The Worlds of Doctor Who

Posted in Audio by - January 06, 2018
The Worlds of Doctor Who

Released September 2014

To celebrate fifteen years of Doctor Who at Big Finish that has brought about hundreds of new stories featuring the first eleven incarnations of the Doctor, broken new ground with and further developed established characters, and branched off into a multitude of spin-offs featuring both allies and enemies alike, the minds at Big Finish have crafted The Worlds of Doctor Who, an epic four-part story spanning just a small sampling of the breadth of the franchise that has proven so popular and important under the company’s tutelage.

With the whole of space and time at the Doctor’s fingertips, it makes sense to open the set with Jago and Litefoot in Justin Richards’s ‘Mind Games’ to provide an air of familiarity for listeners more experienced with the televised series and the ever-popular ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ than the audio spin-offs. Having long headlined their own audio series that sees the duo purposefully or unwittingly investigating infernal manners throughout Victorian London and beyond, Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter give commanding performances brimming with an easy chemistry that effortlessly welcome and envelop listeners old and new alike, Jago with a keen eye for business and full of bluster and pride even as his true fear shows through when forced to confront danger and Lifetoot full of shrewd intelligence and an innate kindness that manage to create a sense of calm in even the most perilous situations.

Understandably employed to avoid experimenting too much in a celebratory release, the trusted formula of having Litefoot at his autopsy table while learning of a recent spate of murders that seem intrinsically linked to Jago’s New Regency Theatre works perfectly here to set the scene. People throughout London are experiencing bad dreams in which an unknown voice is compelling them to brutally commit murders, people who the mysterious Rees has recently mesmerised on stage as part of his headlining act. As Jago and Litefoot take it upon themselves to investigate, it’s great to see Lisa Bowerman’s barmaid Ellie proactively deciding to join, adding a very human element to proceedings as she voices her immense disgust at the degrading acts on stage and almost becomes the next victim herself, and her contrast to Jamie Glover’s suave Rees who vilely enjoys the thrill of making people do things against their will is incredibly effective. The insidiousness of the threat Rees poses creates genuinely disturbing images and possibilities, and Jago and Litefoot are confronted with the near inevitability of their own death twice in quite riveting fashion as their investigation goes further into Rees’s act and his mysterious music box. Though ‘Mind Games’ may ultimately play it safe in terms of storytelling before culminating with a genuinely thrilling climax and denouement, every familiarity it employs is utilised perfectly to give an excellent sampling of why this spin-off range has proven so popular and to set the scene for the remainder of this unique set.

Justin Richards’s ‘The Reesinger Process’ process picks up the narrative in 1964 with the cast of Counter-Measures first introduced in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks.’ Richards does well to quickly establish and highlight the slightly grittier tone and the unique mix of danger, scientific investigation, and bureaucracy that the audio series has refined with Sir Toby Kinsella as the link to the government in charge of the team facing a budgetary crunch. Quite quickly, the nefarious Rees makes his presence known once more as people in important positions in private, public, and military sectors commit a horrendous variety of murderous acts. When the link to the aptly-titled Reesinger Course becomes clear and the participants are replaced because of their actions, the team members quickly find themselves in a race against time as they try to understand the scope of the manipulative powers on display and to determine just who has the power to pull off this scheme in which specific positions of power can essentially be filled by choice when the one waiting in the wings is more aligned with certain goals than the sitting occupant. It’s rare for heroes of a story to be so far behind an omniscient audience member, but the peril that the ticking clock representing a world becoming more dangerous by the second represents allows that abnormal storytelling tactic to work successfully without ever sacrificing drama.

While the inevitability of age has crept into the performers’ voices since their televised debut so long ago, the energy that Karen Gledhill as Allison Williams, Pamela Salem as Rachel Jensen, and Simon Williams as Group Captain Gilmore all bring to the production is fantastic and perfectly recaptures the very essence of the characters as originally intended. Rather superbly, the members investigate the Reesinger Course thread through individual routes and channels before surprisingly meeting up, proving just how adept each character is at his or her job and allowing the scope of the plot to be fleshed out immeasurably well in a short period of time. It’s quite intriguing to note the parallels of Counter-Measures as a sort of prototype for UNIT, and here Rachel serves as an able scientific adviser of sorts who is able to find a way around Rees’s mesmeric influence while Gilmore shows the gruff bravado needed for a man in such an important position who is still trying to cope to his role shifting more towards that of a civil servant. Richards again builds to a stirring climax in which friendships and loyalties are questioned, and though there are obvious parallels with the plot of ‘Mind Games,’ the greater sense of scope and mystery here allows a very different style of story to be told that makes the most of its expanded cast and further exemplifies the threat that Rees poses.

