Review by Jacob Licklider
The Early Adventures range from Big Finish Productions is a chance to tell full cast stories with the characters from the 1960s eras from Doctor Who. The range has currently run five series alternating between the First and Second Doctors, and this month the sixth series was released, however, instead of the standard four release across the final four months of the year there were only two. While truncating this series to two means less content, the sixth series is a prime example of quality over quantity from a range that has already had some of the strongest stories featured. This series, while being firmly part of the Second Doctor’s era, is a celebration of the 1960s era of Doctor Who as a whole creating a “what if” idea of a Fifth Anniversary Celebration.
The Home Guard is the first release of the series and is an adventure featuring the Doctor, Jamie, Ben, and Polly during the Second World War. Jamie and Polly are married, the Doctor is in command of the local home guard, and Ben is a sailor coming back to his old friends during leave from the Navy. From the outset, the listener knows that this story is an alternate universe tale with all our characters in positions entirely different from what the television series did with them. Throughout the first episode Simon Guerrier sets up the situation of our characters living during the war, preparing for fighting against the invading enemy, and experiencing a tense life in this village. There are undertones of something greater going on from the outset with Polly and Jamie’s home being completely blank, fog coming in at night and covering everything, and a mysterious air of only referring to the enemy as an enemy. Guerrier’s script drips with atmosphere throughout, but the first episode is a weak link. The atmosphere is amazing and the performances are great, but the setup of the plot suffers from being a standard setup for an alternate universe scenario. The audience already knows that the rug is going to be pulled from under you and the slower pace of this episode doesn’t help bring you in.
The story does improve once the Master appears and begins to affect the plot. James Dreyfus plays the first incarnation of the Master with as much mischievous glee and manipulation behind the scenes, sowing seeds of mistrust in this community. Once you hear “I am the Master, and you will obey me” there is this immediate sense that the story is about to improve greatly. Dreyfus shows the range of his incarnation of the Master due to the shift from working in the shadows to coming out in the open with his scheme. The Master plays off the Second Doctor wonderfully as the two characters attempt to out-think and out-scheme each other until one comes out on top. This incarnation perhaps is the absolute best at hypnosis, controlling every member of the cast at some point during this story. Because of this my expectations have heightened for February’s Main Range release where the Master will meet the master schemer Doctor in The Psychic Circus. What the Master is actually doing in this story is something that I will not ruin, but it does bring quite a great message. Frazer Hines must be commended for his work in this story. As usual he is playing both Jamie McCrimmon and the Doctor, but here he has to play two separate versions of the character. Throughout the first two episodes Hines gives the Doctor this extreme sense of weakness as the character has become incredibly ragged by the war and the conditioning of the Master. It is a truly haunting performance as the constant nature of this happy façade as a commanding officer, keeping morale up, which is just a burden for the Doctor as deep down he knows something is wrong.
Elliot Chapman as Ben Jackson gives an excellent final performance in the role, announcing shortly after release that he has decided to move on. Chapman as always has embodied the best qualities of the character and had a vocal performance which is incredibly similar to Michael Craze’s television performances. It is fitting that much of The Home Guard pairs Ben and the Doctor throughout giving Chapman one last great crack at the performance in an excellent subplot. The main theme Guerrier plays with in this story is looking back at the past through rose tinted glasses and where that can be wrong. The end of the story culminates with a society the Doctor and company saves, but their issues (including deep rooted societal issues) aren’t completely solved. This is not for a sequel hook, but a final note to end on that will resonate with the listener. 8/10.
The other release of this series is Daughter of the Gods by David K. Barnes, the Fifth Anniversary Celebration release. Barnes’ premise is what if for the Fifth Anniversary a story was written where the First and Second Doctors meet and have an adventure today. Multi-Doctor stories for Big Finish are nothing new (their first release was one), Daughter of the Gods finds a way to justify it and separate it from the other multi-Doctor stories. Unlike the typical anniversary special of having past Doctors brought forward in time, this story works on the premise that the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe just wander in to a First Doctor Adventure. Yes there are time travel shenanigans which facilitate this, but this story isn’t some universe ending, Gallifrey saving adventure, but one on a smaller scale. A completely unrelated planet which needs rescuing from the Daleks. Now, no secret is made that this does deal with a slightly altered timeline where the Daleks completed their Time Destructor so are building up to using it on this planet. Barnes uses the Daleks with excellence, following up from The Dalek Occupation of Winter, once again having them in the background and slowly taking over before building up to a master stroke of danger for both TARDIS teams.
Peter Purves and Frazer Hines are excellent together as the First and Second Doctors respectively. The First Doctor places himself as a university lecturer on the planet Urbinia where teachers are at the top of the social class and also are the leading politicians of the planet. This is an interesting situation as the Doctor, Steven, and Katarina had already spent three months, Steven working to maintain an apartment for them while the Doctor works as lecturer. He also gets this amazing line of someone discovering a new colour which amounted to green with a little black, but on the whole mauve. This is up there with some of the best Hartnellisms from the television series. It puts the Doctor in this position of authority that he attempts to use to his own advantage. The second half of the story is where the Doctor’s actually meet, and this creates quite a bit of interesting drama. The Second Doctor, like the audience, knows that Katarina not only died travelling with the Doctor during episode four of The Daleks’ Master Plan, but that The Myth Makers leads directly into that story. This is not a case of Big Finish Productions creating a gap to explore, but creating a slight gap to have one story for the character to get a little development. This is because much of the climax of the story involves the Second Doctor having to convince the First Doctor to let Katarina die. This occurs late in the story, but as a conversation it is one of the few times where the First Doctor actually feels like the youngest Doctor. The Second Doctor here knows that the web of time must be kept in tact and the Daleks on Kembel must be destroyed, so Katarina must die. It’s some of the most emotional scenes between the Doctors and Hines and Purves give some of their absolute best with the material.
Barnes also tells this story by pairing up each of the companions with one another. Zoe Heriot is paired with Steven Taylor which is an interesting pair, as the cool and logical Zoe plays off well against the almost brash and impulsive Steven. Their pairing is interesting as Wendy Padbury and Peter Purves reflect how the companion role had changed between the First Doctor and Second Doctor eras. The intelligence shifted to Zoe while much of the action remained on the male companion, in this case Steven. The other pair is Jamie and Katarina, both companions from the past. Katarina has been recast as Ajjaz Awad gives her a more definitive voice, instead of impersonating everything about Adrienne Hill, Awad does an excellent job of showing the spirit of the character. Barnes has her believe truly that she is dead and this story is just her journey to the underworld. She is a largely passive character which makes her interesting to pair with Jamie who attempts to get her to build more into the action. There is also more depth here than any of her television appearances due to the nature of having a full story which devotes some time to her character. Overall, Daughter of the Gods is a roaring success and should be near the top of every listeners to buy list. 10/10.
That being said while this isn’t a box set, it is at least a series, so overall the best score to give this sixth series of Early Adventures would be 9/10. It’s definitely worth picking up as both stories are worthwhile and give some lesser known companions real time to shine.