Posted in Audio by - February 05, 2022

Released January 2022


Big Finish’s The Audio Novels range got off to a resounding start with ‘Scourge of the Cybermen,’ setting the foundation for a series that could offer a more measured and developed exploration of classic eras and characters than a standard episode typically could. In the second instalment, ‘Watchers’ that is written and read by Adric himself Matthew Waterhouse, the TARDIS is trapped in the vortex as something is draining time from the universe. With the wrecks of countless ships that had previously attempted to conquer time fused in the vortex, the Doctor and Adric must fight off the threats of various groups as they attempt to escape, all under the watchful eyes of one of the Doctor’s own people.

Waterhouse is, of course, an established writer, and his intimate knowledge of Doctor Who meshes perfectly with the lyrical nature of his prose that is so vividly descriptive. In a story that very much unfolds like a classic six-part serial complete with cliffhangers between each chapter, there are a tremendous amount of moving pieces as multiple trapped groups who are so desperate to escape their fates are encountered and developed in short order. The narrative is quick and right to point out just how confident each of these people would be that they were among the smartest individuals in history given their temporal discoveries, and the unique feature of assuredness turned to desperation makes for a dangerous series of hurdles that is all the more perfectly encapsulated by the presence of the Daleks themselves. Intriguingly, the Daleks were not originally intended to be a prominent feature of this story, but no race so perfectly captures the manic desire to conquer time as well as Skaro’s own, and the Doctor’s very personal history with the Daleks from their very genesis adds an indisputably more personal danger to the incredible threat that they and their newest warrior version present. ‘Watchers’ is not a story that simply treats each Dalek as an interchangeable killing machine, and the many iterations are differentiated and voiced beautifully by Nicholas Briggs to drive home the extreme danger the Time Lords and audience alike so implicitly know to be present.

Yet as the genuine danger the universe is encountering becomes known alongside the denizens of the vortex and the religious cult at their core, Waterhouse chooses a fairly unique angle of exploration by elevating a Frenchman taken from the Dalek’s invasion of Earth to one of- if not the- central characters. This not only allows a natural and wide-eyed conduit through which events with M’Lady can be witnessed and explained, but Marcel’s own story is incredibly emotional and entwines with Adric’s own exceedingly well to offer a poignant tale on every level that by story’s end pays off the many strands earlier introduced. Of course, in a story filled with references to classic episodes, ‘Watchers’ is all the more important in setting up the events of the Fourth Doctor’s regeneration that M’Lady knows is not only inevitable but also imminent. The Watcher in ‘Logopolis’ was always something of an enigmatic figure that the companions seemed to know more of than the audience was ever allowed to know, and while Big Finish has attempted to put more resolute facts behind these types of figures in ‘Circular Time’ and ‘Trial of the Valeyard,’ ‘Watchers’ offers a much more definitive look at what exactly this Gallifreyan organization’s remit and powers are and were, and Waterhouse imbues this woman with an evocative voice and visage that instantly makes her one of the more memorable supporting characters in recent memory.

It should come as no surprise that Waterhouse captures the voices of the Doctor and of Adric perfectly as well even if neither is quite the focus as much as might be expected. Indeed, he captures Tom Baker’s intonations exceedingly well, and his enthusiasm shines through in each and every line while forming a perfect bridge between ‘The Keeper of Traken’ and ‘Logopolis.’ There may be a bit too much filler in early episodes to fully justify the six parts as written, but the blend of heavier science fiction with moments of comedy that likewise includes familiar themes of entropy, relationships, and life allows ‘Watchers’ to perfectly capture the overall tone of its intended season to provide a standout story that further expands upon established continuity to great effect.

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