Jonathan Morris’s ‘The Screaming Skull’ flashes further forward to unite a more seasoned Mike Yates who has come out of retirement with disgraced UNIT soldiers Ruth Matheson and Charlie Sato who must infiltrate the UNIT Vault that has been locked down due to a mysterious force with other soldiers trapped inside. This story requires the least amount of backstory, Matheson and Sato being recurring roles created for Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso who featured alongside the Eighth Doctor in his sole television outing as Grace Holloway and Chang Lee, respectively, when those character rights precluded further appearances with Big Finish. Instead, the two actors have previously reunited for two entries in The Companion Chronicles, ‘Tales from the Vault’ and ‘Mastermind,’ which saw them investigate the Vault and the remains of aliens and alien technology kept within its walls, eventually succumbing to the Master’s influence and branding them as security risks. ‘The Screaming Skull’ sees Sato resigned to his fate but Matheson continuing to fight to lose that stigma with full effort on every psychological and psychiatric test, and it’s great to see these two dynamic characters offered a second chance when Yates approaches them with his own history of being branded a security risk, asking them to join him on his rescue attempt that he knows will likely end in death with their expansive knowledge of the Vault and its contents.

Yates has remained a fairly rare character to appear in Big Finish audios, but Richard Franklin gives a superb performance as a man returning to confront his personal past with UNIT, both in terms of previous adventures that the artefacts remind him of and of the missing soldier Jane Lucas with whom he once had a relationship and to whom he owes his life. Indeed, even as Yates discovers that Jane is already dead and only reanimated by Rees’s influence as she works her way out of the UNIT trap and into the world at large, he struggles to give those under his command the order to kill her, and this paired with his great struggle to withhold his knowledge of the Doctor from Rees gives Franklin plenty of emotional material that he wonderfully executes. With Franklin’s involvement and the bevy of allusions to various stories across mediums, ‘The Screaming Skull’ has more of a traditional Doctor Who vibe than the previous two stories but also manages to create an extremely tense and claustrophobic atmosphere that proves just how comprehensive the scope of genres the franchise can manage is no matter the characters involved.

The actions of Rees have alerted the Time Lords of Gallifrey in ‘Second Sight’ by Nick Wallace and Justin Richards, a tale that brings together Big Finish’s own Gallifrey range- as President Romana sends Leela to Earth to investigate the disturbance- with the Sixth Doctor who has answered Yates’s space-time telegraph request. The Sixth Doctor here is as grandiloquent as ever, but the softer and more overtly gentle nature that Big Finish has subtly crafted and refined over the years shines through perfectly and is helped by Colin Baker’s immediate rapport with Mike Franklin. Of course, Baker and Lalla Ward also featured together at the very beginning of Big Finish’s Doctor Who output, and their reunion in character for this celebratory release allows their immense chemistry to stand out as the two Time Lords try to figure out what is going on while keeping Yates up to speed. At times overconfident but always brave and determined, these two dynamic leads excel in every scene and give commanding performances alongside Louise Jameson who shows off Leela’s undisputed prowess in the field as both hunter and prey as the plot progresses and Rees’s threat becomes all too personal to those involved.

‘Second Sight’ works so well as a conclusion to this set not only because of the unique chemistry that spans so many eras of Doctor Who but also because of its ability to marry truly grand notions with more personal and intimate ones. Thus, while the notion of Rees’s music box being a relic originally designed as a device to create a mental shield around a planet coming from the earliest days of the universe when races would bend existence to their will and wage deadly battles lasting for millennia adds a tremendously visual backstory and scope to events, it’s the fact that Rees is simply a sadistically vile human who happened to stumble upon an otherworldly means of extending his life that allows the interlinked serials to resonate more profoundly. The glimpses back into Rees’s tortured childhood and the compassion the Doctor shows to him as he presents Rees with an alternative way of looking at his father present a compelling and emotional arc for Rees that also exemplifies the very best of this more nuanced Sixth Doctor and the subtle power that Time Lords can effectively wield. Given that this story is not a direct entry in any of Big Finish’s spin-offs, ‘Second Sight’ is perhaps the most impressive story of the bunch simply because of its ability to seamlessly integrate so many disparate ideas from across Big Finish’s many ranges into one bombastic and emotional whole that effectively ties up the ongoing tale of Rees and his attempts at achieving near deification.

The Worlds of Doctor Who is an incredibly ambitious project by any definition, and Justin Richards must be commended for taking so much of it on and meshing different eras, tones, and characters perfectly under one overreaching and distinctly human threat that continues to increase in intensity. Big Finish is certainly no stranger to celebratory and anniversary releases, but the unique approach taken here rewards long-term fans handsomely with a perfect homage to all that has made Doctor Who so successful under Big Finish’s watch for fifteen years.

  • Release Date: 9/2014
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