Review by Doctor Squee (Host of Gallifrey Stands Podcast)
Fields of Terror by John Pritchard
The Tardis and her crew and once again in revolutionary France. The Doctor, Steven & Vicki (Maureen O’Brien, who also narrates) find themselves in the tail end of the revolution where soldiers on the side of victory have themselves become aggressors, burning everything in their wake. Also starring Robert Hands.
A solid start to this set and probably the adventure that would best fit into the First Doctor’s TV reign in one of the more history-based stories. It’s a time in revolutionary France I did not know about and it’s interesting to see how far some might take victory. Maureen O’Brien is a great narrator and carries the story well. For me however I prefer when they find a way to share out the story more evenly between the two cast members and as Robert Hands (as Lagrange) is not playing one of the Tardis crew he only comes in for his lines.
Across The Darkened City by David Bartlett
Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) on the planet Shade finds himself separated from the Doctor & Vicki. Worst of all the only, unlikeliest of allies he can find is a wounded Dalek (Nicholas Briggs). But can they trust each other? Do they have any choice when fleeing a foe more deadly than the Daleks? And will Steven make it back to the trasmat safely and back to his friends?
This has to be my favourite of the stories and really above par for even Big Finish’s high standards.
There is a really great ‘will they, wont they’ vibe to the story. Peter Purves relishes the drama and quick pace of this story and I’m sure this high stakes drama must have taken him back to the best that Doctor Who offered in his day. This doesn’t feel like it’s been taken from any series of the First Doctor. It’s more modern in pacing and high stakes. That and I doubt the ‘pay them little and work them hard’ BBC of the day would ever have given half their cast a week off. But the character of Steven feels right and I like that in this boxset they aren’t afraid to use different styles. We can have our cake and eat it too!
The way it is set up as a two-hander between Steven and the Dalek is also a great way of having it told from Steven’s perspective but to still have the story split up between the two of them.
There are echoes of the 9th Doctor TV adventure Dalek; but it’s most certainly no copy. In that story I feel like from early on they ask us to feel sympathy for the Dalek. In this one it’s more can we trust the Dalek and has the unique new conditioning it has undergone made it any more evolved. I also really like that it speaks in Dalek-type orders instead of picking up on human subtlety.
The hour really flies by and you are on the edge of your seat throughout.
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Una McCormack
The Doctor, Ben (Elliot Chapman, also narrator) & Polly (Anneke Wills, also narrator) arrive in Lewes, 1950’s in time for Bonfire night. But the celebrations are being ruining by some kids; Bonfire boys, who are running amuck. The Tardis crew and their new friend; a local librarian, soon find out there is a lot more to this situation.
This again is really well set and the two narrators break up the action and keep your attention nicely. Anneke Wills as always is a joy and Elliot Chapman does a really good Ben as well as narration.
The story is another that harkens back to the days of history being taught through Doctor Who, but in this case in a slightly more dramatic setting than some of those stories, with this tale taking on a more sci fi angle later on. For the most part it’s in keeping with the story telling of the day.
There is a nice relationship between the books and history loving librarian and the Doctor. I think the only note I’d give on this story is it felt to me a more obvious title would be ‘The Bonfire Boy’s’. Aside from that a very enjoyable tale indeed.
The Plague of Dreams by Guy Adams
Polly (Anneke Wills, also narrator) wakes to find herself upon a stage with a strange man known as the player (Elliot Chapman, also narrator). She discovers she must act out a recent adventure or there will be consequences that the player is reluctant to reveal. As she acts out the stories, props become real and the line between the play and established events become blurred. Also as Polly relives the adventure it fills in her memory that seems to be missing. All this leads to a conclusion that you will not see coming.
There is so much I want to say about this story and how it weaves together the 3 before it; but it’s full of spoilers and I wouldn’t spoil this adventure for the world. I will just say it turns out these different and separate stories turn out to have a very unlikely link that will prove to tie it in with modern Who in the most unlikely way. It’s a really good twist and a really great way to tell a story. We get to see what happens as Polly remembers.
The Player is too good a character not to use again and could really be used with any incarnation of the Doctor.
The frame work of this story is fantastic too. Having two players find the story as they go feels sort of in the spirit of a companion chronicle; where the actor must find the voices for characters and actors they worked with years ago and new ones. A really delightful end to this set.
All the writers bring beyond their ‘A game’. Direction by Lisa Bowerman & Helen Goldwyn is completely on point and the writing, direction and performance make for a really well paced and structured set. Each story brings something different but by the end you feel you have listened to something cohesive too.
I really liked the extras. We get a good deep dive on the creation of a sound scape in this set as well as how each story is put together.
I give this 9/10 and look forward to the next first Doctor set.
Buy this set on CD or Download here https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-first-doctor-volume-02-1568