrors’ is an epic story in every sense of the word, and Hopley cannot be commended enough for her astounding characterization of the leads and supporting characters alike to make this audio novel very much a living entity. Of course, the ultimate success of this story’s realization also comes down the astounding skills of Culshaw who so deftly manages to capture the intonations and mannerisms of both Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker to very much make it seem as though both actors have genuinely joined in the production. There is no denying how genuine his love for Doctor Who as a whole and especially for the eras of these two Doctors is, and his energy throughout more than maintains the momentum and verisimilitude of the script while very much evoking the tone of this fondly-remembered period of Doctor Who history.

A multi-Doctor story should bring with it a monumental script worthy of such an encounter, and Hopley delivers one immense in scope and emotion as she introduces the concept of the Sand Box, a uniquely powerful prison of sorts for the most despicable criminals and villains the universe as ever seen. The very foundation of this world and prison is a fascinating one, and the Time Lords’ fragile alliance with other time-faring species and their own machinations become all the more important as Omega continues his attempts to regain a physical foothold in this universe of matter after being trapped alone in his antimatter universe for so long. Culshaw again provides a profoundly powerful voice for this Time Lord of legend who is driven by such extreme ego and vengeance, expertly capturing the essence of Stephen Thorne who originally portrayed Omega for the tenth anniversary tale ‘The Three Doctors,’ and the lengths he is willing to go to in order to achieve his one true goal is staggering and shows a cruel remorselessness even as flashes of sympathy occasionally reveal themselves as the Doctors discuss Omega’s influence on Time Lord society and lasting legacy.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the Master also makes an appearance for this anniversary tale, or two as the case may be. Both the Roger Delgado and Geoffrey Beevers versions become entwined in these affairs, and while Culshaw can’t quite capture the voices of these actors and characters as successfully, their spirit comes through in full force in an intriguing and quite literally intertwined journey that successfully develops the motivations for this character continually following such a villainous path. Yet these two are matched and perhaps even overshadowed by the first true appearance of the Six, the utterly cruel and chaotic incarnation of the Eleven who still represents one of Big Finish’s finest creations and additions to the Doctor Who in general. The Eleven is a Time Lord suffering from the rare condition of regenerative dissonance in which the actual consciousness of each and every previous incarnation is retained, and the earlier sixth incarnation is certainly one of the most dangerous beings the universe has ever seen. Previously only heard in brief snippets vying with other incarnations, Culshaw and Hopley vividly bring this villainous threat to life with a genuine sense of malice and hunger that more than exemplify why even the Time Lords are wary of him. Omega fittingly attempts to adapt his grand plan when the Six reveals that he furtively took the place of the One as the severed incarnation forced to reside forever inside the Sand Box, but the changes the Six has wrought within this closed system full of so many villainous figures is staggering and quickly proves his own power and ambition. However, Hopley takes things one step further by also including another very successful Big Finish creation in the form of the Rocket Men, and while these foes may not carry the same emotional weightiness for long-time fans that the other villains will, the contrasting and surprisingly personal narrative of the true evils and the genuine good inherent to different individuals within this broad grouping of individuals works exceedingly well and provides Sarah Jane with a tremendous opportunity to help affect change around her.

Indeed, while the inclusion of two versions of Sarah Jane could have proven tricky at best and incomprehensible at worst, Hopely’s script easily manages to define and develop each with no confusion. Using Sarah Jane and Sarah as differing monikers is a simple but elegant solution to begin with, but with the threat of the two touching providing plenty of drama as they are continually thrust into close and tense confines, the subtle differentiations in characterization brilliantly hint at the growth and experience Sarah Jane gains during her time with the Doctor. Indeed, the elder Sarah takes on something of a sisterly or even motherly role as she supports her younger self, and their faith in each other and in the Doctor even if neither fully understands the situation around them brilliantly guides their actions that are so grounded in moral fortitude. The importance of their travels with the Doctor and the strong emotions and memories they have formed is, in fact, crucial to the plot, and the explosive finale they help bring about proves to be a wholly effective conclusion to their monumental arc here that perfectly encapsulates the many strengths that have continued to make Sarah Jane such an iconic and resonant character some fifty years since her debut.

Yet through it all, the Doctors always remain the focal point of this narrative as should be the case. The Third Doctor’s pride and intelligence shine brightly, and though he is somewhat put off by the toothy grin of his successor that seems to accompany so many of his statements, he comes to develop a deep respect for the more bohemian Fourth Doctor’s methods as he realizes that they share much more in common than he initially thought. There are moments of tension, of course, even as the Fourth Doctor shows a certain deference to the man he used to be, but their ability to work towards a unified goal both when together and apart is a testament to the character no matter the face currently being worn. Truly, a story tracing back to the known origins of the Time Lords’ powers and their continuing influence in the universe is an intensely personal and emotional experience for both incarnations, and their shared ability to continue to focus even as the dangers around them continue to escalate with so many lives in the balance is incredible and again provides the perfect vehicle for these sixtieth anniversary celebrations. ‘The Box of Terrors’ more than capably fills its six-part structure and brilliantly incorporates modern and classic elements of Doctor Who while very much remaining true to the 1970s stylings that remain so fervently loved. Hopley, Culshaw, and everyone involved in every capacity deserve all the credit in the world for so brilliantly realizing this audacious and ambitious idea and tosimultaneously prove the vital role that the audio medium retains in continuing to develop Doctor Who in all of its many eras and forms.

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