Review by Jacob Licklider
The Legacy of Time is Big Finish’s big birthday bash, celebrating twenty years of Doctor Who audio drama with six-hour long episodes and two hours of bonus features from writers James Goss, John Dorney, Guy Adams, Matt Fitton and Jonathan Morris. Each story features a doctor from the Third to the Eighth with plenty of companions and cameos along the way. Along with paying tribute to the Doctor Who ranges, a number of spin-offs and one-off characters are also included in the celebrations. Now over the month or so this has been released I have given it two listens in preparation for this review and a fair warning: mild spoilers ahead. Most of the major twists are safe, but minor character and plot details may not be so lucky, so be warned!
The first story of the box set is James Goss’s Lies in Ruins starring the Eighth Doctor at the height of the Time War, however, of the entries in this set this is the only story where the Doctor doesn’t feel like necessarily the main character. The big event of this story is the meeting of archeologists Professor Bernice ‘Surprise’ Summerfield and Professor River Song. The story actually has the two professors getting along with one another while Alex Kingston and Lisa Bowerman sparkle off one another with aplomb. The story starts out, in its own words, ‘a bit camp’ like many of the best Doctor Who stories do before taking a turn for the dark around the halfway mark.
While still entrenched in spin-off material, Lies in Ruin does not shy away from the darker aspects of the Time War, showing the Eighth Doctor at his most brooding. However, seeing old and future friends is enough to temporarily get him out of his depressive state before Goss pulls a punch in the gut with the location of the tomb and what exactly is behind the story. The punch is used to show the true effects of the Time War on the universe that never truly go away, even perhaps those that are eventually negated. On initial listen the connections to the rest of The Legacy of Time are not apparent, but after a second time through there are nice little hints at things to come. Lies in Ruin is a story that can be enjoyed as the first part of a grand adventure or just a nice little stand alone starting the set off in style with perhaps a little too much of an abrupt tonal shift in the middle of the story. 9/10.
John Dorney’s contribution to the box set brings the Seventh Doctor and Ace back to the Counter Measures team, but once again with a twist. There are two teams and two plot-lines in The Split Infinitive, one in the 1960s and one in the 1970s while each thread eventually comes together to tell a complete story. This, in effect, brings together the two separate series of Counter Measures and The New Counter Measures for what would have been one last time, if not for the announcement of two more adventures, meaning the range will continue for the foreseeable future.
Dorney splits the Doctor and Ace up between the two time zones with the Counter Measures team crossing over and remembering events gives the listener a device for smoothly transitioning between the two portions of the story. The gimmick works and the sound design and music aid in the immersion of the story. The story itself deals with time travelers and a surprise return from a Big Finish original foe which is an excellent choice for this story. Now the time travel aspects of the story suffer from the limiting one hour runtime as Dorney’s script feels better paced for a full two disc story, even though it is understandable why The Split Infinitive was chosen for The Legacy of Time. Dorney also closes a famous continuity error with aplomb, not making it take over the entire story, but mentioned enough that we now have an explanation. Simon Williams, Pamela Salem, Karen Gledhill, and Hugh Ross make excellent impressions on new listeners and show promise for Counter Measures as a spin-off. This story makes me excited to go deeper into that particular range. Overall, The Split Infinitive is a nice treat with some connections to later, however, unlike Lies in Ruin it’s secondary as best. 8/10.
The first highlight of The Legacy of Time is Guy Adam’s The Sacrifice of Jo Grant, a story which brings the new UNIT team and an older Jo Jones back to the classic UNIT days with Tim Treloar providing his excellent take on the Third Doctor. Now this is one story that I don’t feel properly able to discuss without spoilers so please, listen to this one, come back here, and continue to read. I’m scoring it a 10/10, it’s worth your while so go. For those that have stayed, The Sacrifice of Jo Grant’s biggest hook is that the story is building to the death of the older Jo Grant in the act of saving the Doctor. Of course by the end the death is undone as Big Finish wouldn’t include the death of a companion in an anniversary special, and while I am usually against this Adams does justify it in a clever way. Katy Manning and Tim Treloar are once again on top form, with Trelorr continuing to impress with how close to Pertwee he sounds. The highlight of this story is similar to that of The Split Infinitive: the old and new UNIT teams end up meeting, with the Third Doctor meeting the adult Kate Stewart and Osgood. Kate and Osgood establish themselves for listeners unfamiliar with their spin-off series and intrigue listeners enough with the temptations of following how their characters have developed to this point. Of course, Adams includes one final, last minute highlight, Jon Culshaw appears as Brigader Lethbridge-Stewart to have a short scene with his daughter in what is an incredibly touching cameo. As said earlier, 10/10.
Georgia Tennant’s (nee Moffett) Jenny is not a character to whom I have entirely warmed to. The Doctor’s Daughter is one of the weaker episodes of the revived series, but I do see the potential for a Jenny led spin-off. Her inclusion in the fourth story of The Legacy of Time, Matt Fitton’s Relative Time, is essentially on the fandom ‘joke’ about her actually being the Fifth Doctor’s daughter. Matt Fitton’s script goes to great lengths to remind us of the David Tennant era of the show which gets in the way of a lot of the witty banter and actual heist storyline. Peter Davison and Georgia Tennant do have great chemistry throughout Relative Time, with the Fifth Doctor being characterised as quite annoyed that this woman appears in his TARDIS and claims to be his daughter. Davison, even in his annoyances as the Doctor, still shows affection towards his daughter, immediately treating her very sternly. The plot of this one is perhaps one of the thinner ones of the set with the Nine attempting to pull off a heist.
John Heffernan plays the Nine with the right mix of camp and sinister evil for the character. Heffernan also plays off of Davison and Tennant excellently, berating the Doctor for having apparently another child. Jenny as a character is saved by Tennant’s performance, outside of that there really is little to characterise her outside of idealism. It feels as if there may be a gap between her appearance here and in The Doctor’s Daughter as Relative Time is all about Jenny proving to the Fifth Doctor that she is capable. The character arc is redundant considering it was the main thrust of The Doctor’s Daughter. Relative Time is still a fun romp with some great sci-fi concepts that perhaps needed another draft to fully come to fruition. 7/10.
The Avenues of Possibility is the one story of The Legacy of Time that has a tragic development: it was originally meant to feature the Sixth Doctor and Charlotte Pollard meeting with Jago and Litefoot and facing against the Chronovores. This was scrapped after the unfortunate passing of Trevor Baxter in 2017. The setting and basic plot outline were left the same, with Victorian London being the setting and time meddling causing an alternate 1951, yet the returning character becomes another Big Finish original villain whom I will not spoil, and Detective Inspector Patricia Menzies. Writer Jonathan Morris delivers a good story, there’s no denying that, but The Avenues of Possibility has this cloud hanging over it. The listener can feel that it wasn’t meant to feature this cast exactly. Morris attempts to make Henry and James Fielding, the two responsible for founding the London Police, their own characters and largely succeeds but every so often there are these moments where it’s obviously meant to be Jago and Litefoot saying these lines. The meat of the story comes with the Doctor, Charley, and Menzies’ interactions with each other which show why Menzies is such a beloved character despite only appearing in three stories. Menzies also gets to have some great dialogues with the Fielding brothers and takes full command while infiltrating the alternate timeline. India Fisher makes a welcome return as Charley Pollard and once again she has an excellent repartee with Colin Baker and Ana Hope, while showing just how different she is with Six than with Eight. The conclusion of the story also serves as an excellent lead in to the finale of the box set, even if it seems to break with established continuity. 7/10.
The grand finale of The Legacy of Time is Guy Adams’ second script for the set, Collision Course. The title refers to the time distortion causing Leela and Romana to remember two incredibly similar adventures they had with the Doctor on the same world at different times. This aspect of the story is the only aspect which has been repeated in the set, specifically The Split Infinitive, yet with the way Adams ties everything together in the end it almost makes sense that there are similar plotlines. That is of course only the first half of the story as the second one is the big thirty minute celebration where, spoilers, all the Doctors meet up, brought to Gallifrey by Bernice Summerfield, to defeat the enemy. Collision Course is essentially three stories that dovetail nicely into one another, each having similar themes and building conflict until the climax and resolution of the story. Louise Jameson and Lalla Ward play versions of their characters from the spin-off Gallifrey and during their travels with the Doctor which bring to mind just how skilled the two actresses are. Both Jameson and Ward slightly alter their voices for the two versions of their characters, subtly, but enough that the listener is helped in settling into the flashback narrative. Tom Baker having the closing story to himself is fitting as he is the Big Finish Doctor who took the longest and had the least anniversary specials. He shines with the rest of the cast and the multitude of cameos at the climax. The supporting cast is also great with Richard Earl and Alan Cox being standouts. There’s even a little Jane Slavin cameo for those looking for it, a fitting tribute to an actress who always seems to be in the background. Also having Lisa Bowerman’s Bernice Summerfield pays stunning tribute to Big Finish’s First Lady and her portions of the script are brimming with intelligence. Overall, Collision Course brings The Legacy of Time to a fitting end showing just how much of a legacy Big Finish Productions have paved over the past 20 years and on relisten it just gets better. 10/10.
The Legacy of Time as a set can only be described as a resounding success of a box set. It succeeds at telling six highly engaging stories and as an anniversary. Sure there are some low points, but nothing turns into a bad story as years of love and care. Overall, it gets a score of 8.5/10 and if you haven’t already, go buy it!